They’re here for a good time, but also hopefully a long time: We talk with brothers Josh Safdie (co-writer/co-director) and Benny Safdie (co-director/actor) about their film Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson. We talk superheroes, street casting, Robert Pattinson, casting developmentally disabled actors and more!
Good TIme essentially felt like a Murphy’s Law of crime dramas. Anything bad that could happen did happen. Because of that, the film has a degree of absurdity in it. How hard was it to keep the film from crossing the line into comedy?
Josh Safdie: Well I do think the film is a comedy of errors, and I think that people laugh when they watch the movie. The movie is a reflection of society and it takes place in a fucked up world. I think that you kind of need to laugh at the absurdity of things. It’s an important element.
Benny Safdie: It’s just the fact that you can’t believe that everything is going on. It’s almost like a nervous laughter. I think more when you watch it with an audience you can feel that wave of anxiousness, and it’s all at the character’s own behest too. You realize he’s not the best at getting himself out of a situation he puts himself in.
Exactly! The protagonist, Connie, played by Robert Pattinson, is a complex character. In one of our first encounters with him, he’s robbing a bank, and everything escalates from there. Would you consider Connie a tragic hero, a criminal with a heart of gold or something else entirely?
JS: I think Connie’s almost like a superhero in a weird way. Having been through the prison system, he sees society through a really warped lens and sees it like it really is. That’s why there’s so much recidivism in the prison system because people go into jail and they come out with a hardened sense of life. They only experience the negative reinforcement and have experienced the races pitted against each other. I think because of that, he thinks he knows how to reach his dream. The heroic element of Connie is that he’s just a guy that wants to achieve the American Dream. He wants to be free and live with nothing, not even the government. He just wants to live on a farm with his brother, and the heroic part of his is that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
BS: What’s complicated is that you’re following his point of view. Sure, he’ll do whatever it takes to get his brother out of jail, but he was the one that put him in that situation, to begin with. It’s weird to be following that, but there is something to the fact that he’s trying to right the wrong that he created, but in the process, he’s creating a lot of other wrongs.
Your films tend to consist of first-time or lesser known actors, and Good Time still sort of holds true to that with the exception of bigger stars like Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Barkhad Abdi. Would you consider this film as dipping your toes into a more mainstream market?
JS: I think that you could argue that the dip into the mainstream market is more working with a genre. A genre is a way to tap into a larger audience because people like to experience things through that lens. People like to be engaged and to be thrilled. This is a thriller, an action crime thriller. So when Rob reached out to us, we wanted to fuse movie stardom with a genre and see what we could do, but also take everything we’ve learned with our other features and bring them into the movie.
BS: There are certain things you have to do. You have to show how this happen and show the process of this. If you don’t, people won’t follow it. The moment somebody dips out you’ll lose the audience and we are very aware of that.
Robert Pattinson has proven to be an incredibly versatile actor and he was fantastic as Connie. You said he approached you for the project?
Did you end up creating the project around him?
JS: We wrote the project for him. He said, “I want to be involved.” I told him i wanted to do a crime thriller, but I don’t know what the plot is yet. The only thing I had was the title, Buddy Duress, who he loved in Heaven Knows What, and we were going to cast a lot of street cast people. It was going to be about a guy who wanted to buy a piece of land, no matter how shitty it was because he thought that was his road to freedom.
With the street casting, is that where all the non-career actors came into play?
JS: Yes. Jennifer Venditti and her casting team were basically combing different groups of society and streets, stopping people and doing open casting calls. Taliah Webster was one of the 600 people who showed up to the open casting call to play Crystal. We were very much looking to tell a thriller set in today, using the fabric of today and those aren’t movie stars, those are regular people.
Do you think they add that layer of authenticity to the film?
BS: Yeah. We wanted to bring this idea that we didn’t have permission to do certain things, even though we had all of the permits. So when he’s running through the mall, it feels like we just stole that shot. We just wanted to bring that energy to it. Like mixing Rob with certain people who hadn’t acted before because they add a realness to the situation. When we were shooting at the mall, the cop said that we had permission to shut all of it down to film, but we wanted to keep it open for the energy. He just said to make sure not to hit anyone.
That’s impressive. So everyone’s reaction to Rob’s running is genuine?
BS: Not everyone. That’s when we put some of the street cast people into the scene that are perfectly enmeshed into that world.
I really enjoyed the aerial shots and it seems to be something you can do now that you have a bigger budget.
JS: I really wanted to do helicopter shots and our producer said they would squirrel away some money so that we could be able to do that. When I went to do the shots, I brought the OJ [Simpson] footage to the guy and told him I wanted to tap into this. I had all of these ideas for shots, but we only had two and a half hours so we trailed cars and went between buildings.
A good chunk of the film takes place at Adventureland. Do it hold any personal significance to you?
JS: Well we grew up going there, and it was where I first experienced bloodshed from violence when I was 8 or 9 years old. Being a nosey little kid, I got involved with some teenagers and saw some crazy fight.
BS: It’s just such an interesting amusement park because it’s the closest one to the city. It’s such a small place and they just cram as many rides as they can. We’ve always wanted to film there and put it in one of our movies.
JS: There was also a book by Richard Stark called “Slayground” which was an inspiration for me and Ronnie [Bronstein] when we were writing. It’s about a robbery gone wrong where a car crashed and the only place he can hide is an amusement park. He ends up going in a different direction where the character witnesses a whole thing with the book. They made a movie about it too, but it’s not as good.
BS: It’s not as good as Good Time.
Filming there helped to give the film a nightmarish quality.
JS: The movie is a nightmare, but it’s a fun nightmare.
You almost don’t want to wake up from it.
Benny, you played a very important character, and arguably the emotional center, especially since your performance bookends the film. How did you prepare for your role and what kind of research did you do?
BS: In 2010 with Ronald Bronstein, who Josh wrote the film with, we were going to make a film together where there was this character that we ended up creating by having me mime my own self and my own emotional states, insecurities, and social anxieties. It kind of extenuated and exaggerated to a certain degree. Then I developed this way of speaking and he became this character that had a developmental disability. That was in 2010, and we had done a bunch of rehearsals and created an interesting backstory for him so that we were able to understand where he would go and how he reacts to people. Then Ronnie took that and wove it into the story with Josh. Just a matter of playing the part, we actually looked into casting someone with a disability to do it. We met some great people, but some of those action set pieces were hard to film in general and to push somebody who might not feel comfortable moving at that speed just didn’t feel right because you would take away their agency. Then I realized I know this character and I could play him. Then it was important to touch on that sensitivity because I really do feel a connection to this guy and respect him because he’s coming from inside of me. I wanted to be him and not to play him. I was very aware where he was and where I was, but I never looked down on him. I played him for what he could understand and what his emotional feelings were, but I was never aware of the differences of me. Whenever that did seep in, we would redo the take because we would say that it was Benny and not Nick.
Your upcoming film stars Jonah Hill and is called Uncut Gems. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
JS: I can’t talk too much about it, but I can say that it is a comedic thriller. It takes place in the Diamond District, in the bling culture, and it centers around a 600 karat black opal. Jonah Hill is in it, but it is a serious role, not a broad comedy in any sense of the word. There are no jokes in the movie, but the scenarios are so insane.