Emotiona feed mood of Rover
Guy Pearce, David Michod and Robert Pattinson. Picture: AP

When Animal Kingdom premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 the film's writer and director David Michod was heralded as the brightest new star in the Australian cinema firmament.

Such was the acclaim for his Melbourne-set crime drama - Quentin Tarantino said it was his third-favourite film of the year behind Toy Story 3 and The Social Network and star Jacki Weaver was nominated for an Oscar - that Michod followed the likes of Peter Weir, George Miller and Andrew Dominik (Chopper) in being feted by Hollywood.

"I had a million blind dates," laughs Michod in reference to the dozens of meetings he had with American movie industry types.

"The Sundance premiere had gone so well that a world of options suddenly opened up to me. I took all the meetings seriously because I wanted to know what was out there and what was available to me."

Not surprisingly, Michod was offered an array of horror movies, gangster films and espionage thrillers, commercial projects that producers hoped would be elevated with the involvement of a director fresh off a Sundance sensation. Michod turned them all down and returned home.

"In the back of my head I always knew that I wanted to be the architect of my own destiny. I was fearful of taking on a project that I didn't really care for and which I couldn't control and make something I had built from the ground up," says Michod, who kept in practice during his post-Animal Kingdom American sojourn by directing an episode of the Laura Dern television series Enlightened.

After 18 months of meetings and poring over scripts Michod sat down with Joel Edgerton, co-star of Animal Kingdom and one of his partners in the Sydney collective Blue-Tongue Films, and hatched the idea for a dystopian western that would channel his anger about the rapaciousness that he saw was eating the soul of his country.

The Rover, as it came to be known, is set in the Australian outback 10 years after the collapse of the global economic system. American dollars are the only currency anyone will accept, the rule of law has collapsed along with other services and "the desperate and dangerous" have arrived to feed off our mineral wealth.

Originally Michod and Edgerton thought The Rover might be a film for Edgerton's brother Nash, a stuntman, filmmaker and fellow Blue-Tongue member, and be more of Mad Max-style action movie about cars in the desert.

But as the script evolved it grew into a brooding character study much closer in style to Animal Kingdom. It also became a conduit for the anger he was feeling about the world during and after the global financial crisis.

In The Rover Guy Pearce plays a taciturn drifter named Eric whose car is stolen by a band of desperadoes. When he finds one of the gang members bleeding to death, a deranged American played by Robert Pattinson, he patches him up and sets out to get his car back, killing anyone who gets in his way.

"I didn't want to make another post-apocalyptic thriller in which the devastation is as a result of a cataclysmic event alluded to but never really explained. These sort of movies allow viewers to distance themselves from the events in the movie," explains the 41-year-old who made several award-winning shorts before breaking through with Animal Kingdom.

"I wanted the world of The Rover to be entirely conceivable. I wanted everything that has gone wrong in the movie to be connected to everything that has gone wrong in the real world."

Michod says he wrote The Rover in the wake of the GFC and not long after the Rudd government "dropped the ball" on the emissions trading scheme. "It felt like we were surrendering ourselves and everything to avaricious psychopaths, to greed and self-interest," he continues.

"It is difficult if you are thinking about these things for it not to turn into despair and anger. All of these emotions fed into the mood of the movie."

Even though The Rover has an entirely different setting and milieu from Animal Kingdom, which was inspired by Melbourne's real-life gang wars, Michod says both movies are of a piece.

"It allowed me to change the form - to make a western essentially - yet maintain the air of brooding menace," he says.

While Pearce had a minor role in Animal Kingdom, he saw enough of how Michod operates to want to be involved with The Rover.

"David had many offers from Hollywood so I really admire that he chose to make a second movie in Australia and continue to hone his craft in a controlled environment," says Pearce, who himself has never abandoned the local film industry despite enjoying international stardom.

"And he doesn't just make gimmicky plot-driven movies. He wants to explore character and story at the same time which is something I admire in a director."

While Michod is The Rover's MVP, once he cast Robert Pattinson in the supporting role the film immediately became the centre of tabloid attention, with millions of RPatz fans tracking his every post-Twilight career move, off-screen and on (the Australian premiere of The Rover in Sydney last week was another all-shrieking affair for the actor).

"Over the past few years I have found myself in regular contact with famous people but never have I encountered anything like the attention that Rob receives and the life he leads," Michod says.

"He is a really sweet guy and very appreciative of all the privileges that stardom has afforded him. But it is oppressive. I've been out with him and very quickly he can be surrounded by 20 people wanting to have their photographs taken with him."

Such is the constant attention endured by Pattinson that both Pearce and Michod report how relieved he was to be shooting The Rover in outback South Australia away from the glare of the media and drooling of young women.

"I remember we were walking to the pub after we were shooting all day, as we would pretty much every evening, and Rob said to me 'I can't tell you how magical this experience is, I'm just walking down the street by myself'," Michod recalls.

Pearce is also full of praise for his English co-star, who he found charming and "normal". "He's great in the movie, isn't he? He's very down-to-earth and smart and well read," Pearce says.

"He also has a very healthy view of himself. He finds all the publicity he attracts pretty silly. All he really wants to do is good work. Once the cameras started rolling everyone forgot who Robert Pattinson is supposed to be and we just got on with it."

The West Australian

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