David Michôd didn’t know what Robert Pattinson was capable of until ‘The Rover’

CANNES – The circus around the Cannes Film Festival is different than any other film festival in the world. It may be less Hollywood than Toronto and less audience-friendly than Sundance, but Cannes truly draws talent of all kinds from every corner of the globe. Only here could you be interviewing rising Australian filmmaking star David Michôd on a hotel rooftop deck while Kylie Minogue belts “Can't Get You Out of My Head” for a live French TV program across the street.

And yes, like any good Aussie, he recognized Ms. Minogue immediately.

Michôd burst on the scene in 2010 after “Animal Kingdom” became, arguably, Sundance's greatest foreign success of the past decade. Not only did it launch Michôd's career, but it earned star Jacki Weaver her first Academy Award nomination and long=deserved recognition outside of Australia. And directing an actor to an Oscar nomination in your first film is sort of big deal. Instead of being swooped up by a major studio project, however, Michôd reunited with his “Kingdom” colleagues and friends for “The Rover,” which premiered Sunday as a midnight selection in Cannes.

Set 10 years after “the fall,” the new thriller is set in an Australian outback reeling from a global economic collapse. This isn't “Mad Max” or an increasingly familiar post-apocalyptic setting you've seen in theaters or on TV. Lawlessness abounds, people are barely surviving, but there is some structure to the world. The storyline centers on the unlikely pairing of Eric (Guy Pearce) and Rey (Robert Pattinson). The former is attempting to get his car back from the latter's brother for reasons that are not revealed until the final scene in the film. It's a harsh, dark film with some stellar set pieces and committed turns by both leads. More importantly, there's no sophomore slump for Michôd here.

The 41-year-old filmmaker had worked with Pearce in “Animal Kingdom” and both he and Joel Edgerton, who received a shared story-by credit, created Eric with him in mind. Pattinson, on the other hand, was a different story. Michôd had a general meeting with the actor before he “The Rover” became his follow-up and says he just immediately liked him.

“I found him really beguiling and I loved his physical energy, and he was smart and had a wonderfully open face,” Michôd recalls. “When it came time to start testing for the character, I knew I wanted to see him, but yeah, I didn”t know what he was capable of. I think he knew that people didn”t know what he was capable of as well and so he was very willing to work and work hard.  But very quickly when he came in to test for me I could just see this skill set that he just hasn”t been able to showcase.”

Those instincts paid off. Pattinson's work is clearly the best of his career as he makes sure the slightly “off” Rey isn't just Pattinson playing the big screen “Robert Pattinson.” Many audiences, however, will be surprised to find the Brit is playing an American in this setting. Obvious box office benefits to having American characters aside, Michôd says it was more important that “The Rover” felt vaguely international.

“I felt like [a few Americans] would assist in creating this world that suggested a kind of global economic meltdown, if suddenly people were just moving everywhere or doing what people had done for centuries,” Michôd says. “If you think about the Australian gold and American gold rushes of the 19th Century, there were people from all over the world, people from China and Europe, every corner coming to strange corners of the planet to try and eke out a living pretty desperately.”

Pearce probably won't get the credit he deserves for his work in the film, but it's another four-star performance to add to a resume that already includes excellent turns in “L.A. Confidential,” “Memento,” “The Proposition,” “The King's Speech,” “Prometheus” and the aforementioned “Animal Kingdom.” Pearce's focus is most remarkable once you realize he has flies camping out all over his face in scene after scene and never blinks.

“He was quite happy to have them crawling all over his face,” Michôd jokes. “The only time he”ll react is when they”re actually crawling on his eyeball. He”s had them going up his nose.”

Michôd will spend the next month or so on a publicity tour for “The Rover” Down Under and across the US. Once that ends he'll return to New York to finish up the pilot for the upcoming Starz series “Flesh and Bone.” Set in the world of an American ballet company, it's 180 degrees from any thing he's done before. Not that he was completely alien to the subject matter.

“I actually had a very close friend of mine who worked for the Australian Ballet Company for quite a while and would invite me to shows when they were having premieres of shows,” Michôd says. “And I would go just because I thought it was a weird thing to do. But no, I didn”t really know anything about it but that was one of the things that intrigued me about it. One of the things I love about making movies is that for a small period of time I get to throw myself into a world I know nothing about and it was fun to shoot really amazing classical dancers.”

Ballet artists are quite critical when movies and TV shows tackle their profession. Considering how unrealistic some of th0se depictions of the art form have been, you really can't blame them. Michôd admits he felt a little pressure to make sure “Flesh and Bone” gets it as “right” as possible, but recruiting professional dancers as the principle company worked wonders.

He notes, “I felt like I had those critics all around me every day, actively making the thing with me.”

Melbourne crime drama, outback thriller, ballet drama series. What's next for Michôd? He says he has a couple of projects in the works, but one thing's for sure. Expect the unexpected.

“The Rover” opens June 20. “Flesh and Bone” should premiere later this year on Starz.