Cosmopolis director David Cronenberg talks about Maps to the Stars and how Viggo Mortensen might not be able to join, Cosmopolis and Rob in his interview with Details. Cosmopolis was released on DVD in the U.S on the 1st January and months ago in the U.K.
David Cronenberg isn’t quite a household name (unless your house is full of macabre horror fans who enjoy watching circa 1980s Jeff Goldblum morph into a fly). But the 69-year-old Toronto native has been one of film’s most critically acclaimed directors for over thirty years. In 2012, he crafted one of the year’s best (and most difficult) movies with Cosmopolis, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel with Twilight star Robert Pattinson in the lead. On the cusp of the film’s Blu-ray and DVD release, we sat down with the legendary director to discuss his car obsession, expanding the minds of Twilight fans everywhere, and his inability to get back in the TV game.
DETAILS: You directed Fast Company (1979), Crash (1996), and now Cosmopolis. What is it about sexy cars that keeps pulling you back in?
DAVID CRONENBERG: The car here is very metaphorical. It’s a time machine. It’s a time capsule. It’s a spaceship. And it’s a tomb in a way. It’s a mausoleum for [Cosmopolis character Eric Packer]. It really has metaphorical import more than car import for me.
DETAILS: Did having someone as marketable as Robert Pattinson in the lead help get Cosmopolis made?
DAVID CRONENBERG: It’s not just Rob, but this was a Canadian-French co-production so actors like Juliette Binoche and Mathieu Amalric really do contribute to the strength that you have when you’re trying to find money. What matters is, do you have a good actor working with you?
DETAILS: What made you want to cast Rob? This part is so far removed from what his enormous Twilight fan base would normally see him in.
DAVID CRONENBERG: Surprisingly enough they were very interested in it and developed websites for Cosmopolis just because of Rob. And a lot of the girls were talking about reading “Cosmopolis.” I think the only thing they had read, probably, was “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” and suddenly they’re reading Don DeLillo.
DETAILS: Did spending most of the film inside the limo feel more like a limitation or a freedom?
DAVID CRONENBERG: I actually like shooting in confined spaces. I find that you get an automatic enhancement of intensity and it’s also a really interesting visual challenge. Prior to shooting, I showed my crew Lebanon, which is this Israeli movie that takes place entirely inside a tank and Das Boot, which takes place almost entirely in a submarine. Just to encourage them to feel not the limitations, but the creative possibilities.
DETAILS: There’s a very slick, high-tech fashion to the film. What was your inspiration for the look of Rob’s character?
DAVID CRONENBERG: It all comes from what the characters are supposed to be in the movie. They’re both very wealthy. They’re both very comfortable with their wealth. It’s interesting because some people have asked, “Is Rob’s fame a parallel to Packer?” And I say, “No, quite the contrary. Eric Packer is not famous at all. He doesn’t want his name in the paper.” He dresses well, but sort of conventionally. In fact, Rob said that he wanted the guy to be dressed in almost a non-descript way. It’s expensive clothes, but it’s not flashy.
DETAILS: You cut your teeth on “body horror” films like The Brood and The Fly. Do you think you’ll ever go back to the horror/sci-fi genre?
DAVID CRONENBERG: It’s not that I’ve consciously turned my back on any genre or themes and images, but I don’t want to bore myself. I don’t want to bore my audience either, but more importantly, I don’t want to bore me. A lot of the scripts that I get sent are almost remakes of my old movies and, sometimes, they literallyare remakes of my old movies. Why would I do that? I’d be bored.
DETAILS: What’s the status of The Fly companion piece that you wrote?
DAVID CRONENBERG: You’d have to ask Fox about it. As far as I know, it’s dead. Technically, Fox could choose to have someone else direct it or rewrite it. But, as far as I know, it’s dead.
DETAILS: You were once considered for Return of the Jedi. Now that there’s a new film in the works, would something like that interest you?
DAVID CRONENBERG: No. It didn’t even interest me then, so it certainly wouldn’t interest me now. I haven’t even seen the last three movies.
DETAILS: You’ve dabbled in directing TV in the past. Any interest in doing more?
DAVID CRONENBERG: I’ve tried many times and it always flounders. Very recently there was a project that I was involved with called Knifeman. It was developed by Rolin Jones who developed Weeds and Friday Night Lights, a very experienced and talented guy. He couldn’t get it done either. TV is definitely of interest to me, but despite the fact that there’s some good stuff being done, somehow my sensibility and the sensibility of the powers that be don’t correspond.
DETAILS:Maps to the Stars is supposed to start shooting in May. Have you been able to sign Robert Pattinson, Viggo Mortensen, and Rachel Weisz?
DAVID CRONENBERG: I don’t think Viggo will be able to do it, but with the other two, so far, so good. Have they signed? No. But they have a verbal commitment if everything works out and if other things don’t come along. It’s still very possible for the three of them, but it’s far from certain. That’s life in the indie film world.
Earlier David sat down with ING, read here
IGN: Many people left Cosmopolis with questions, how do you feel that features like “Citizens of Cosmopolis” are going to illuminate things, or further the conversation?
David Cronenberg: I think the “making of” is actually longer than the movie, so it should do something along those lines. Obviously anyone who bought the DVD is interested enough in the movie to pursue it. I think one of the reasons that I like doing a really good “making of” is that we try very hard when we do that to not just make it a sort of fluff piece where everybody says, “it was great working with everybody,” but to really show what the process of making the movie was. As a result, for example, it’s great for film students and film enthusiasts because it’s as close as some people get to really being on a film set. And in this case it’s an unusual film set, obviously, because of the limo and so on. So we really took a lot of care to make sure that it was accurate, honest, straightforward and illuminating.
IGN: One of the things that the film is dealing with, thematically, is what the marketing materials refer to as “contemporary obsessions.” In other words: money, power and technology. In my mind our obsessions are the same as they’ve ever been, they just kind of have a different coat of paint. We’ve been obsessed with money, power and technology through the millennium, starting with fire, it’s just that it looks different, now. I’m wondering what your perception is, though. Do you think a technological obsession is specifically a contemporary concern? Or are these just human obsessions?
Cronenberg: I think that’s accurate, yeah. I mean it’s well known I think, if you’re an artist, that you have to be very particular in order to be universal. You have to be very specific, and Don Delillo chose the world of finance and this particular character and his sort of bubble/hermetically sealed existence in that world to really talk about the human condition in general. I think that’s the way it works. So, although you could see the movie and the book as being about finance on Wall Street, I think that’s just a jumping off spot to talk about more universal aspects of what it is to be a human being.
IGN: One of the things that feels universal in the movie is the idea of razing, or destroying things. There’s kind of a revolution going on as Robert Pattinson’s character, Eric Packer, is razing (intentionally or not) his company, and in effect his life – his marriage, his relationships and so on. For you, is that about doing what’s necessary for change? Kind of like burning the earth.
Cronenberg: Well it’s kind of a cliché that capitalism is creative destruction, but there’s some truth to that. I mean capitalism doesn’t exist outside of human society. There’s no natural equivalent to capitalism, really. Although people like to think of it as survival of the fittest, or this or that, in fact it’s a uniquely human invention. It’s kind of strange isn’t it? Because we invented money, but we can’t control it. You know you’d think that the world could also say: “Look, we’ve invented this, and things are going wrong, and we’re all suffering, so let’s just fix it, because we can.” It’s not the same thing as a natural disaster like a tsunami or an earthquake where we can’t control it. But it seems to take on a life of its own so that a financial disaster is like a tsunami. It’s really intriguing, and I think that the movie discusses that on a metaphorical level.
IGN: This particular character, Eric Packer, is forced into a confrontation with this other side to himself in the Paul Giamatti character, Benno Levin. They’re like two sides of a coin and Packer’s confrontation with Benno amounts to the final destruction of his ego and the life he had created for himself, and buried himself in. It feels like in order for him to have that confrontation that there has to be a level of violence between them. I’m wondering if that’s part of your overall interest in violence, the idea that the violent destruction of the ego is in some ways necessary for each of us as individuals.
Cronenberg: It’s so interesting that you say that because in the movie I made before this, A Dangerous Method, the character played by Keira Knightley, Sabina Spielrein, one of her revelations was the destruction of the ego in sexuality and the sexual act, and the fear and the anxiety that that alone can cause. So, the protection of the ego can be quite a desperate undertaking. I think if you look at it, you’ll see that every day in your social life. With Eric, he comes to a point where he wants to disappear, he wants to dissolve. He wants to destroy the ego that he has created. And that means also destroying the life that he’s created for himself. That’s what he’s seeking. People were very shocked when he shoots Torval, his bodyguard in the film, and I think perhaps wondered why he would do such a thing. Torval, though he’s hired to protect him, is not just a bodyguard, he’s also a he represents the life that Eric has created for himself. He represents and embodies that, so the first thing he has to get rid of is Torval, if he’s going to get rid of his life. Because Torval nags him to be careful and protect himself, he’s really protective of the life that Eric has created. So you get this strange paradox where he has to destroy a person that he’s hired to keep himself safe.
And read the Movie Line
You’re in a good spot, though, now. You’re in the Woody Allen zone – you keep your budgets low, you get enough dough back in Europe, the people in the US that dig it dig it and then you make the next one.
That’s true, and every time I’ve tried to play with the studios it’s never worked out. I don’t blame them or me, it’s the mix of sensibilities is not there, we don’t fit. Listen, I see some big movies and I think “Oh, it would be fun to make that, challenging.” Then reality sets in and it’s not going to happen. Your estimation of where I’m at with filmmaking is pretty accurate.
Cosmopolis is coming to Blu-ray and – OW! Oh, crap, the cat just jumped on me.
I like cats.
Yeah, he’s adorable, but very heavy. Sorry, so… Cosmopolis on Blu-ray. Special deleted scenes on here?
I’m usually reluctant to include deleted scenes. They’re deleted for a reason. I like the the magic. On A History of Violence I included one or two because they were unusual, but that’s the only time I’ve done that. On the other hand, I really appreciate a good “making of” documentary. I find that film students and film fans who might otherwise never get on a film set might really see something if you, the creator, are honest. Of course, I’m not doing the “making of” myself — I’m too busy making the movie — but I do encourage the reality principle. I don’t want the “making of” to just be a promotional spot. Similarly, when I do a commentary, as I’ve done for Cosmopolis, I don’t bullshit. I don’t just say how wonderful is to work with or how much fun we had at the wrap party. I talk about the making of that particular moment we’re looking at.
Cosmopolis is all green or blue screen and interiors designed to look like exteriors, correct?
Yes. There were hybrid sets with street furniture, then beyond that was all green screen. It’s amazing how convincing it is. For me, the best special effects are the ones that are invisible. I’ve created creatures, like for eXistenZ and other films, but mostly special effects are a wonderful tool for invisible things like that are very convincing that you couldn’t have done before.
Have you seen the new High Frame Rate that Peter Jackson used for The Hobbit?
No, though you see it on television all the time. Sports shows are 60 frames. Those flawless slo-mo playbacks with no smearing. I haven’t seen The Hobbit yet, but I do believe it would be nice to get away from 24 frames per second — even just to 30 frames per second. I don’t have a nostalgic longing to stick with the smearing or strobing you get when you pan with a film camera. It’s not nice. It comes from ancient technology that we don’t need anymore. Even upping to 30 might get rid of that, I don’t know why 48 as opposed to 50 or 60, frankly. In a weird way, 48, as double of 24, is still clinging to the old technology.
I believe Jackson said that he would have done 60 if he could, because James Cameron is talking 60 for the next Avatar, but when they were ready to go this is what was available. The thing that struck me, at least on The Hobbit, is how much you notice the artifice in other departments, the set construction, the makeup, the special effects.
This was a big fear with just HD on television. It’s interesting, that there might be an increase in clarity, but to a fault.
Is your next project ready to go?
Finishing my novel right now, and I hope to be shooting Maps of the Stars in May, written by Bruce Wagner. However, it is an indie project which means, therefore, that it could fall apart.
Well, the novel is just you and the page, so you’ll have no easy excuses there.
That’s it. I’m hoping it is published at the end of next year.