Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg’s mind-bendingly brainy take on Don DeLillo’s novel, sees the Canadian auteur on top form as he follows billionaire currency trader Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) across Manhattan by limo. It’s possibly the most trafficky road movie ever made, and, at first glance, seems a world away from his classic body horror repertoire. On closer inspection, though, those parasitic organisms are still about; here they manifest as snaking graphs of rising yuan and falling dollars, as Pattinson negotiates vampire squid (the metaphoric kind), custard pie slingers, financial collapse and potential assassination. Trust Cronenberg to deliver capitalism’s bona-fide horror movie. We asked the great filmmaker to talk through this and other memorable moments.
*On the parasites... "Doing Shivers and Rabid made me think that I could probably deal with anything that happened during a shoot. Both were very intense. I was living on my own in Nuns' Island (Shivers' Montreal location) for the shoot, which only lasted 14 days, and because we'd planned to use leeches to stand in for film's parasites, there were leeches in the fridge. Every time you wanted to get something from the fridge there’d be all these leeches. All kinds of things went wrong on the film: the money disappeared and came back, some of the effects didn’t work and then the leeches didn’t work – well, they worked as leeches – but it gave me an incredible grounding because I knew that I could think on my feet."*
"The Fly was a major hit for me. In fact, it's still is my biggest hit relative in dollars. It was technically very challenging but it reminds me of some of the things I’m doing now like Cosmopolis because it's just three people in a room. People don’t think of it that way, but it is: very claustrophobic and very intense. I think of it as the beginning of my Samuel Beckett period: a kind of austerity, control, rigorousness. We were working in confined spaces, something that I rather like. People keep asking if Cosmopolis's limo scenes were confining, but I find that a confined space adds to the intensity of the drama and helps the actors too. It’s not a challenge; it's liberating and exhilarating."
On the exploding head...* "We did quite a few takes to get this shot to work. First we tried creating a false head and filling it with macaroni and fake blood, then our effects guys put an explosive device in the head. The problem was that the explosion vaporised all the fluids and made this cloud of steam that meant you couldn’t see anything. After a few goes like that one of the effects guys said, 'You know what? Give me a shotgun.' He lay on the floor behind the dummy, put the shotgun behind the head and fired, which is why the face falls forward. He told me that’s what they did all the time in New York. I said I didn’t want to know about that.*"
On the insect typewriters...* "These were a combination of me and William Burroughs. It’s the same as any adaptation – a fusing of sensibilities between the writer of the book and the creator of the movie – and so it was with the insect typewriters. Burroughs never wrote insect typewriters, that was my invention, but at the same time he was very obsessed with typing and typewriters. He was also somewhat obsessed with his version of insects, these giant bugs from Venus that would mind-control people on Earth. I said, 'You normally talk about insects as space creatures and aliens, but are there any insects that you like?' And he said, 'Well, I like butterflies.'"*
On the blazing bed...* "Chris (Walken) was the kind of actor that I adore working with. Very powerful and charismatic on screen, but delightful to work with, very funny with a wacky sense of humour. He didn’t cook for me so I had no idea about his cooking. Maybe that’s a recent skill acquired. This is him in the picture – not a stunt double – and there’s a trapdoor through the bed. He wanted to do it and he did it. These days you can have a stuntman do the stunt and then map the face of the actor onto him, but we couldn’t do that then."
"When Mathieu Amalric and Juliette Binoche – both French actors - said they’d do anything I wanted, they meant it. Mathieu hadn’t even read Cosmopolis when he agreed to do the role of the Pastry Assassin. When he came to Toronto for a day to do it, he said: 'Working with you is a dream but when I read the script it’s a fantastic role!' Same with Juliette. Maybe it’s a different culture? In France the idea of the director as the major creative force has always been much higher than in Hollywood."
On Viggo Mortensen...* "Viggo and I are kindred souls. We love each other in a very personal way and we keep in touch all the time. Rob (Pattinson) is a lot younger but I believe him when he says that he wants to do something else with me. He and Viggo would be great in a movie together. They’d get along fantastically and the energy between them would be fantastic."*
Working with Jeremy Irons...* "With Dead Ringers I approached a lot of the actors that I’d worked with before, including Jeff Goldblum and James Woods, and they didn’t want to do it, so it wasn’t my choice that I didn’t have ongoing collaborations with actors. It’s happenstance: they want to work with you but the role is key with actors. If they don’t want the role, they won’t work with you on that particular project – although I still believe they mean it when they say they want to work with you."*