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David Cronenberg interview: 'Cosmopolis', 'Nightbreed', 'The Fly' sequel

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David Cronenberg

© Rex Features / Olycom SPA

Famed for body horror classics like The Fly and Videodrome, David Cronenberg's latest effort is the cooly contemplative Cosmopolis. An adaptation of Don DeLillo's prophetic novel, the movie features a sterling performance from Twilight's Robert Pattinson as a billionaire called Eric who wants his stretch limo to take him across Manhattan for a haircut while chaos and rioting ignites on the streets outside.

Digital Spy had the pleasure of a long chat with the Canadian director to coincide with the Cosmopolis DVD release, and found out the latest news on proposed sequels to Eastern Promises and The Fly, along with exploring his experiences acting in Clive Barker's newly restored Nightbreed and being headhunted to direct Return of the Jedi...


In the making of featurette on the Cosmopolis DVD, producer Paulo Branco describes Don DeLillo's novel as a mix between Crash and eXistenZ, with its themes of destruction leading to sensation and detatchment from the real world. When you first read the book, did you think it was perfect material for you?
"Well I wasn't thinking of my own old movies... I don't really think in those terms. I don't have a checklist of things that something must have and must relate to my other films. Honestly, each project is as though it's the first movie I have ever made.

"Now for Paulo as a producer coming to me, he might have his reasoning that's based on my other movies and that's fine. It didn't seem like things that I'd done before, but after having made the movie I can see why people might want to compare it to my movie Crash, for example. At the same time JG Ballard and DeLillo are very different kind of writers, so I don't think many people can connect them, but when they see the movies, it's kind of interesting.

"With Cosmopolis, I was a big fan of Don DeLillo's work. I loved his dialogue, which is unique, and Harold Pinter-esque in the sense that you can recognise it when you hear it. It's realistic but also very stylized."

'Crash' still


It's very rhythmical too...
"It is very rhythmical and kind of hypnotic, yet it is American speech. But those things are not like my own work, so I respond very directly to the material, rather than be extremely analytical about it. I just think if this is a movie for me, and would I be having great fun and be finding exciting, interesting things while making this movie or not."

Were you stunned by how topical Cosmopolis became with the Occupy movement rising to prominence during the shoot, and then six days after filming wrapped Rupert Murdoch was attacked with a cream pie, just like Eric was in the movie?
"Yes, that was quite surprising. It's funny because when the book came out, if you read the reviews which were mostly bad, one of the things said was 'Oh, this stuff happening on Wall Street in the book is completely unrealistic'. That was in 2005 or something. Then of course, it was happening while we were shooting.

"It didn't derange us though, and we didn't change the script as a result. It was suddenly obvious that both the book and movie had resonance that it hadn't had before. It also suggests that Don DeLillo is an artist with very sensitive antennae to things that are going on and can be predictive of the future, not even necessarily intentionally.

"That isn't the function for us as writers and filmmakers, but it does happen. It happened for me with Videodrome - it's something that I was inventing that later came to be seen as sort of a prediction of the Internet and a whole bunch of other things."

That iconic image of James Wood inserting a videocassette into his stomach - it foreshadows how much humans become 'consumed' with media. Similarly in eXistenZ, characters physically plug themselves into the Internet and become absorbed...

"Yes, that's right. You have your feelers out there into the zeitgeist and you sense it and can see where things are going. It's not necessary to be accurate in terms of predicting the future if you're doing science fiction, I mean Arthur C Clarke was sort of a hardware sci-fi writer who did pride himself on being prophetic. But to me that's a small part of the creative process, it's not the main thrust of it really."

'eXistenZ' still

© Rex Features / Moviestore Collection



In terms of tapping into the cultural zeitgeist, the casting of Robert Pattinson works extremely well. Was his current fame and adulation a key factor in choosing him to play Eric?
"Well not really, I mean the so-called 'baggage' a certain actor brings with him or her is something that is completely irrelevant once you're on the film set. As a director you can't worry about that - it's too complex, it's too shifting.

"Eric in the movie is not famous, he is like the London Whale - and I don't mean the baby whale that went up the Thames. I mean the investment guy called the London Whale because of the immensity of his trades. He's anonymous, not a celebrity, because as soon as people started tracking his moves, his power to make these trades was gone.

"Eric is like that, and the reason he has this one guy tracking him is because it's an obsessive guy who is anti-capitalist in the movie. He can be in a restaurant and not besieged by fans who are tracking him on the internet, he has a bodyguard because he's worried about normal threats that anybody with a limo might have. His situation is totally different from Rob's."

Robert Pattinson listens to questions during a press conference for Cosmopolis at the 65th international Cannes Film Festival

© PA Images / Virginia Mayo/AP



There's an excellent line from Samantha Morton's character in the movie: "The more visionary the idea, the more people it leaves behind." Did that resonate with you in terms of the reception to your own work?
"Well, yes, I think it's one of the consolations when your movie is not widely popular - you say maybe it's ahead of its time. I have had that happen with a couple of movies including Videodrome, where the reception at the box office wasn't great but the afterlife has been quite great.

"Cosmopolis is an art film, not a mainstream movie, so you know that you are gambling in that sense and you hope that it has what they call legs. When I was a kid, if you didn't see the movie that weekend, you never saw it again. The advent of VHS tapes and later DVDs is fantastic. The movies really do have an afterlife, and it encourages filmmakers to make art rather than just a consumable item."

You mentioned Videodrome's reception at the box office, so how do you feel about the remake which is being touted at the moment?
"Well, I have no connection with it whatsoever. Frankly, I'd be happy for there not to be any remakes of my movies, but we'll see if that movie really gets made."

'Videodrome' still

© Rex Features / Moviestore Collection

'Videodrome' still



Your film The Fly was a remake itself though...
"It was. It was different enough I think, and don't forget that was maybe 30 years later, whereas Videodrome... mind you, it's true - I am old enough now that I have made movies that are 30 years later. Well, we'll see.

"I have no idea how clever and intelligent the people who are involved in this are, but I can tell you that every movie I made in those early days - Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly - have all been selected for remakes at one point and have all fallen through.

"Obviously things are different now - the difference between a movie that anticipates the internet and being made after the internet. Two different things. I have no idea what they would do with it."

I recently saw the newly discovered and restored 'Cabal Cut' of Clive Barker's 1990 horror movie Nightbreed at FrightFest in London, in which you have a rare acting role as Dr Decker...
"Oh yeah, sure. Well, I'm familiar with the movie but I didn't know it was shown recently."

The new cut is from a couple of recently discovered workprints that Clive Barker believed were destroyed and restores an hour of vital footage. Were you aware of his battle with the studio at the time, which involved them butchering his intended vision for Nightbreed?
"I remember Clive was very bitter about it. That was the most serious film role that I played in the sense that I was on location in London for three months. I was writing the screenplay for Naked Lunch in the rented house I had in St John's Wood, but it still was a real commitment. It was very interesting to do, and I love Clive and was very interested to be on the set with him."

David Cronenberg is Dr. Decker in Nightbreed


How sad were you, as a filmmaker, about what happened with Clive's film in the end with the reshoots and recutting?
"Well I don't think I ever really saw what Clive had in mind, but it's a tough game and Clive, well, sort of opted out of directing. And when I saw him, which was at a Stephen King event in Toronto, he was really bitter about his movie experience, as he had quite a few bad ones.

"I have not had the same bad experiences, and have never had a movie re-cut on me. I've had one or two censorship problems, but I've somehow avoided being in that situation. It would really be a violation, I can see how horrible it would be, no question."

There has been a lot of speculation that a sequel to the brilliant Eastern Promises has been scrapped by the studio. Is there any hope?
"I think it's pretty much dead."

'Eastern Promises' still


Not even if another film studio with more sense offered to finance it?
"Well, Focus Features will not let go of it. I do think there are other places - independent producers would happily have taken the Steven Knight script, which was really good, and produced it separately from Focus even with them having distribution. It's kind of disappointing given that Focus has been a very interesting, small studio.

"They don't want to make it, but they don't want to give it to somebody else to make it. It's not very good, you know, and it's frustrating all around. So as far as I'm concerned, it's not happening."

Is it purely a financing issue?
"Yeah, I think it was money. And I think it's just the general reaction to what's been happening economically, in terms of economics around the world and in particular in the film business. More particularly in terms of Focus and Universal and Comcast and all of that. None of that stuff has directly to do with the movie itself, unfortunately."

Was there any truth at all in the rumours that you were approached to direct The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire? Or was that just an internet thing?
"No, it was not true. There were people who said, 'Wouldn't it be interesting if Cronenberg did it?' and then it sort of became its own reality. Very Videodrome-like. But no, I was never approached. I mean, I'm pretty sure I'm absolutely not the kind of director they would be looking for."

'Videodrome' still

© Rex Features / Moviestore Collection



Would you worry a studio blockbuster project would leave you creatively shackled?
"Well, you've got to know the game that you're playing, and that isn't my game really. Look, a long time ago I was approached for one second to do a Star Wars movie, which at that time was called Revenge of the Jedi and then it became Return of the Jedi. And I was approached by Lucasfilm about that and it didn't take them long to realise that maybe that wasn't a good idea."

I think the same happened with David Lynch until he turned down Jedi to do Dune. I think he was going to do that instead of Dune. Like you, his brilliant work is often not easy for the mass public to digest...
"Well you're really restricted by the format that's been established - so for a really inventive or innovative director, that's being put in a straitjacket. And the visual style has been established and the characters have been cast - I mean, you're not involved in casting the leads, which is of course, for a director, a hugely important thing.

"Alfonso Cuarón did one of the Harry Potter movies and imposed his own visual, long take, flowing style on it and it was reasonably successful that way. You can see it's interesting - you have a huge budget to work with and make more money than you would normally make, but you're pretty restricted. Cuarón could only be inventive in terms of the visual style as everything else was established. How satisfying can it be?"

What do you have coming up next and - pardon the pun - is there any buzz about this new Fly movie you're reported to have written a script for?
"Oh, that too is not happening, also because of budget constraints and other things. I think maybe the script that I wrote was a little too radical for Fox and they felt it really needed to be a very low-budget film at that point. However, what was in it that attracted them could not be done low-budget. So I think that was the problem.

"At the moment I don't have anything actually, I mean I'm finishing a novel that I'm two years late with, and that is the only thing that I'm doing."

'The Fly' still

© Rex Features / Moviestore Collection



Cosmopolis is available on Blu-ray and DVD now. Facebook.com/CosmopolisUK

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