The interview is taking place in the Stewart Room at the Thompson Hotel in downtown Toronto, a long, carpeted space with one entire wall that mirrors the length of the room. No more than half an hour prior, Durand had sat at a long table with Cosmopolis (check out my review of the film here) director, David Cronenberg, and fellow actors Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Gadon, and Emily Hampshire, as well as producer Martin Katz, to answer pressing questions from the media about the hotly anticipated new movie, which comes to theatres this Friday, June 8. (Check out the highlights from the conference here)
Durand comes into the room singing, prompting the publicist to suggest jokingly that the entire interview should be done in song—which I wholeheartedly support. Alas, it is not to be. What I do get, however, is an interesting conversation with a charming, eloquent man, with a direct, attentive gaze. His dress style is casual yet dapper in a grey waistcoat over a striped button-down shirt with rolled up sleeves, and grey stonewashed jeans. A perfect gentleman, he shook my hand and waited for me to sit before taking a seat himself.
When asked to describe the experience of working with David Cronenberg, he describes a Zen-like atmosphere where the famed director’s calm, steady influence was felt in the conduct of everyone on set.
“He’s so prepared. He’s such a consummate professional and [has a] gentle, generous heart that everybody just follows suit. So there was this state of Zen and calm and happiness on set,” Durand says. “Everybody felt like they really had to be prepared and do the best possible job that they could, and that was it. He really led the group of us that way, by example, and everybody followed suit. It was really, really lovely.”
But Durand also chalks down his enjoyment of the experience to the sheer amount of preparation he put into preparing for the role. While filming his other new film, Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster, in Sault St Marie, he and friend and fellow actor Joseph Cross worked with each other to prepare audition tapes for their next respective roles, which for Durand was the role of Torval, bodyguard to Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer in Cosmopolis. He put in three months of work, delving into the dense script whose dialogue came right from the Don DeLillo novel it is based on, preparing to play the intense, justifiably paranoid security agent.
“I’m thinking, How do I do this right, you know? How do I send something to David Cronenberg, who is a hero to many of us? The dialogue was just so dense and the syntax was so specific that it took me a while to crack the code!”
When he finally did get to the crux of his character and the storyline, he says, “We were jumping around the room; we finally found it, you know? And I knew that once I found it, I felt really confident about it. And luckily David felt the same way, and the performance lived very much in the same neighbourhood.”
Durand went beyond the novel for inspiration, though, taking time to read books about bodyguards and personal security in order to get into the mental space of his character, the uber-serious Torval.
“You know, you just place yourself in that position where you have someone who’s very important in the world, and their livelihood, you’re completely in charge of. [It] puts you in a serious place, you know?” he says.
“All of the paranoia and analysis you have to go through every passing moment, you know? Every single person that you see, every voice that you hear, could be someone trying to defeat you in your task. So yeah, it wasn’t tough to get into that space because it was all on the page—but also just understanding, truly understanding that task. I read a couple of books on personal bodyguards and security, and it’s really about analysis and a slight paranoia.”
And of course, being as well built as Durand is doesn’t hurt either.
“Right, right, right, right!” he agrees, letting out a booming laugh. “I guess 6’6″ helps, you know?”
In the press conference held earlier in the day, the subject was brought up about how rigidly the film stuck to the source material in terms of the dialogue, which Cronenberg noted is very realistic but also very stylized, as is common of DeLillo. When asked about whether Durand felt any constraints working within the framework of the unchanging dialogue, he notes that it was actually a refreshing change for him.
“It’s funny because over the last maybe three, four years, I had been improvising a lot,” he says. “It started with Ridley Scott on Robin Hood, and he just started giving me this freedom. And when a fellow like him gives you that freedom, this new thing kind of awoke in me. It kind of led into the next projects, and the directors wanted that freedom from me, all the way up until this one. For me this was—it was excellent to just go back to the text.”
Not that he minds the opportunity to improvise, but he says that knowing exactly what was expected lifted some of the pressure.
“It’s really freeing to improvise,” he adds. “But when you can just have full confidence in what’s already created, it takes pressure off. And I love working either way, but it was almost calming. I didn’t have to add anything. I just had to do my job.”
The chameleon-like actor—who has played wildly varying roles in the past and cites Gary Oldman as an early influence—says that one of the things that draws him to projects like Cosmopolis is a visceral, physical reaction to the script. A connection with the director is also a big draw for Durand, but he says the chance to play a compelling character is always enticing.
“I’m just constantly kind of putting it out there that I want chances to play completely different characters. Because I don’t really find myself that interesting—and I never really did!” he confesses with a laugh. “Even as a kid I always found myself very boring; I always thought it was more interesting to try and be somebody else. So now I get to do that, and you know, pay my mortgage doing it. So it’s really quite . . . I’m quite lucky.”
For anybody planning to go see Cosmopolis, Durand just has one thing to say.
“I would tell them not to expect anything,” he says. Speaking as a movie fan rather than an actor, he adds, “I love going to the movie theatre and picking a film that I have no idea what it is, and going in and just letting the writer, director, the entire production take me for a ride. And I think this is a film that is just so bloody compelling, in every frame, but also non-formulaic. So if you go with a certain idea of what you think you’re going to go see, then it might detract from the overall experience. Because I think it’s just such a joy . . . I thought it was a joy watching this film. I thought it was just so . . . interesting and thought-provoking and compelling. And it hits you for days afterwards, you know?”
Cosmopolis opens in theatres June 8.