“There are few people on the planet that are more wonderful to spend time with than David [Cronenberg] . . . We don’t talk about working together, we talk about playing together.”
With these opening words Martin Katz set the tone for the rest of the press conference for David Cronenberg’s latest film Cosmopolis. Both the producer and Cronenberg were present at the press conference with the film’s leads, and it was clear from the start that there was a genuine sense of rapport and community amongst them all. In response to Katz’s accolades, Cronenberg (whose sense of humour shone through the entire proceedings) murmured into the microphone, “Aww, I love you too, Martin,” which elicited laughter from both the press gathered and the cast at the conference table.
Along with Katz and director Cronenberg, the cast of the film was represented by leads Robert Pattinson, Emily Hampshire, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Durand, and Sarah Gadon. The conference, moderated by renowned TV and film critic Richard Crouse, revealed some interesting details about what went into the creation of the film, particularly because the book it was based on (the Don DeLillo novel of the same title) was generally considered “unfilmable” . . . until of course, Cronenberg filmed it.
Katz recalls that despite the financial difficulties of the time, finding funding for the film was not difficult.
“To go out into the world and say, ‘We’re making a contemporary thriller set in the financial world and it’s directed by David,’ was really a pitch that caught everyone’s attention,” he says. “I’m not sure they expected to see the movie you’re going to see tonight, which is a fantastically accomplished and beautiful film, which is about the collapse of the financial world. But it was a lot simpler to find the money than a lot of [other] films.”
An international endeavour, Katz says that a third of the funding came from Canada, a third came from France and Italy, and the rest from around the world.
Cronenberg took on the project after being introduced to the novel by a friend, and says it took him six days to have the script written.
“The dialogue was the backbone of it . . . which is realistic because Americans do speak that way; but it is stylized, and the punctuation really matters,” he says.
He says the first thing he did was take two days to transcribe the entire dialogue of the novel into screenplay format, and then look at it to see if it could be made into a movie. He decided it could be, but realized that certain things needed to be changed in the adaptation.
“When I met Don DeLillo, he said, ‘I was really interested to see how you’d handle Benno’s journal . . . and I was interested to see that you handled it by leaving it out.’”
Cronenberg goes on to explain that his extensive experience in adapting books to film has taught him that certain things that can be expressed in novel form don’t always work for cinema, and vice versa.
“So the things that didn’t work—or I couldn’t make work—I left out.” He adds that instead, “I give you Paul (Giamatti). I give you Paul’s face, and his voice and his eyes and his movement. And I figure that’s my credit default swap! That’s the cinematic way of giving you Benno without the journal.”
However, the one thing he kept while making the film was a rigid adherence to the original dialogue in the novel.
For the cast, preparing for their respective roles ranged from anxiety over working with such a renowned director (as in Emily Hampshire’s case; she called fellow cast member Jay Baruchel ahead of time to ask what Cronenberg was like) to three months of pre-preparation (for Kevin Durand) to downright panic (in Robert Pattinson’s case, at the idea of preparing to play a character who is essentially the symbol for capitalism).
Pattinson describes how he spent two weeks worrying in his hotel room, and then went to visit Cronenberg before the production began.
“I think you heard me in the very obvious throes of a panic attack and were just placating me,” Pattinson confessed to bursts of laughter. “I think you just said, “When we start shooting, what will be, will be.’”
Cronenberg elaborates on this, saying, “You can’t ask an actor to play a symbol; we didn’t talk about that on set. It’s only after the fact you start to assign these things.”
Pattinson adds, “I’m not a post-modernist scholar or anything. So I’m sitting there thinking, Can I come up with an interpretation of DeLillo that’s completely original in two weeks?” And Cronenberg cuts in with, “Your agent said you were!”
After the laughter dies down, Pattinson continues, explaining that the job actors are faced with nowadays is to analyze the script and their characters and to come up with a convincing performance, as opposed to the early days of cinema where actors just showed up and said their lines. So with Cosmopolis, the fact that there was no deviation from the script was actually a bit of a relief.
“There’s something about the construction in his writing that’s so easy, you don’t need to add anything to it, and I think that’s what you [Cronenberg] encouraged me to do. There were no rewrites in the script. Normally the script’s sh**; they have no foundation to stand on in the first place! And you’re so used to just changing it the whole time, with every single movie. But with this, once you suddenly get to the idea to think, ‘We’re not changing any of the script, the script is fine. It’s you; you’re the problem!’” he exclaimed, making everyone else at the table laugh.
For Paul Giamatti, who plays Eric Packer’s stalker, Benno, it was a matter of juggling two movies, as he was filming Rock of Ages at the same time.
“Fortunately the other movie wasn’t terribly demanding . . . I was panicked [about Cosmopolis]—this thing was intimidating!”
But even on the other set, he had some assistance getting his character developed ahead of production on Cosmopolis.
“Malin Ackerman made a great Robert Pattinson,” he said to roaring laughter.
At the end Cronenberg describes Cosmopolis, which primarily takes place inside Eric Packer’s stretch limousine, driving slowly through Manhattan as he tries to get a haircut at his old barbershop, as “a kind of slow-moving road movie.”
“It’s a regression to his childhood, and the innocence and naïveté,” Cronenberg says of his interpretation of the novel.
This is one way to describe it, and like many road movies, it does follow Eric Packer’s character arc to a sense of self-realization at the conclusion.
Now it’s up to the audience to decide what to make of that conclusion.
Cosmopolis opens in theatres Friday, June 8.