David Cronenberg on “Cosmopolis,” Robert Pattinson, and why it’s necessary to “betray the book”


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“Cosmopolis” hits theaters this weekend, bringing director David Cronenberg’s unique vision to Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel about a 28-year-old billionaire whose mid-day trek across Manhattan in a tricked-out limo quickly becomes a surreal, philosophical exploration of the relationship between money, power, and society.

Starring in the film is “Twilight” alum Robert Pattinson, who plays the icy Eric Parker, a young man with a lot of money and a single-minded urge to get a haircut across town. His adventure is waylaid by random sexual trysts, cold meetings with his new wife, a massive protest filled with rat-flinging anarchists, and a pair of mysterious “threats” that keep his security detail on high alert.

IFC spoke with Cronenberg about the new film and his approach to adaptations, and got the scoop on a pair of projects he worked on that will probably never make it to theaters, but are interesting all the same.

IFC: You’ve made so many films over the years based on books, what was it about this particular story that jumped out at you?

DAVID CRONENBERG: I was immediately struck by the dialogue [in DiDeLillo’s book]. It was familiar to me because Don’s dialogue is very distinctive. I think of him in the same terms as I think of David Mamet or Harold Pinter — that is to say, it’s the way people speak, but it’s also very stylized. That produces an interesting tension and rhythm. But those two guys are dramatists, and you hear their dialogue spoken often on stage and in movies, whereas Don is a novelist. You don’t hear his dialogue spoken ever, because he hasn’t had a movie made out of one of his books before.

IFC: Does that raise the level of difficulty in making a movie like this?

CRONENBERG: No, not at all. I’m really thinking of that in retrospect now. I wasn’t thinking so much about that at the time. What I was thinking was, I would love to hear that dialogue spoken by some really terrific actors. I think it would be really intriguing and interesting and compelling. That was the hook for me. It wasn’t the theme of the story or anything like that. I like the restriction of one street, one limo, one day, because I don’t shy away from that and rather like it, but I think it was the dialogue first and foremost that was the hook. And the dialogue in the movie is 100-percent from the book.

IFC: You mentioned wanting to see great actors speak the dialogue, and the movie is filled with them. But I’m curious about Robert Pattinson, who’s still a young actor and doesn’t have nearly as much experience as some of the supporting cast, but has a massive following. When you have a project like this, do you do more tailoring of the script to fit his strengths, or more work with him to match his abilities and talents to the material?

CRONENBERG: For all the actors, you don’t really know what you’re going to get. Except for some auditions that a few actors did for certain roles, I never heard the dialogue spoken until we were shooting. With Rob in particular, I never heard that particular dialogue spoken until we were shooting. You go into filming with confidence that you have the right guy, but you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. There’s a very organic thing that goes on in “Cosmopolis” that’s very spontaneous, because until Robert’s sitting in the limo with the actual actor opposite him who he’s playing the scene with — and there are so many different actors who come in and out of that limo — he doesn’t know how he’s going to react, because he’s not acting in a vacuum. He’s reacting to the other actor. . . . For example, the very first scene we shot was in the limo with Jay Baruchel. Rob was shocked by how Jay was playing it, because he was playing it with so much emotion and vulnerability, and Rob had never anticipated that. So he had to react to that. That’s the excitement of the movie: you mix all of these things that are potent and good, but you don’t really know what you’re going to get from that.

IFC: It’s sort of like cooking…

CRONENBERG: [Laughs] Yes, it is. It’s like cooking a meal you’ve never made before.

IFC: You’ve done so many adaptations over the years, and many of them have differed significantly from their source material, but were great movies all the same. How do you balance the need to stay faithful to the source material against the need to make a good, original, interesting movie?

CRONENBERG: I learned very quickly when I did “The Dead Zone,” my first adaptation, that you have to betray the book in order to be faithful to the book. The reason for that is that the two media are really different. Literature and cinema, they are not the same. They are related, and they might seem to be closer together than they are, but when you’re really working in both of the fields, you can see they’re tremendously different. To take the most obvious example, even a bad novelist can do a convincing inner monologue where you’re in the person’s head and he’s walking down the street and thinking about his mistress and his bank account, and so on. You can’t do that in a movie. The usual failure is that you resort to a voiceover, where someone is reading the novel to you like a kid at bedtime. To me, that’s an admission of failure. You couldn’t find the cinematic translation or equivalent or whatever. You have to be brutal. When there’s something you know won’t work, you have to get rid of it or rethink it or reconfigure it. That’s what the key is: recognizing the differences of cinema and what its strengths are and weakeness are, and coming to grips with that.

IFC: On the subject of changes form the source material, I’m going to get into spoiler territory here for a moment and ask you about the end of the movie and how it differs from the book. The movie leaves things more uncertain than the book, it seems…

CRONENBERG: It’s hard to discuss without spoilers, but it would’ve been very easy to put a gunshot on the soundtrack and you would know that Eric was murdered. And in the book you know that he’s murdered, or at least if you believe Benno, he’s been murdered — but that’s the thing, because Benno is not exactly a trustworthy narrator. In the book there is still some scope for uncertainty as to Eric’s fate, but as we were shooting that last scene, I loved that these two guys were frozen in that last moment — almost frozen in an eternity of uncertainty. They’re bound together. They’re locked together in this sort of archetypal moment. I thought the moment should be eternal.

IFC: I can picture you going, “And cut it right… there!”

CRONENBERG: [Laughs] Basically, yeah. So it was more like that than a dramatic thing. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I can’t stand to have this character killed,” or “Rob’s fans won’t like it if I shoot Robert,” or anything like that. I wasn’t worry about that stuff. It was really spontaneous. As I mentioned, we could’ve easily made it clear that he’s killed, cutting to black with the sound of a gunshot.

IFC: One of your other projects that’s been im the news lately is “Eastern Promises.” There’s been some indication that a sequel might happen…

CRONENBERG: That’s dead, so it’s not worth discussing it other than to say that was something I really wanted to do and was looking forward to doing, but it’s not going to happen.

IFC: The remake of “Total Recall” was released recently, and while I was doing some research on it, I was surprised to learn about the version of the film that you were planning to make with William Hurt that pre-dated Paul Verhoeven’s film. I’d love to know what your take on “Total Recall” would’ve been like…

CRONENBERG: I haven’t seen the new one, so i can’t say anything about that. But I’m a big Philip K. Dick fan, and the difference [in what I was planning to make] was that I wanted to cast William Hurt and they cast Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s the difference.

IFC: That’s… that’s a pretty big difference.

CRONENBERG: That’s really the difference.

IFC: So what’s next for you after “Cosmopolis”?

CRONENBERG: At the moment, because “Eastern Promises 2” collapsed, I really don’t have anything that’s remotely close to being green-lit. There are projects, maybe, but nothing that’s close enough to discuss other than the novel I have to finish by the end of the year. It’s been sold to a lot of countries, but I haven’t finished it yet. So that’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to be a novelist for the rest of the year.

IFC: That’s not a bad plan to have.

CRONENBERG: No, it’s not too bad at all.

“Cosmopolis” hits theaters August 17.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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