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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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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