David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" opens in New York and Los Angeles today. It's one of the most genuinely weird cinematic experiences we've had this year (and we mean that in a good way). We got to talk to Cronenberg and his leading man Robert Pattinson, who stars in the film as a disaffected young millionaire who prowls New York City in a limousine, dodging a potential assassin, meeting various business associates, and talking endlessly about his existential plight in the midst of economic upheaval. We chatted with Cronenberg about how the project came to be, what it was like to shoot digitally, and much more.
Cronenberg said that "Cosmopolis" came to him from Portuguese producer Paul Blanco, who had the idea for adapting the Don DeLillo novel of the same name. Cronenberg wrote the script quickly, with a single goal in mind: retaining DeLillo's distinctive prose. "Don's dialogue in all his books is fantastic – very stylized, like Harold Pinter," Cronenberg explained. "Pinter is a playwright and you hear his dialogue spoken, just like David Mamet. But I had never heard DeLillo's dialogue spoken so I thought, 'Okay, I really want some fabulous actors saying these lines. I want to see what happens with that.'"
When it came down to casting, Cronenberg had to ask some essential questions: "How old is this character? How old are the actors around? Who can do the New York accent even if they're not from around there? Who has the star power to get you financing, which is always an issue?" Finally the director decided on Pattinson, best known for his role as vampire Edward Cullen in the insanely popular "Twilight" series. Even with Cronenberg's considerable cache, it took him a while to sell Pattinson on the project. Ten days, to be exact.
"I suddenly realized I had no idea how to do it at all," Pattinson said, seeming slightly embarrassed about the whole episode. "I knew it was really good but I was terrified of even calling. Actors are always trained to bullshit, even if you hate something. And I had nothing to say, at all. Because David did the script he obviously knows what it's about. As soon as I said, 'I don't know what it's about,' he said, 'Me neither.'" And while that was reassuring to the actor, it wasn't the end. "Then I spent a week trying to figure out how to get out of it, where I got to the point where I was going to have to call up and say, 'I'm too scared because I don't think I'm a good enough actor and I'm a pussy.' I didn’t want to have that conversation."
Thankfully that conversation didn't happen, mostly because Cronenberg assured Pattinson that he was "absolutely the right person" for the role. And with Pattinson, the movie had an actual fighting chance of getting made (with a lesser box office draw, this would have been more or less an impossibility). "Well it was certainly a thrill to be able to help it get made… Especially one like this," Pattinson said. The actor said that Cronenberg was so legendary that Pattinson wasn't even sure he was still making movies. "He's one of those directors where he's not even on a level of 'Oh yeah I really want to work with him.'" That's when Pattinson turned to Cronenberg and lovingly said, "You have an adjective!" To which Cronenberg exclaimed (with a kind of demented glee): "Cronenbergian!" Pattinson then continued: "It's kind of changed my whole perception of who I can work with. There are people who I grew up watching who are so part of the film language that you don't even realize that they're still making movies." Cronenberg then shot back: "That they're still alive! Which is what he's trying to say."
"Cosmopolis" marks a significant departure for Cronenberg, and not only because it's his first film with Pattinson. It's the first movie he's shot digitally, which actually adds another dimension to the chilly artifice and technologically obsessed tone. For Cronenberg, it was a long time coming. "I was always done with film," he said matter-of-factly. "Film has been dead for years, it just didn't know it. Talk about zombies." The director went on to make a blanket statement about the entire industry, which made us wonder why he wasn't interviewed for the recent digital-versus-film documentary "Side By Side." "It's over for film, and it has been for many years," Cronenberg said. "It's 100 years of film and it's hard to give up because there's an infrastructure and all that and the projectors, but projectors are becoming totally digital around the world and it's been slow because it's a very expensive turnover. There's no reason to shoot film anymore. Film is not as good as digital."
Whatever Cronenberg ends up shooting next, he would like Pattinson to come along for the ride. "We had a great time and we just know we could do something really cool together," Cronenberg said, noting that the long-gestating Bruce Wagner project "Map to the Stars" "could be" one of those projects. "We just don't know what it is. So if you've got any ideas, please let us know."
"Cosmopolis" is now in theaters.