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Bruce Wagner Tells the Dark Story of Writing Cronenberg’s ‘Maps to the Stars’

Bruce Wagner Tells the Dark Story of Writing Cronenberg's 'Maps to the Stars'

But together, Cronenberg and Wagner, along with Cannes Best Actress winner Julianne Moore and her excellently creepy costars Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Olivia Williams and Robert Pattinson make this black void somehow feel sinister and real.

In a recent Guardian op-ed, Wagner opened up about the famed script’s thwarted journey, how Oliver Stone inadvertently pushed him into writing it, why this isn’t “a satire” and why “Maps to the Stars” is a dead serious ghost story. “The thought of an industry satire makes me want to vomit.”

Wagner grew up on the fringes of Hollywood, working at bookstores, as a limo driver for celebrities including Orson Welles (“the prospect of sitting next to him for hours was suddenly and inexplicably stressful”), an ambulance driver, a would-be actor and a pencil-pusher at Paramount, where “Maps” got its start.

-“In my early 30s, Oliver Stone introduced me to Billy Wilder. I’ll never forget my frisson on learning that the original script of Sunset Boulevard began in a morgue, with the corpses all sharing how they met their ends. (It was shot but discarded because it didn’t sit well with preview audiences.) That scene was a thematic foretelling of my own corpus to come: phantoms telling stories around a campfire. William Holden begins his “share” as a ghost heard in voiceover while we see his floating corpse. Swimming pools have always been a thread that runs through my work. As a very young boy visiting California for the first time, I looked out the plane’s window with shock and wonder at the Elysian mosaic of blue backyard portals. In ‘Maps to the Stars,’ a five-year-old drowns in one. Like his great-grandfather Holden, he becomes a ghost, but sadly has had no life to share.”

-“Stone eventually asked me to adapt my first book, ‘Force Majeure: The Bud Wiggins Stories,’ published in an edition of 1000, by film producer Caldecot Chubb. I wrote a screenplay I hated, since I thought no one would make a film of a script that I loved. When Oliver surprised me by saying I should direct it, I found myself in an existential bind worthy of the character I’d conjured – as the greedy, for-hire hack I was, I had cheesily adapted the bravest, most authentic writing I was capable of. I couldn’t go through with it. So I rewrote the script, knowing that the new draft, a cri de coeur, was unmakeable. That it wouldn’t become a movie until more than 20 years later didn’t matter. I wrote ‘Maps to the Stars’ and was liberated.”

-“Contrary to critics’ easy characterization, it doesn’t have a satirical bone in its elegiac, messy, hysterical body. I’ve given you the lay of the land as I see it, saw it, and lived it. ‘Maps’ is the saga of a doomed actress, haunted by the spectre of her legendary mother; of a child star ruined by early celebrity, fallen prey to addiction and the hallucination of phantoms; of the mutilation, both real and metaphorical, sometimes caused by fame and its attendants – riches, shame and nightmare. I see our movie as a ghost play, not a satire.”

-“‘Maps’ attempts a raucous confabulation of Wilder’s landscape along with the bitchy brutalities of Orton and Strindberg. I’m nothing if not ambitious… Cronenberg has said he has no interest in vivisecting Hollywood mores and manners and neither do I.”

The film is getting US distribution via Focus Features digital arm Focus World, with an awards-qualifying run planned in late 2014 ahead of a 2015 rollout. How will viewers and critics, fascinated at Cannes, react to this raucous shit-show?

“Maps to the Stars” gleefully slays Hollywood and all its players — here demons complicit in the construction of Hell — with no mercy. So I can’t imagine that this Canadian production of Cronenberg’s first film ever to be shot in the US will do anything but repel most audiences, while bewitching a lucky few.

Catch it, if you dare, at the New York Film Festival this month.

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