Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rob and Cronenberg talk about Cosmopolis and Future Projects with TIME

Eric Packer, the icily charismatic asset manager played by Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis, does a great many interesting things in a single, fateful day. In his white stretch limousine, he attempts to traverse Manhattan in gridlock traffic amid violent Occupy-like protests, and all in search of a haircut. He forfeits hundreds of millions of dollars in a suicidal currency-speculation bid. He enjoys afternoon sex with a comely security specialist wearing a body-armor vest with a stun gun on hand. He also has sex with Juliette Binoche. He also endures a weirdly erotic prostate exam while staring into the eyes of a sweaty associate. He gets a pie in the face from a “pastry assassin” who travels with a crew of paparazzi. He is stalked by an actual would-be assassin as well.

So much to talk about! But overshadowing Pattinson’s press tour for Cosmopolis—directed by the great David Cronenberg and adapted from Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel—is the recent tabloid frenzy surrounding his breakup with Twilight costar Kristen Stewart. (The final film in the Twilight franchise is out in November.) TIME sat down with Cronenberg and Pattinson—fresh-faced, sweet, totally affable, smoking an electronic cigarette— in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood the day after the New York City premiere of Cosmopolis. We mostly stayed on topic, if occasionally tiptoeing awkwardly around the heartbroken vampire-elephant in the room.

TIME: Cosmopolis was published in the first year of the war in Iraq, and in a wave of novels that were all described as being “post–Sept. 11” in one way or other, but now the story maps on remarkably well to Occupy Wall Street and other protest movements around the world in 2011. David, at what point did you encounter the book, and when did you know it was a movie?
David Cronenberg: It was about three years ago, and the attraction wasn’t that the novel was prescient or because of its historical place. It was the characters, the dialogue, the intensity, the humor—it’s constantly funny. I wasn’t looking to make any kind of statement. Inevitably, though, if you’re making something with integrity, it will say something about the time it’s being made in. When the novel came out, people were saying, “All this demonstrating-on-Wall-Street stuff isn’t very convincing.” Now it’s obvious.

Robert, DeLillo’s dialogue is hyper-stylized, very formal, and often steeped in theory. How did you approach it?
Robert Pattinson: The first thing I connected to was the humor. Everything else seemed kind of arbitrary. I liked that it was absurd and unrelatable in a lot of ways. I thought that Eric doesn’t understand himself, so that was my angle—play the part as if you don’t understand the part. [Cronenberg laughs merrily] Try to remain lost. I noticed that every single time I came into a scene with an idea or an angle about how to do it, it would feel wrong, and David would know it was wrong. When I was kind of somewhere else, not thinking at all—that was when it felt right.

What’s relatable about Eric might be that his world is so mediated by technology—he experiences the world at a remove, through screens, and so he’s struggling to feel something, whether it’s through sex or shooting a gun or gambling away his fortune. Do you think people can relate to that kind of alienation and wanting something real?
DC: One of the investors in the movie is a genuine French billionaire named Edouard Carmignac. He’s known as the French Warren Buffett. He wanted to be involved with this movie because he said it was absolutely accurate. He knows many people who are like this character, who have created this strange bubble that they live in. Within that bubble, they’re very alive and in control, and yet they’re completely disconnected from normal humanity, normal relationships. So Eric Packer says things to his wife like, “This is how people talk, right?” He’s trying it out, because he really doesn’t know. He’s dealing with billions of dollars, but he’s never actually touching real money and he doesn’t know how to actually pay for things. Of course, Carmignac doesn’t think of himself as that person, but he recognizes it completely. So I take him at his word that it’s not such a stretch. People create a limo for themselves, a little spaceship, a little bell jar in which they insulate themselves from things that hurt.

RP: I think Eric is confused between genuine power and ego. He’s mixing the two up. I think a lot of people in that job find that empathy is a weakness, so he realizes that it’s a strength. I’ve read things that describe Eric as a monster, but I always thought the story was a hopeful progression. His biggest problem is that he’s totally self-obsessed. But he’s taking baby steps toward coming to terms with it. He’s had an extended adolescence in a lot of ways, and he’s really smart—he’s a savant. Some people are so entrenched in what they think they are, and he realizes that the only shock that can snap him out of himself is that someone is going to kill him.

Do you also see Cosmopolis as a story about fame? Eric is in a bubble, people he doesn’t know know him, they spin narratives in their head about him, and—
DC: No, I don’t think so. It’s like the London whale—nobody knows what that guy looks like, nobody knows where he lives. That’s his strength as a trader: nobody can predict him, nobody understands him. I think Eric is like that. On the outside, his limo looks like everyone else’s. He just got this one guy who wants to “pie” him, who’s got the paparazzi with him. But Eric can have dinner and no one’s around, he can go to the diner with his wife and nobody bothers him. He’s got the one security guy but that’s it. He doesn’t have fans.

RP: The world would be a much better place, I think, if all these bankers and billionaires were followed by paparazzi and studied as carefully. As soon as people look at something very closely, the whole thing just crumbles.

I might be thinking about Cosmopolis as a parable of fame in part because Robert is cast in the role, and Robert has a very intense and specific kind of global celebrity.
DC: The element of that that’s important is: you want to finance the movie. To attract investors, you can’t do that without an actor who is known. Beyond that, we want to disconnect. When we are making the movie, we are in our limo, our little bubble. There’s nobody else around. It’s just us. At that point, Rob’s other movies are nonexistent and my movies are nonexistent. I’m not thinking about the connections between them.

Speaking of your other movies—Cosmopolis has some affinities with David’s film Crash, in that it takes place inside a car, and the car is a very eroticized space. There’s an amazing sex scene with Eric and the security specialist, Kendra. Is a scene like that highly choreographed down to every movement, or is there room for improvisation?
RP: That was probably one of the most difficult scenes in the movie. It wasn’t a sex scene in the script. In the script, we’d finished having sex, and we were getting dressed. [To Cronenberg] I think you only told me like the day before or something. [laughter]

DC: Well, I don’t think it pays to panic my actors. There’s nothing you can do to prepare anyway. It’s not like if I’d told you the week before—

RP: I’d have done some sit-ups.

DC: Yeah, well, that wouldn’t have helped. I said that the scene becomes more interesting and trickier and better if you’re actually having sex. When Kendra says that it’s erotic to be so close to a man somebody wants to kill, it’s obviously better than if they’re on opposite sides of a room getting dressed.

RP: I like the moment of climax—it seems so obvious to have the peak and then his line is, “Do you find this interesting?” I kept laughing.

Tell me about the limo. It’s amazing—like J.G. Ballard designed the Death Star. Robert, was it claustrophobic to spend so much time acting in that space?
RP: The seat was kind of tilted back, so you could never look entirely comfortable and powerful, so from any angle, you were kind of like [he slumps and leans back slightly, looking befuddled]. I was constantly trying to present power, but I was always sort of halfway in between positions. I liked that after awhile, but I remember the first time I sat down, I thought, [whispering] “Shit, I can’t sit in this, it’s like a throne, it doesn’t work.”

DC: It was designed like a throne. I wanted there to be a visual equivalent to his sense of power and the idea that he’s created a bubble in which he is the absolute master and he forces people to come into that space for sex, for conversation, for business. The car was a set, and it all came apart into about 25 pieces, so you could get angles and lights in there and take it apart. I was shooting with very wide-angle lenses.

RP: Most of the time the camera is on a crane, so it’s remote-controlled. Normally, if there’s a camera there, you’re trying to connect with the eye looking through the lens. But to have that removed, it becomes a strange thing where you have a relationship with a machine, and there’s a dehumanizing—even the sound inside the limbo was so dead, it was like being in a recording studio. Everything was like, “I’m numb.” The sound guy was always crawling on the floor and squished into a corner, and that was the only person who was there most of the time. I’m just looking at this little French guy squirming away from me, and that’s my only other major relationship on the set.

DC: I was helping him with the disconnect thing. I like to help my actors.

How did you help Robert with the prostate-exam scene? There doesn’t seem to be as much choreography involved with that one.
DC: There was! It was kind of complex. Finding the right angle wasn’t easy.

Robert, do you have any tips for actors who have to play a prostate-exam scene?
RP: I was about three inches from Emily [Hampshire]’s face, which made it easier because if there was any distance she could have judged what I was doing, but the fact that it was so close meant that I had the upper hand—

DC: As it were!

RP: —In a very humiliating situation. That was probably the most powerful I felt during the making of the whole movie. I only found out later that a prostate exam only takes, like, a few seconds.

DC: They literally take twelve seconds. If it goes on longer, then your doctor is trying to seduce you.

What are the next movies you have going into production?
DC: I’d love to work with Rob again, and particularly I think Rob and Viggo Mortensen [star of Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method] would be fantastic together. But I’d have to sit down and write my Rob and Viggo movie. I don’t have my next movie. At one point Eastern Promises 2 was possible but that’s fallen apart for various reasons. Bruce Wagner wrote a script called Maps to the Stars; there’s a role for Rob in it, and Viggo, too. We’ll see if we can get it financed. It makes Cosmopolis look easy to finance, and it wasn’t.

RP: I’m going to make this movie [Mission: Blacklist] about Eric Maddox, an Army interrogator who was one of the major people responsible for finding Saddam Hussein. He was working with JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command], which isn’t supposed to exist, and they found Saddam Hussein by themselves but they couldn’t say it was them. The story is crazy, absolutely bizarre. It’s a really cool director called Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire. We’re going to shoot in Iraq next summer. In January I’m doing this other movie [The Rover] with David Micôd, who did the Australian movie Animal Kingdom—a futuristic western with Guy Pearce.

Before we wrap up—forgive me for this, Robert, but I have to ask: What is it like to have millions of people worrying about you and hoping you’re OK?
RP: I guess if people think they’re worried about you, it’s sweet. It’s kind of odd.

DC: They’re reacting to what they think they know, but they don’t know. And they have a huge investment in so many lives that they aren’t connected with at all. Talk about a disconnect.

RP: But at the same time, the world is a pretty cruel place, so whatever inspires people to suddenly feel this kindness, hopefully they’ll look at themselves and they’ll look at their own lives and realize, [awestruck, Eureka-moment voice] “I have the ability to—to empathize with people!”

“My ability to empathize with a total stranger has helped me empathize with people I actually know!”
RP: “Hey, I’ve learned something!”



Iluvthemovies said...

Touche on the last two RP quotes. As for his future projects, Bravo. I think his choices are smart to help him improve his skills. He reminds me of Clint Eastwood who was dropped from Universal Studios and he traveled to Europe and filmed the Man With No Name Trilogy (I love the Good, Bad, and The Ugly) and returned to the states being offered countless roles in mainstream movies and finally having the chance to direct Play Misty for Me and the rest is history. I can see this for Robert. I think with his confidence boistered by his performance in Cosmopolis and being directed by international directors, Canadian, French, Australian, and German directors, he will prove to all of us he is here to stay. I can see his future including writing and directing, as well as acting. I think Clint Eastwood, would be a very good person to emulate. Loved the interview.

Anonymous said...

gosh ..can't keep up with Rob galore. So he's attached to play Lawrence of Arabia in Queen of the Desert, Werner Herzog’s biopic of Gertrude Bell. GOOD CHOICE!

@lluthemovies completely agree! Eastwood or even Denzel Washington are good examples. "Antwone Fisher" and "Great Debaters" are power house films. Great Actors turn into great directors! I am also rooting for Rob to do more socially responsible projects such as Clint Eastwood "True Crime" for me was such an eye opener on the death penalty issue!

Well...in between I these I hope Rob still serves a good old RomCom

Iluvthemovies said...

@wedieeveryday, I agree that Denzel is a good director, I think he needs more movies under his belt for directorial greatness. I have to admit I have not seen The Great Debaters, I will have to rent it. However, I loved Antwone Fisher. I am looking forward to see him in his upcoming movie, Flight. He always blows me away starting in Glory. This is a man who could act pretty much on the spot. Rob still has to get his chops but he is getting there. I see Rob doing more bizarre films, he is a very eclectic individual, but it would be nice to see him do a socially responsible movie. I agree he is naturally funny. The Bad Mother's Handbook and How to Be he was very comical without even trying. I hope after some of these other projects that he is involved in, he will participate in a comedy, for me personally it does not have to involve romance, it could be a buddy pic w/Jonah Hill or someone like that or even Tom Sturridge, would be lovely.

Anonymous said...

@lluvthemovies YES! that' s the acting chops I am rooting for Rob to get. A Denzel like screen presence. Right now he is too much of Stanley Tucci- by stander in his roles. He needs to own it more. It's a subtle alchemy ..but he 'll get there.

Apart from Eastwood, Washington and Penn, can't see any other actor turned director I am impressed with...so Rob you gotta be next!

IMHO being an actor you're pretty much at the botton of decision making and you do what you're told so it's about working your way up smartly and learning from each projects and directors...Rob is surrounding himself with good influences, so far so good!

* Watch * The Great Debater, saw on UK telly last week. I wept at the beauty of it. Seriously. I wept!. The cinematography and creative choice will blow you away and that's a very smart way of dealing with hard stuff. I could do without his action flicks though urghhh ..I suppose everyone ha bills to pay..

Rob is sure a funky guy, some of his interviews are hilarious...did't he say one of his fav film ws the Wedding crashers??..he'l be good at those

Iluvthemovies said...

@wedieeveryday, I think Robert Redford would be the only other one besides Woody Allen. However, I am not always impressed w/Robert's work. I liked Ordinary People, but not much else. Now I know what you meant by impressed. Many of Woody Allen's films are masterpieces, my favorite is Hannah and her Sisters, I did enjoy Midnight in Paris and have not seen his latest movie set in Rome. Barbra Striesand, the only film I liked of her directed features was The Prince of Tides. Mel Gibson's Braveheart and Passion of Christ were very good, I am just not impressed with Mel lately, but those movies I thought were very impressive especially Braveheart, I love that movie. One more for the road, Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves, but that is all I have liked of his work. So I think Clint Eastwood gets the best impressive body of actor turned director and we can hope that Robert follows in one of those other celebrity actor/director. OMG, I thought of one more who is really making good movies Ben Affleck, I think he is the next Clint Eastwood.

JanBreesmom said...

I agree he is doing a fine job acting and is following good, sound career advice. I think he has good people working for him. He seems to be following in the steps of Johnny Depp as far as his decision to make a variety of genres in film, finding directors of varied background and finding diverse characters to play. He doesn't go for the easiest role or the most popular or the one that is sure to make him the most money.

I applaud him for this. I look forward to following his career for years to come.

Anonymous said...

@lluvthemovies same feeling about Redford... I still fall asleep everytime I try to watch a "River runs through to it" or the Horse whisper"...but on the other hand Redford created the Sundance film Festival so in my book he will be eternally revered. Yes, Mel Gibson is a fantastic director actually - pity for the scandals. I'll put him on my top list and a fine actor too! I am with you - Braveheart is Timeless tale, love it too! I need to check Ben Affleck's work though.

And of course the only women Barbra. I love all her films! "Yentl" was good and every scene was design like as Rembrandt painting! Julie Delpy is the one to watch for me.

I have no interest in Wooddy Allen, his work is so self-centred and culturally limited IMHO.

@JanBreesmon I agree Rob has good people working with him, good soul keep good company ...

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