Interview: Cronenberg and Pattinson talk ‘Cosmopolis’

David Cronenberg’s latest endeavour, Cosmopolis (2012), is yet another explicit example of the Canadian director’s digression from an earlier corpus of work, which has been neatly categorised as body horror. Cronenberg’s more recent movies have approached starkly realist subject matter, dealing with the darker aspects of humanity. Cosmopolis is one of those movies, exploring complex themes that are omnipresent in our lives today. To mark the UK release of the movie, CineVue sat down with the legendary cult director himself and the star of his latest movie, Robert Pattinson (AKA R-Patz).

Russell Cook: Cosmopolis acts as a reflection of the ‘Occupy’ movements that took place in both New York and London. What struck you about those movements as they were happening, and do you think they informed the film?

David Cronenberg: They didn’t inform the film at all because we really just stuck to the script. It just happened that what Don [DeLillo – the writer of the novel] wrote was kind of prescient and clairvoyant, and it felt as though the world was just catching up with him. So it didn’t alter what we did, but we couldn’t help noticing that it was as though we were making these things happen – we knew we weren’t [laughs]. Paul Giamatti, for example, texted me and said “I can’t believe I just saw Rupert Murdoch get a pie in the face”, and we had just shot the scene where Rob gets a pie in the face! We were like, “This is weird”.

RC: In Cosmopolis, capitalism is seen as ‘a spectre…haunting the world’. It’s interesting that in the movie you changed the Yen currency to the Yuan, which makes a big change to the thematic aspects of the story.

DC: That was my feeble attempt, as a complete ignoramus, in terms of the economy and economics, to make it a little futuristic, because the Yen, since the book had been written, collapsed. Then of course you had the tsunami in Japan and suddenly Japan is staggering. Before that it was all ‘Rising Sun’. Everybody was terrified of Japan taking over the world etc etc. Whilst the look to the East was correct, it’s actually going to be China as the world power, and by 2015, the Yuan will be a fully convertible currency, and therefore, might just replace the dollar as the world currency. That’s the Chinese plan and nobody seems to be able to say that it won’t happen.

RC: The use of the Chinese Yuan also ties in with the rat symbolism seen throughout the movie – the rat being the first symbol of the Chinese Zodiac. If you wanted to go into metaphors…

DC: I never go into metaphors [laughs]. This is the first I’ve heard, and to be honest, I don’t know if Don thought of it, because that [use of rats] is from a poem by a Polish poet called ‘Report from the Besieged City’. brightcove.createExperiences();

RC: We gather that yourself and Mr. Pattinson will be working together again soon in Maps to the Stars. Is that definitely going ahead now?

DC: Is it? [Laughs] Rob? Did you find the financing?

Robert Pattinson: Well, I want to do the movie and that’s why I have started talking about it. I want to get some finance.

DC: It has created some interest actually. There is a brilliant script by a friend of mine – Bruce Wagner. He writes about Hollywood a lot. His books are fantastic. It’s [Maps to the Stars] one of those great scripts that just isn’t an easy sell, much like Cosmopolis. It’s edgy, in that nasty and disturbing way. It has emotion but it’s a kind of weird emotion, just like Cosmopolis. By the end of the movie, Cosmopolis is strangely, weirdly sad, and is emotional, but it kind of sneaks up on you because you never think it is going to go there. It’s hard to make difficult movies. Even when you have credible actors it’s tough.

RC: David, characters in your films seem to be seeking some kind of knowledge. There is a sense in Cosmopolis that Eric Packer has already made his millions, and that he’s now setting out on a voyage that ostensibly seems to be about something trivial – a haircut. How do you see that character in relation to the lineage of other characters through your films? And Robert, what did you feel when you saw that character on the page?

RP: I don’t think I approached the role seeing Eric as being a nihilist. I think there was energy there – I think the energy of being a nihilist is really different to what I saw. Eric isn’t consciously throwing everything away, he just thinks that he’s getting closer to something, and everything actually just starts to fall away. David, do you agree? 

DC: I don’t actually think about my movies. I mean, you’re asking me to be an analyst of my own movies, and I could do that, but I won’t because that’s your job. But, what I will say is that I don’t think about my other movies when I make a movie. The joy for me is the middle of the night, on the street, with your crew and actors, with nobody else around. You’re not thinking about Twilight. You’re not thinking about Scanners. You’re thinking about Cosmopolis, and Eric Packer, and the structure of that. It’s very pure.

With regards to the haircut, it is not trivial. He [Rob] sets it up when he says: “A haircut is what? It’s a calendar on the wall. It’s a chair. It’s a neighbourhood”. It’s his past. He’s going back to a place where he was somehow pure and somehow innocent. When he sits in that chair during that scene – and this is the thing I love about Rob; he probably didn’t even know he was doing it – he becomes a child. It’s only later on that you understand what this haircut is all about. 

RC: There are subtle changes that you have made from DeLillo’s book – for example, Eric and his wife do not touch. Why was that decided on?

DC: Well, I didn’t feel that they ever touched. I honestly felt that the orgy part from the book, with the naked people in the streets of New York, was Eric’s fantasy of reconciliation and a rather juvenile fantasy at that. I never believed it was real and I knew that on-screen it would be laughable and could never happen. He disconnects from his wife and he never does touch her, and they never do have sex. It’s over, and that’s one of the things that leads to his breakdown.

Cosmopolis is released in UK cinemas on 15 June. You can read our review here.

Russell Cook