INT: David Cronenberg

Weird, quirky, eccentric – those are just some of the adjectives mentioned when David Cronenberg’s name comes up. The provocative filmmaker, know for exploring topics outside the mainstream with films like VIDEODROME, CRASH and THE DEAD ZONE, delves into somewhat more mainstream territory with his latest project, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello, it’s the story of a small-town family man whose life is dramatically altered when he intervenes to stop a violent act.

Cronenberg stopped by the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills last week to discuss A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. He strolled into the interview clad in a dark green jacket and a t-shirt adorned with images of various fish (given to him by fish-loving Viggo).

David Cronenberg

What’s up with Viggo’s love of fishing?

He doesn’t even know how to describe it, but I can explain it to you. Viggo is one of the few…actually he’s the only actor I’ve ever met who does set decoration. When he went to Indiana and Philadelphia to do research, he would buy stuff that he would think that this character would have around him. And he brought back tons of stuff, which he would then put on the set. Things like in the diner, there’s a little ceramic fish head, it says “fishing money,” and it’s got a little slot for tips that you put in there. And then he bought the wall charts that have fish on them. You could them in the diner. We thought that Tom (Viggo’s character) would be a fishing guy, even though we don’t see him doing it in the movie. So that led him then to start buying fish shirts for everybody. But he’s so sweet and sensitive about it that no one ever felt that there toes were buying stepped on. And he’s also totally fine if you say, “No, I don’t think this should be on the set. I don’t this character would have that.” He would be fine with that too.

Did you have any preconceived notions about Viggo before you met him?

I didn’t know what to think of him. When I met him at a Lord of the Rings party, he had shoulder-length hair and he was wearing some big coat. It was in a castle, an actual château that had been dressed to be like a Lord of the Rings chateau, with artifacts and swords and armor and stuff. I really didn’t have a good idea from that meeting, which was very quick. And he doesn’t remember it. We just basically said hello. He doesn’t remember that he said, “I’d love to work with you.” (laughs) But he did. So I really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that everybody loved him, though, and that he was very sweet and very congenial.

But also very very fussy about what he did. So his agents and managers were always rooting for me because they really wanted him to work and wanted him to do this movie and stuff. And they were very helpful. Viggo puts everything he’s got into what he does and he’s very bright. He wanted to know what movie we were making together. And so I flew down to here and I came to seduce him. That was my goal. By that time I knew that I wanted him for the role and I thought he’d be absolutely the best guy for it. But we talked about the politics of the film, it’s political undertones and overtones. We talked about the way I work, the way he works and a lot of stuff. And we also had a lot of laughs, because he’s very funny. After that meeting, he starts calling me ten times a day to talk about details, as though he was doing the movie, without ever actually saying, “I want to do the movie.” And that’s how it continued. The collaboration continues right up to this moment.

Why did you think he would be right for the role of Tom Stall?

First of all, the thing about the movie that I love about the project was this iconic Americana element, the small-town-ness of it, the landscape; I thought that Viggo would really have that kind of Gary Cooper-ish feeling, the guy standing alone in the landscape, not necessarily with a gun in his hand, but also with a gun in his hand. Because the movie is a lot about America’s mythology of itself and how the reality relates to that mythology. So I thought he could embody that. But also, I watched a movie he did called A Walk on the Moon.

That’s really the one that convinced me that he could do this beautifully, because in that he’s very sweet, he’s tender, he’s kind, he’s romantic, which is not the normal kind of role that he plays. And I could see that he had the range, easily, to do what I wanted him to do in this movie. He also has that wonderful combination that I love in actors, which is that he has that bit of charisma and the screen presence of a leading man. But he also is not afraid to disappear into a role and he has the eccentricity that you expect from a character actor. And it’s a lovely combination, which means that you can just go very far and there’s no star persona baggage or anything like that. Also, as I found out, he’s just a great guy. Wonderful to work with – funny and a wonderful collaborator as well.

What was it about this film that attracted you to the project?

Well, I did talk about the iconic Americana elements, and I thought that would be an interesting thing to examine, because I haven’t really dealt with that since The Dead Zone, which was also set in a small town in America. I’ve only set like three movies in America. (The Dead Zone) was centered around a small town and family. That was actually more overtly political because it had a character who was a politician.

For whatever reason, I felt that it would be interesting to come to terms with that. What’s different about this movie – which was obvious to me and it’s what people probably mean when they say it’s more mainstream – is that the characters are very recognizable. They’re very familiar. You don’t want them to be too familiar because that could get boring and they don’t stay that familiar for very long, but mostly I’m drawn to characters who are more eccentric; they’re more on the margins of society. They’re even grotesque. And that gives me audience problems because the audiences often reject those characters or don’t want to be too close to them or don’t want to know about them, like in Crash.

And my job then is to seduce the audience into the movie, to bring them closer to the characters, so by the end of the movie they’re have some understanding – or some empathy at least – for these characters, who at first they might have thought they could never relate to. In this movie it’s the reverse. It’s almost like the inside-our version of that. I start with very accessible, familiar, attractive characters and then I take you into that and go to quite a dark place with them. As far as I can see, that’s about all that people mean when they talk about being mainstream. I mean, it’s also a fairly linear plot as well.

How does the theme of this movie fit in with others you’ve explored throughout your overall career?

I can’t talk about that. (laughs) No, I’m serious in that I’m the last one to tell you about my work. I don’t know where it fits in, really. I don’t think about that. I’m sure it would be interesting to hear, but when I’m think about doing a movie, I forget about my other movies, I forgot about what people expect from me or don’t expect. I only listen to what the movie wants. It’s like having a kid. You think the kid’s gonna be one thing and the kid is not that; the kid is something else. So what do you do? You feed the kid, you give the kid what it needs. And that’s what I feel about the movie.

The sequence with William Hurt is one that some might call Tarantino-esque.

I don’t think what I’m doing is the same as what he’s doing at all, because I think his movies are only about movies. They’re only about other movies. It’s all retro. His references are never to human life, but to human life as filtered through old movies. He’s basically always doing remakes and pastiches of old movies. And I saw those 70s movies when they came out – they were bad then. Why would you want to do a remake of a bad 70s movie? I don’t see that remaking it makes it good somehow.

What it does do is make it kind of “post-modernist” in that it’s always referring to another era and it’s retro and there’s always quotes around everything and everything is ironic and we’re always nudging and winking. In this movie we’re playing it very straight. And I would even say that the William Hurt character…I will defend him as being realistic and I say you’ve gotta know these guys. If you’ve ever had a meeting with a studio head…(laughs) There’s this sense of self-grandeur and delusions of grandeur and megalomania and an aspiration to be elegant and classy without realizing how tacky and vulgar he really is. And that’s where the comedy comes from – it comes from his character.

So it doesn’t come from me winking and nudging and alluding to other movies; it comes from where I think that character comes from and who he is. So to me it’s quite a different project from a Tarantino project, even thought there’s obviously some crossovers. And people have mentioned David Lynch too. I see the connections, but I really think we’re doing very different things.

Maria Bello mentioned that before she met you, she thought you were “fucking weird.” Do you feel the need to put people at ease when you meet them?

No. I don’t feel that I have to do any of that stuff. I think the relationship between an artist and his art is quite complex. It’s not one-to-one. When I met Scorsese – he’d wanted to meet me long ago because he loved my early films, but they terrified him – and he said he was terrified to meet me. Then when I walked into the room, he said that instead of this maniac, it was somebody who looked like a Beverly Hills gynecologist. (laughs)

That was before I did Dead Ringers. And I said, “This is the guy who did Taxi Driver.” That is a scary movie. So you could imagine that Marty Scorsese is some kind of scary maniac, and he’s not. Of course he’s the sweetest, most lovely guy. It’s the comedians who are the scary guys in person. They’re the nastiest, most bitter guys. So I figures there’s some kind of balance – Wes Craven is a very sweet guy. So maybe there’s a balancing thing; you put on screen what you are not in life. I don’t know how it works, but I don’t worry too much about it.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com



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