Cosmopolis is, among other things, a film about a very rich man in a very nice limousine trying to get across midtown Manhattan by effectively cutting a swathe through hordes of angry protesters. That the film is two hours long is a testament to just how angry those protesters are, or perhaps it’s just a testament to Eric Packer’s compulsive need to stop for a snack every couple of blocks.
Anyway, enough about that. The Bleeding Cool review of Cosmopolis will be out this week, and shortly after the screening I sat down with writer-director David Cronenberg and lead actor Robert Pattinson to find out their thoughts on Cosmopolis and the strange parellels between events in the movie and world events that took place during filming. Cronenberg admits that the similarities between the Cosmopolis riots and the Occupy movement were quite unnerving.
[The Occupy movement] didn’t inform the film at all, because we really just stuck to the script. It just happened that what Don wrote was kind of prescient. It felt as though the world was 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] But Paul Giamatti, for example, texted me and said, “I can’t believe I just saw Rupert Murdoch get a pie in the face!” Because we’d just shot the scene where Rob gets a pie in the face.
I could go on about the Occupy movement, but it was strange to be shooting scenes of anti-capitalist riots in New York and then read about the movement. It’s interesting … that there really are no anti-capitalists in this movie. It’s been noted, and I think it’s really accurate, that the Occupy Wall Street movement is not anti-capitalist. They really want a piece of the action, they’re saying, “We want to be part of that 1% … we should be part of the capitalist dream.” It’s not as though they’re communists or socialists and they’re hating capitalism and wanting to take capitalism down, they actually want to be capitalists. It’s the same with Benno, the character Benno … he loves capitalism. The complaint he has is that he’s been left behind by Eric … Eric is too quick, he’s too fast, he’s destroyed the way that Benno loved to work. So with the structure of the movie, it’s not so easy to say the movie’s anti-capitalist. It isn’t.
Cronenberg has long been planning to adapt a script called Maps to the Stars, written by Bruce Wagner, which tells the story of two child actors who become corrupted by the depravity of Hollywood. What once seemed like a pipe dream is now coming closer to reality, with both Robert Pattinson and Viggo Mortensen interested in playing the two leads. I asked Cronenberg whether Maps to the Stars is definitely going to get made, and from his reaction I’d guess that the possibility of funding is in the hands of the two potential stars.
David Cronenberg: Is it? [Looks at Robert] I don’t know, do we have financing? We gotta come up with the money!
Robert Pattinson: You’re going to know better than me. I wanna do it.
DC: There’s a brilliant script by a friend of mine who’s a novelist, Bruce Wagner, he writes about Hollywood a lot and his books are fantastic. He wrote the script quite some time ago and I tried to get it to happen five years ago and I couldn’t get it made. It’s one of those great scripts … In a way it’s like Cosmopolis, it’s not an easy sell. It’s edgy in a sort of nasty, disturbing way, and it has emotion but it’s a kind of weird emotion, just like Cosmopolis. I think by the end of the movie, Cosmopolis is strangely, weirdly sad and emotional, and it sort of sneaks up on you because you don’t think it’s ever going to go there. That’s how the book struck me too.
It’s hard to make difficult movies, you know. Even when you have very credible actors who bring a lot of attention to something – Viggo Mortensen wants to play another role in the movie, and with those two guys you think, “Hey, 15 million euros, no problem.” But it is a problem. Unless you all want to kick in… [Laughs] I’ll give you all producer credits!
Pattinson’s character in the movie, a 28 year-old billionaire economics prodigy called Eric Packer, is at the high point of his life when Cosmopolis begins, but over the course of the film and his journey to go across town and get a haircut from his old childhood barber, everything he has built up begins to disintegrate. There is a sense that Packer doesn’t care about the millions he is losing, and is almost glad to be free of them, but Pattinson insists that the character did not plot his own downfall.
RP: I don’t think I approached him as being a nihilist. I think there was an energy there … I think the energy of being a nihilist is really different. You’re not really throwing things away consciously … he thinks he’s getting closer to something, and everything’s just started falling away. I don’t think he’s consciously destroying it.
DC: The trivial thing is not at all trivial. I mean, the haircut … he even sets it up, 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 to his childhood, you know, where he was somehow pure and somehow innocent, and when he sits in that chair … he becomes a child, and the old barber becomes his father or grandfather. There’s a great moment where [the barber] says, “You were four at the time…” And [Eric] says, “Five, I was five.” It’s just gorgeous, I’m getting chills. This is beautiful stuff that Rob did that is in every line of dialogue. As I say, you understand eventually … that this movement towards his childhood is what the haircut’s all about.
With Pattinson bringing the full force of the Twilight fandom into the cinemas, and Cronenberg bringing his own dedicated followers and his legacy of seventies and eighties body horror, the question arises of whether the baggage these two big names carry with them affected the making of the film at all.
DC: I don’t think about my other movies when I’m making them, because the joy for me is like, the middle of the night, on the street, with your crew, with your actors, nobody else around, and what are you doing? 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, and that’s beautiful, it’s very pure. When I’m making a movie I have to think about the star value of the actors I get, I have to think about Rob’s passport because it’s a Canada-France co-production, all that stuff. But that’s all irrelevant to the actual creative making of the movie.
RP: I hope people come to it.
DC: Yeah, get people in any way you can. Hook ’em, grab ’em, trip ’em!
RP: I think that, especially the Twilight fanbase, are quite sort of maligned … because of their sort of tenacity, like to be sitting out in the rain … We were in Germany yesterday and there were all these people sitting there, and it was miserable day in the middle of nowhere, and there were all these people waiting there … everybody’s always screaming and stuff. You go down the line and people give you books, someone gave me a Ferlinghetti book, and it’s not like giving you teddy bears. Twilight’s attracted such a broad spectrum of people, and they’ve all kind of been lumped together because it’s much easier to get these images of people screaming and stuff, but it’s quite a strange spectrum of people. A lot of people who’ve been coming to the premieres in Europe have seen it three or four times already, and they all have quite interesting critiques of it.
DC: And of a lot of those girls in those lines actually had copies of Cosmopolis, and they were asking us to sign them, and they’d read them! Or were truly intent to read it. The websites that were made by girls – young girls, Twilight fans – while we were shooting … they all had read the book, and they were still excited about the project. Some of the websites were actually gorgeous, really sophisticated and great. OK, maybe they’ve only read Harry Potter and Twilight, but now they’re reading Don DeLillo.
Cosmopolis is out in cinemas from Friday 8th June.