Although David Cronenberg has built a career on films that explore the dark crevasses of the mind, he says he likes to have "good, productive fun" when he's working. "I have a very light set, and I don't screw with people's heads," he says. During a break from the set of his upcoming "Cosmopolis," Cronenberg stopped by Variety's offices to talk with Christy Grosz about the challenges of financing and why he'll probably never make a big-budget studio film.
You've worked with a lot of high-profile British actors like Jeremy Irons and Miranda Richardson. Is there a different sensibility that British actors bring that works well for you?
Part of casting that people rarely understand or need to understand but is a huge part of making independent films is what passport the actor has. If you're doing a co-production you're not doing a co-production with America because U.S. doesn't have any co-production treaties. It means that you cannot use American actors or, if you do, you are very limited. "A Dangerous Method," technically, does not have any American actors. Viggo has a Danish passport. ("Cosmopolis star") Rob Pattinson is a U.K. citizen. When you have Paul Giamatti in "Cosmopolis," he's the only American actor, even though it's an American story that takes place in New York. So these are things that you have to consider. Inevitably, for me, if you're doing an English-speaking role, you look at U.K. actors. It's true, of course, that they have a wonderful tradition of great acting, and they are actors who do stage and television and movies, which in the old days was unique to the U.K. In America, there was a real stigma attached to you if you were a TV actor. Guys like George Clooney struggled, I think, to finally get out of there, and whereas in the U.K. there was no stigma attached to doing a TV show. So very experienced actors who really understood the difference between theater acting and stage acting, movie acting weren't, quote, theatrical when they did movies. They knew how to do that, whereas when you're working with actors from other countries, they didn't know how to do that. Even some Canadian actors were very theater-oriented, and they couldn't do that sort of naturalistic American style of acting. So U.K. actors were very attractive, and the quality of the work was great, and so on. That's a lot of the reason. Often it was a Canada-U.K. co-production. Or if it's a Canada-France co-production, English actors can work because it's the European Union and that's the deal, so it doesn't have to be a French actor per se, it could be a U.K. actor. So that's one of the reasons that I work with a lot of English actors.
Financing is never easy for independent films. Do you find that getting someone like Mortensen attached early on helps drum up interest?
You have to find a cast that matches the tone of the movie and the budget level that you're going for. Everybody knows about studio movies where they say, well, we'll do this $200 million movie if you get Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. It's at a different level, but it's still the same dynamic when you're doing an independent film. It's like, "Well, we'll buy the rights to France if you get someone like Rob Pattinson or Paul Giamatti or whatever." You can't really have your leads be unknown even in an independent film. You can sort of introduce unknowns. Sarah Gadon, for example, who plays Emma Jung (in "A Dangerous Method"). She's Canadian. She's my discovery. She has a nice big role with Rob in "Cosmopolis." So by the time we're doing "Cosmopolis," she's a real asset. Her star is rising. She's getting attention, and that's lovely to see. And eventually you'll be able to finance.
I would think somebody like Rob Pattinson could help, too.
The thing is, by himself, it's not enough. We have Juliette Binoche. We have Mathieu Amalric. We needed the French element to sell France. Paul Giamatti (was) very important to make the film attractive everywhere but also in North America. So one actor, even a great actor or famous actor is often not enough on his own still. That's the way it goes. That's the name of the game. So for me the balancing act is to juggle all of those things: the passports, the money, the fame and still get the right actors in the roles. It's an entertainment trick.