David Cronenberg says Cosmopolis 'was like making a documentary'
David Cronenberg reflects on how life imitated art as he was shooting his new film Cosmopolis.
First there was the pie attack on Rupert Murdoch. Then the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Both events in 2011 eerily mirrored scenes being shot by David Cronenberg for his new film Cosmopolis, which opens in the UK this week.
"It was kind of spooky," admits the Canadian auteur, whose adaptation of the 2003 Don Dilillo novel was in contention for the Palme d'Or at Cannes last month.
"Don wrote this book 12 years ago and it seems as though the world is catching up. It felt like we were making a documentary because everything we were shooting was happening on the streets at the same time."
Cosmopolis sees teen heart-throb Robert Pattinson as billionaire Wall Street banker Eric Packer, who glides across Manhattan in his limousine in search of a haircut. On the way he encounters sex, violence and anti-capitalist protests.
At one point Packer receives a cream pie in the face from an anarchist known as The Pastry Assassin, played by Bond villain actor Mathieu Amalric. Other cast members include Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche and Samantha Morton.
End Quote David Cronenberg
Paul Giamatti texted me and said: 'You won't believe this, but Rupert Murdoch just got a pie in the face'”
Meanwhile, in the real world, News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch came in for a similar attack as he gave evidence to MPs in London.
"Paul Giamatti texted me and said: 'You won't believe this, but Rupert Murdoch just got a pie in the face,'" says Cronenberg.
"I switched on my TV and there it was, endlessly. We had just shot that scene where our lead character got a pie in the face, so even on that comedic level it was very clairvoyant."
It wasn't just Don DeLillo's powers of prediction that made Cronenberg choose Cosmopolis as his next project.
"It was the dialogue," says Cronenberg, whose recent films include A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence.
"It is almost Pinteresque dialogue. It is the way Americans speak, but Don also stylises it in a way that is quite intriguing."
As well as keeping much of the novel's original dialogue, Cronenberg also kept many scenes inside Packer's noise-proofed, gadget-packed limo.
"I like to shoot in confined spaces," he says. "There's an intensity that immediately affects an actor's performance. Visually it forces you to be quite inventive."
By way of preparation, Cronenberg showed his crew the 2009 film Lebanon, which takes place inside an Israeli tank, and 1981 war epic Das Boot, which takes place inside a German submarine.
"I said: 'Let's not be intimidated by this, this could be quite exhilarating if we do it right.' We built a limo that comes apart like a Lego car in about 24 pieces. I don't think of it as a challenge, but as a lot of fun."
Robert Pattinson's performance as the billionaire banker has been largely well received since the film's Cannes debut.
"At its heart is a sensational central performance from Robert Pattinson," said the Telegraph's Robbie Collin. "Pattinson plays him like a human caldera; stony on the surface, with volcanic chambers of nervous energy and self-loathing churning deep below."
Empire's Damon Wise observed: "Lean and spiky - with his clean white shirt he resembles a groomed Sid Vicious - Pattinson nails a difficult part almost perfectly, recalling those great words of advice from West Side Story: You wanna live in this crazy world? Play it cool."
What made Cronenberg choose Pattinson as his leading man? "This character is in every scene in the movie which is quite unusual for a movie with a big star," he says.
"That means he must have charisma, and that he is constantly revealing different tones and shades - and Rob has that.
"Finally, he has to be good with dialogue because this is wall-to-wall dialogue, some of it quite technical, which can be very intimidating for an actor. Once I convinced him he was the guy, he had no problem with it."
Cronenberg is closely associated with the "body horror" genre through his 1970s and 80s films such as Rabid, Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly.
Cronenberg has written a screenplay for a new Fly movie, but says plans to make it appear to have been squashed.
"I was interested in not doing exactly a sequel or a remake," Cronenberg explains.
"It was suggested to me by the people at Fox who have the rights to the original [1950s] movie and my movie, but there was what we should call 'creative differences'.
"What I was interested in doing and what they wanted were two different things, so it's no longer in my control. It's in their court to play."
Cronenberg laughs when it's pointed out that Robert Pattinson was born in 1986 - the same year that he made The Fly.
"There comes a time as a director when you are no longer the youngest guy on the set - I used to be and now I'm the oldest!"
Cosmopolis opens in the UK on 15 June.