‘Cosmopolis’ production notes: Behind the scenes with David Cronenberg, Robert Pattinson and more

As part of the ramp up to the Cannes Film Festival, Telefilm Canada has released a press kit full of behind the scenes information. This is a fantastic read with details of production and quotes from David Cronenberg as well as the cast and crew.

We’ve excerpted some highlights below but the full pdf file can be accessed at Telefilm Canada. (Note: I got excited and posted most of the notes – enjoy!)

ADAPTATION

When asked how COSMOPOLIS came into his life, David Cronenberg smiles: “COSMOPOLIS is one of those gifts that come out of the blue,” the kind one hopes for, but which are rare. Paulo Branco—a recognized Portuguese producer whom Cronenberg knew of but had never met—approached him with the rights to DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. Branco thought David was perfect to adapt it: “I knew David’s artistry would balance the novel’s sensitivity and violence on screen.”

However, Cronenberg acknowledges that in “reinventing the story for the cinema…in a strange way I think you have to betray the book in order to stay faithful to it.” David explains that some material in the novel wouldn’t translate to the screen: “Specifically,  here is a lot that goes on inside the heads of certain characters, and that’s not something a movie can do without a voiceover, which to me is not the solution. I think the film should feel like the book, so I was quite prepared to be brutal in cutting things out to preserve the essence of the story.” Although David closely adheres to what Producer Martin Katz calls DeLillo’s “terrific concentration on thoughtful, clever, stagey, theatrical dialogue,” the story had to be altered for the screen. Because of the changes, David cautioned the actors against reading the novel. Nevertheless, DeLillo was supportive throughout the filmmaking process and told Cronenberg he approved of the script when they met at Paulo Branco’s Estoril Film Festival.

Casting

Casting is a black art,” proclaims David Cronenberg. “You can kill your movie by making a mistake before you’ve even shot film.” When Robert Pattinson’s name was proposed for the lead role of Packer, Cronenberg watched much of his work—including the young actor’s role as Salvador Dali in Little Ashes—and he was sold: “Rob was the most interesting and exciting actor suggested for COSMOPOLIS, and I knew that he would bring something wonderful to the screen—maybe even something he didn’t know he had.” Under David’s direction, Robert delivers an edgy, understated performance. In fact, Robert notes that he has never felt “utilized to this degree as an actor,” and fellow cast member Paul Giamatti describes Robert’s casting as “genius.”

Robert Pattinson—Eric Packer

Eric Packer is a selfish young member of the ruling class, at the top of the super-rich 1%. He is an anti-hero whose privileged reality is decadent and isolated. Casting Robert Pattinson in this unsympathetic role wasn’t obvious. Robert’s super-stardom perhaps gives him some insight to the pressures of success, but his pressures include the attention of a zealous fan base that might expect him in a different role. And he is younger than Eric Packer was envisioned, an age difference that influences the rest of the casting process. On the other hand, young billionaires and tech-savvy traders are not unusual in today’s society.

Plus, casting Robert presents an opportunity to attract a new generation to Cronenberg’s work. Ultimately, the choice rested on Pattinson’s talent and experience, with or without celebrity.

Cronenberg found Robert mature and willing to challenge himself: “…Rob is not deluded about his fame; he understands that popularity is not the essence of being a good actor, andrecognizes the danger of taking projects to please others rather than himself.” Bringing the egomaniacal Eric Packer to life required Pattinson to forget being a sympathetic character. Cronenberg observes, “Some actors worry about not being appealing or sensitive, but that was never an issue for Rob; it was always about finding the often unlikeable truth of who Eric is and what it means to be a 25-year-old billionaire…. Rob is incredibly likeable, but he doesn’t need to be liked.” So Eric Packer, a financial god, perhaps soulless but with feet of clay, is realized by the charismatic, modest Robert Pattinson.

Robert was surprised and excited by the COSMOPOLIS offer. He recounts receiving the screenplay about a year earlier and thinking it was “one of the most original scripts” he’d read. However, he doubted he’d get the part: “Then the offer came out of the blue and I was amazed!” Praising David’s consistently “thought-provoking” and innovative work, Robert says he was certain about taking the part; however, he admits, “I had no idea how I was going to play it…. I was scared at first, mainly because I could interpret the script and play it so many different ways….” He didn’t have much time with David before shooting, but he knew he was in good hands. His trust in the director, as well as David’s in Robert, was wellfounded. “I could feel David moulding it as we shot, and that made me really comfortable because it meant there was no specific right or wrong way. Eventually, I was very relaxed, especially for it being such an intense piece.”

Pattinson wanted a project that would take him to the edges of himself, and COSMOPOLIS provides the character to do it. Eric Parker is inscrutable and contradictory, both calculating and reckless. Robert had to find the emotional core of a man who is desensitized, a man who interprets the world in terms of numbers and acquisitions. Robert notes, “I think Eric has an all-consuming ego.” He lives an artificial existence, and Eric’s success seems a product of detachment and cold rationality. Yet his odd quest for a haircut is risky, irrational. He normally makes people come to him, including a physician for a daily exam, but he insists on seeing an old-fashioned barber on the opposite side of town, despite the risk to his personal safety.

Rob notes his character’s grasp of contemporary events, business and politics. Eric Packer’s knowledge of the world, however, comes primarily through technology, and he sees most things as mere information, “some kind of list or matrix,” Rob suggests, about which he is dispassionate. Rob describes Eric “Watching screens informing him of current data all the time. I think he ends up taking drastic measures just to feel something because he’s become so desensitized.” He knows, and somewhat owns, many people but seems to have no friends. Even his new wife feels distant, an acquisition, someone to use or ignore. He is the master of his cosmos, but is he lonely at the top? Does he care? The enigma of Eric’s character is central to the film, and his interaction with secondary characters both shapes that puzzle and perhaps gives clues to solving it.

 Read the rest after the jump

Supporting Cast

Cronenberg assured Pattinson of his directorial support in creating an authentic Eric Packer. He also promised Rob “fantastic actors” to work with on COSMOPOLIS — and delivered. In addition to the masterful Paul Giamatti, Robert performs with cast ranging from the fresh talents of Sarah Gadon and Jay Baruchel to French luminaries Juliette Binoche and Mathieu Amalric. Pattinson sums up the ensemble cast: “All the actors come from differentn backgrounds, have different personalities and have all done completely different kinds of movies. They didn’t know a lot about the film, but everybody wants to work with David and that’s why they’re here.”

Security:

Eric Packer is protected by seen and unseen forces. Kevin Durand plays Torval, Eric’s head of security. At 6’6” he is an intimidating presence, and his character is armed and dangerous. Torval is constantly warning Eric away from his journey, especially as he receives information about “credible threats.” But Eric ignores the warnings and subverts his own security.

Durand sees his character “as a frustrated, ex-Military, father-figure to Eric.” He likens Eric to “his teenage son; I can try to guide him in the right direction, but he will ultimately do what he wants.” Torval’s assistants are Kendra (Patricia McKenzie) and Danko (Zeljko Kecojevic), whose intense encounters with Eric function to further reveal his emotional emptiness.

The Chiefs of Staff

Enroute to his haircut, Eric meets with his business advisors. First to visit the limo is Shiner (Jay Baruchel), Packer’s trading partner and Chief of Technology. Packer depends on his electronic interface with the world and his expectations are high. Shiner is charged with delivering on those expectations, but the character is more casual and less business-like than we might expect. Or would we? Baruchel describes his character as “One of the dot com kids… a slacker who became a millionaire.” He is entrusted with Packer’s technical security, and it has made him rich, but he doubts the meaning of it all.

Vija Kinski (Samantha Morton) is Packer’s Chief of Theory. Specifically, Vija theorizes about the philosophy of finance, one devoid of humanity. Morton embodies a woman so much in her head that she barely notices the riot going on outside the limo as angry protesters spray graffiti and bounce around the limo. Reality and theory are at odds all around her, but she is unwavering.

We meet Packer’s Chief of Finance, Jane Melman (Emily Hampshire), as the single mother diverts her jog—on her one day off—to meet with Eric in the limo about a crisis with the yuan. His disregard for her personal life and preoccupation with his own concerns exasperates Jane, yet there is an odd excitement between them. She talks to him in the limo—and confirms his dangerous financial position—while he has his daily medical tests, even during his prostate exam.

The Art Dealer

Knowing Eric is a fan of artist Mark Rothko, Didi Fancher (Juliette Binoche) visits Eric in his limousine to tell him that she’s found a painting she thinks he should buy. After they make love, Eric tells her he’s not interested in a single painting; he wants to buy the entire gallery. Binoche notes that “Didi is conflicted because she is obviously attracted to Eric and wants his business, but offended by his vulgar greed.” When asked what Binoche brings to the role, Cronenberg smiles: “She brings her French-ness, talent, humour, sensuality, all the while illuminating a side to our lead character that we may not otherwise see; that he is someone who’d be involved with a mature, strong, opinionated woman.”

The Wife of 22 Days

Sarah Gadon, the Toronto actress who played Carl Jung’s wife in Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, appears in COSMOPOLIS as Eric’s new wife Elise. She is a contemporary New Yorker with rich parents and a boarding school drawl, but she isn’t all about money. “Elise has a veneer of an Upper East Side woman and talks a lot about sex, but underneath she’s very much an intellectual and artist,” Sarah observes. “I think Eric and Elise are just young kids trying to be so much more evolved than they actually are; Elise loves Eric, but he’s very much a symbol of wealth while she is more a symbol of art and intellect—or she thinks she is—and the two together create friction which is exciting… but can’t last.” As for resemblance between the character and the actress, Pattinson affectionately notes: “Elise is kind of an ice queen, but Sarah’s really funny and sweet.” 

The Pie Assassin

Mathieu Amalric’s anti-capitalist activist Petrescu delivers a pie in the face to notoriously ultra-capitalist Eric, in a rare unprotected moment on the street. This scene was shot just days before an activist and comedian gave Rupert Murdoch a similar treatment in a British parliamentary hearing, an intriguing example of art anticipating life. Amalric acknowledges the humour of his role but also the disturbing element: “It’s a funny but scary moment that only David Cronenberg can master.” Paulo Branco describes this same moment as “terrible but real.”

The Dead Celebrity

K’Naan appears on screen in an open-air hearse. He plays the murdered rap star Brutha Fez, a spiritual musician who is treated as a god by the masses. Off-screen the Somali- Canadian collaborated with Howard Shore on the single for which his character Brutha Fezis remembered, entitle Mecca, based on DeLillo’s own lyrics from the novel.

The Disenfranchised

Benno (Paul Giamatti) is a mysterious character ultimately revealed to be a bitter former employee of Packer. He has been quietly stalking Eric with complicated motives and intentions. When they finally meet, Benno provokes a vulnerable side to the billionaire that was barely glimpsed before. Cronenberg describes Benno as “the conscience of Eric Packer. Benno confronts him over his ultimate lack of humanity and remorse and his sole concentration on pursuit of wealth.”

Giamatti has long wanted to work with Cronenberg, and he agrees with the director about his character: “Benno’s a kind of moral compass—even an alter ego—to Eric, who shows more emotion in this scene than any other in the film.”

SHOOTING THE FILM

COSMOPOLIS embodies the classical unities of action, time, and place. Although episodic in many respects—it is, arguably, a halting road trip—the narrative is unified in so far as it develops around Eric’s quest for a haircut. That is his stated single purpose, and all else is a temporary diversion—at least to a point. The psychological journey is, of course, more complicated, but the central action is unified.

Unity of place occurs in more than one way. The place is the journey that is solely through Manhattan. In fact the story is named for a place—a cosmopolis. The term evokes universality, and the story addresses globalization. New York is both specifically referenced and acts as a “mythical, iconic city,” says Cronenberg, yet it is the world inside the limo—Eric’s isolated, manufactured, luxurious space—which is the primary location of the film and where much of the action takes place (though ironically he uses it to travel toward danger).

The veteran director felt it wasn’t necessary–or even desirable–to shoot in New York. Instead, he had the controlled limo set created inside a Toronto studio. Unity of time is inherent in the plot. COSMOPOLIS unfolds in fewer than twenty-four hours.

Eric decides one morning that what he really wants—and he is a man accustomed to getting what he wants—is a haircut. It has to be a particular barber, and obstacles delay him, but he journeys on through the course of a day and into night. This “day-in-the-life” time frame presents the cast in an episodic manner. These unities are seen even in the way Cronenberg made the film, finding it helpful to shoot mostly chronologically so he could watch it evolve and gently guide it. This method also helped to show every step of Eric’s subtle evolution through the day.

DIRECTING STYLE

There are many ways to direct a film. Cronenberg’s way does not involve rehearsing, improvising dialogue or using story boards: “I want the actors to have input into how they move around on set; their body language is as important as dialogue.” Only after that time on set alone with the actors do they bring the crew on set and perform the scene like a pieceof theatre.

With the episodic nature of COSMOPOLIS, and no rehearsal, actors would come in for a couple of days not knowing the stylistic tone. Pattinson appreciated Cronenberg’s method: “There was a natural process of getting to know each other which worked brilliantly, especially on this film where there are so many long scenes with so much dialogue, obscure tone and rhythm. Generally, he picked up on it when it felt right for me and he always liked those takes.”

Cronenberg clarifies: “Especially with an experienced actor like Paul Giamatti there are so many layers, so much depth, levels of emotion that he can convey in a line of dialogue –that’s fascinating – and gives me a sense of how to shoot it. Whether it should be a close up or a wider shot, to see a detailed view of body language.”

Giamatti found the experience on Cronenberg’s set “liberating.” He explains: “I’ve never worked with such a confident director who has the courage to take full responsibility for the film, which takes the pressure off as an actor, so you’re free to do whatever you want.”

Pattinson comments on David as an auteur: “It never feels like David’s taking notes from producers to make the movie appeal to a certain quadrant. It’s understandable when it does happen, but it’s really only because of David that a film like this can be made. I really felt like an actor on this film and felt like I was a part of a creation, rather than just a bunch of stuff strung together with music stuck on.”

ABOUT THE DESIGN

Cronenberg has refined his shooting style and trusts his collaborators, encouraging them to give their best, bringing with it a shorthand and confidence. After a private blocking with the actors on set, a crew rehearsal is led by long-time cinematographer, Peter Suschitzky. This is their tenth film together. COSMOPOLIS marks Director of Photography Peter Suschitzky’s first time using digital photography (Ari Alexa) instead of 35 mm film. The new format was particularly helpful on this film because the camera itself is much smaller than a regular film camera, making it able to fit more easily and shoot more effectively inside the confines of the limo. In addition, the Alexa is very sensitive to light, making lighting set ups in dark conditions, both in studio andlocation at night – faster and easier.

A LIMO IN ELEVEN PIECES

Under the direction of Production Designer Arv Greywal, two pristine white limousines were purchased to create the main setting of the film. The first is seen in exterior shots of Eric getting in and out of the limo, driving through city streets, into a riot in Times Square. This car is eventually vandalized, beaten and burned, generally mirroring Packer’s own breakdown and descent into destruction.

The second car was promptly carved into eleven pieces. Each piece was customized and modular so it would come apart to facilitate shooting from various angles within in the limo against a green screen. In post-production, Mr. X. Visual effects team would transform the green screen into Manhattan streets all the way across town.

Space limitations meant that Cronenberg couldn’t be in there with the actors. So, he listened with headphones and communicated through an intercom system while watching the action on a monitor. Of course, he was only a few feet away from them and spoke to them personally a lot of the time.

Robert Pattinson found the system worked beautifully: “I was in a car for the majority of the time, and David was out by the monitors on an intercom, and yet he was incredibly sensitive to every little thing we did, even when we weren’t conscious of it. He always seemed to pick up on things when they were getting interesting, and that was very reassuring.”

In addition, Pattinson found shooting in the car helped his characterization of Eric: “I became familiar with the car and comfortable in my seat, while each of the other actors had to come in and figure it all out for themselves. Everyone else felt alien in ‘my’ domain.” Given the nature of the story, this seems a fitting dynamic in which to work.

There was however, a claustrophobic element that made shooting in the limo no easy task says Samantha Morton: “Truly the most challenging role I’ve ever had! So much dialogue in my head and the limo moving and people running around! Thank heavens for David’s comforting voice on the intercom!” Furthermore, most of the actors are only in the limo. Cronenberg joked that this was his version of Das Boot and encouraged people to see Lebanon, which takes place in a tank.

After shooting mostly in the limo for over a month, Pattinson found it “refreshing” to get out and work with other actors experiencing a new set with him in Benno’s space and the barber shop, also meticulously created on set by Arv Greywal and his team.

 WARDROBE:

 With a lead character in the same wardrobe for the duration of the film, costume designer Denise Cronenberg recognized the need for perfect choices – and several of them – from day one. Gucci delivered on both fronts: seven black slim cut suits, white shirts, and black ties, belts and shoes. Denise comments: “I needed multiple costumes for Rob’s character so whatever creative choices and possible breakdown of clothing were made during shooting, we would be equipped.”

MUSIC

Three-time Academy Award® winning composer Howard Shore has worked with Cronenberg for over thirty years. Their working relationship has become intuitive. Through discussion of the script and characters with Cronenberg, as well as reading DeLillo’s book, they brought in the young energy Metric to contribute music to the film, and K’naan to perform the single, Mecca.

via Telefilm Canada

 

 

 

 

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