While in Cannes, the New York Times spoke to David Cronenberg about adapting Don DeLillo’s work into a film: “Mr. Cronenberg has taken a potentially tricky novel and worked around the problems of adaptation by merging his distinctive sensibility with the no less distinctive one of the author.”
Here is part of the interview that took place on a rooftop terrace, Saturday:
Q: I understand it was the Portuguese producer Paulo Branco who had the rights to “Cosmopolis” and contacted you. How did that come about?
A: I think it’s an interesting intuition because it’s a bit like casting. I’ve never been in the position of having to choose a director for something. But I imagine it’s a lot like choosing an actor for a role. Paulo came to Toronto with his son Juan, who had apparently told him that I was the right director for “Cosmopolis.” I knew of Paulo, but had never met him. Actually when I was the president of the jury here, we gave a prize to Manoel de Oliveira for “The Letter,” a film Paulo had produced. I’d read a lot of Don DeLillo but not that book. I read it and two days later said I would do it.
Q: What was it about DeLillo’s book that you responded to?
A: Mainly it was the dialogue. I knew from Don’s other work that his dialogue is very special, in the same way that Harold Pinter’s dialogue is unique. You can recognize it from a mile away: it’s the way Americans speak but also very stylized, in a really intriguing, hypnotic way. In some books the dialogue is literary in a way that would not translate to drama, but in this case there was something that made me think I would love to hear actors speaking it.
I also liked the structure, that it mostly took place in the limousine — I’m comfortable in cars — and in fact I moved one scene, the one with Juliette Binoche’s character, from an apartment into the limousine. The point is that he forces everyone into his environment, this airless, silent aquarium he’s created.
Q: Some people would say that DeLillo’s book isn’t obviously cinematic precisely for those reasons: the confined setting and the heightened, not exactly naturalistic dialogue. You have a track record for taking seemingly unadaptable novels and turning them into fully cinematic works. Can you say a bit about your approach to adaptation?
A: I don’t have an overall concept of cinema that’s so exact that everything has to fit – the dialogue in “A Dangerous Method” is pretty much taken from the letters of those people, so in that sense it’s not naturalistic even for their time, it’s more epistolary. The idea that I might have dialogue presented as naturalistic that is not naturalistic is kind of an exciting and provocative challenge for me.
You have to know that each adaptation will be different. What you’ve done before will not help you on the next one. I’ve said before you have to betray the book in order to be faithful to the book. You have to recognize that literature is not cinema: they both do different things well, and there are certain things they cannot do that they other one can. I’m pretty ruthless about discarding things from a book that will not work cinematically.
One the first things Don and I talked about – he had just read my script and he said, “I was wondering how you would handle Benno’s journal.” In the book the character writes a journal and it’s Chapter 3, and Don said, “The way you handled it was you left it out.” Which he did not mean as a criticism. It was totally noncinematic, and to me it would be an admission of failure to do a voiceover with somebody reading the book. However what I do give you in place of Benno’s journal is Paul Giammati [who plays the character in the film], his face, his eyes, he way he moves, that’s my swap.
Q: You seemed a bit exasperated at the press conference yesterday with some of the questions that were trying to connect Eric Packer to Robert Pattinson’s real life or his “Twilight” role.
A: It’s the British press that tends to do that — it’s this Rupert Murdoch, News of the World thing that I hate. When that question came up for Rob [about the challenges of living a public existence] I felt like I had to counterattack a bit.
This was a great Q&A. Read the rest at the NY Times HEREFollow @CosmopolisFilm on Twitter and Facebook!