It seemed like a strange collaboration from the start: auteur David Cronenberg, best known for such weird masterpieces as "Videodrome," "Dead Ringers," and "The Fly," making young heartthrob Robert Pattinson the star of his latest film.
The choice might have been a marketing ploy, except that Cronenberg, who's calls Toronto, not Hollywood home, has never put audiences over his art. And no one could have imagined just how much publicity this small-budget film would end up getting thanks to its star. Just weeks before "Cosmopolis" began its rollout, Pattinson's live-in girlfriend and "Twilight" co-star Kristen Stewart admitted she'd cheated on him, landing the pair on the cover of every tabloid. Celebrity reporters suddenly became interested in the odd little film Pattinson was about to promote.
A studio rep warns that the topic is off-limits during an interview with its director. But Cronenberg, as always, is so keenly intelligent in discussing his work -- and the making of art in general -- that it would be more than an insult to ask him about the scandal. It would be a waste of precious time.
He is happy to talk about how he ended up casting Pattinson, however. "Cosmopolis," based on the Don DeLillo novel about one big day in the life of an American financier, was financed through Canadian and European sources, which means the director could really only cast one American.
"There's a reason why they call it the film business and the film industry," he says. "You can't really cast unknowns." But signing the man best known for playing a broody vampire wasn't such a stretch. "When he agreed to do the first 'Twilight,' Catherine Hardwicke was directing, and he thought it was going to be edgy and hard."
"Cosmopolis" could certainly be described with those two words. And Pattinson delivers. "It's a wonderful performance," Cronenberg says of the actor's work in the film, adding with a laugh, "He's kind of a doing a Don DeLillo. We think it's from Queens, we're not sure."
Cronenberg's films often seem claustrophobic. In "A History of Violence," a crucial moment takes place on a staircase as married couple Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello go at it. And one of the most audacious scenes in contemporary cinema is the one in "Eastern Promises" when the Russian mobster played by Mortensen does battle in a steamy bathhouse.
"I do find myself drawn to that," Cronenberg says of his use of tight spaces. Much of "Cosmopolis" takes place in a limousine, as Pattinson's character does business on his way across town for a haircut.
"It's like writing a haiku or a sonnet. You have a very restricted kind of form. It forces you to be ingenious and inventive. It's very satisfying," Cronenberg says. "You've got intensity. You've got compression."
And there we have two words that could summarize the varied output of a man who's been making movies for over four decades: "inventive" and "intensity." "Cosmopolis" might have surprised some with its star. But the film itself is nothing other than pure Cronenberg.