Quint and David Cronenberg discuss EASTERN PROMISES and THE FLY OPERA!!!
Published at: Dec. 18, 2007, 3:48 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little phone interview I did with David Cronenberg for the Standard Def and HD-DVD release of EASTERN PROMISES. I’m a big Cronenberg fan and have really enjoyed the latest batch from the director, so it was really easy to talk to the man. Hope you guys dig the chat!
David Cronenberg: Hi.
Quint: Hey, how’s it going man?
David Cronenberg: It’s good. How are you?
Quint: I haven’t talked to you since you were promoting A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. I wanted to congratulate you on that film as well as EASTERN PROMISES. I really liked them.
David Cronenberg: Thank you.
Quint: I love seeing your work with Viggo [Mortensen]. You guys seem to be a really good fit with each other. I guess I would like to start off by talking about what it is about Viggo’s performances that you find attractive.
David Cronenberg: Sure. Well, I don’t separate his work from the man himself in that you have the entire package when you get Viggo. He is a great collaborator and he has a terrific mind and everybody knows that he is a multifaceted artist and photographer and poet and musician and all of those things and runs his own press as well as publishing books, so he is extremely well rounded and speaks several languages and so on and so you get an immense resource when you get Viggo.
I think obviously some directors maybe wouldn’t want all of that and I’m sure that for those directors… because he doesn’t ever impose anything on you, but the way that I work and the way that he works seem to be very similar and so we end up reading the same books and seeing the same movies and exchanging things and discussing interesting, odd, oblique things. We have a very similar sense of humor, too. All of those things combine to make a really great ethic for us and helps to create an atmosphere on the set that I think galvanizes the other actors as well.
Quint: Just looking at his roles and HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES… they are strangely similar, though almost kind of a yin and yang.
David Cronenberg: Yeah, it’s true.
Quint: In HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, he was kind of the killer trying to hide behind the image of a normal man and then in this one he is quite the opposite; he’s a good man hiding behind the image of a killer.
David Cronenberg: That’s right, yeah. It’s a complete coincidence that the two movies work that way and certainly wasn’t calculated on my part and it’s just sort of a happy accident and in truth, what we did in HISTORY OF VIOLENCE other than establish our relationship, wasn’t really of much use to us in making EASTERN PROMISES. As you can imagine from an actor it’s quite a different thing, because all of the characters in HISTORY OF VIOLENCE were American and in EASTERN PROMISES there are no Americans and he has to speak Russian; he speaks English with a Russian accent, so they are quite different creative challenges, but what was carried over was our understanding of each other and then with EASTERN PROMISES we could even start on a higher level. It’s like being on a higher platform right from the beginning, because we knew each other so well.
Quint: I spent much time on the set of RETURN OF THE KING and I never really got to talk to Viggo much, although I saw him work a lot and he always struck me as being the absolute image of professionalism. It seemed every take, whether or not he was on camera or off camera reading for somebody else, he just gave it his all.
David Cronenberg: Yes, that’s right and yet at the same time when people reading that might think that he is really serious and humorous, when in fact, he and I had a lot of laughs, I mean we really spent a lot of time laughing together.
Quint: His work is outstanding and I keep brining it up, but I just love the layers that he brings in all his movies, but especially in these last two that he’s done with you.
David Cronenberg: I think that he’s been underrated for two reasons, one is because he’s most famous for LORD OF THE RINGS, which in those movies acting is not their primary gift to the audience necessarily, but the other thing is that he’s very subtle and in these days maybe subtlety is not as appreciated as it should be. I mean people like over the top performances and things like that, but Viggo is always subtle…
Quint: He’s very classical in that way. Maybe not “classical” classical like Bogart and Lon Chaney ways, but I’m thinking of 60’s and 70’s actors.
David Cronenberg: Yeah, I completely understand and I agree with you. He is in a way a throwback to those days.
Quint: And it’s also great to see a guy who is just a real guy. He’s a man, not a model… I’m just thinking back in the days when we had people like Robert Shaw and Lee Marvin… we had people that could be unapologetically men on screen and not have to fall into a “pretty” category.
David Cronenberg: Viggo was able to travel through Russia without ever being recognized or looking to anybody like anything but a normal citizen. It’s a great gift to have, because an artist needs to be able to be unobserved and anonymous and Viggo can do that as well and that’s just because he is so real.
Quint: Strangely enough , I was also on the set of KONG and got to spend quite a lot of time with Naomi [Watts]. When it was first announced that she was cast in your film, I thought “what a great pairing” and sure enough she was outstanding in the movie.
David Cronenberg: I think so, too. It’s an intriguing thing, because everybody talks about chemistry, especially between a leading man and a leading woman, but for a director, usually these days you never get to see those two people in a room together until you are making the movie, so I had to kind of imagine what they would be like on screen together and having seen her work, I had never even met her until the set. We had talked on the phone, but she was doing another movie I hadn’t gotten to meet her, but I was pretty confident that they would be great together, because she too is incredibly real on screen and once again beautiful, but in a really real way that you believe this person is just on the street and the two of them have that together.
Quint: I’d like to talk a little bit about the look of your films and what I really am holding on to, as a fan of your work and what I love is that there have always seemed to be a sort of grit to your films. Not to make a broad statement, but a lot of times, especially with big Hollywood productions that shoot up in Canada, there’s a traditionally Canadian look to a lot of that stuff, but what I’ve always loved about your films is… even from your early stuff like THE BROOD and SCANNERS and going all the way through, there’s a kind of realism there; there’s no gloss to it. Even though the filmmaking has evolved, you have kept that atmosphere and that tone in your work. Are you really conscious of each films look when you’re preparing to start a project?
David Cronenberg: Oh yes, because it’s developed many many ways. You know the tradition in Canadian filmmaking always was documentary and so I suppose I share a little bit of that with my predecessors, but at the same time I love the drama of it and it’s everything. I mean I’ve worked with Carol Spier and Peter Suschitzky for over twenty years.. Carol like thirty years and my sister, Denise, who has been doing costumes…
Quint: And Howard Shore has been doing your scores.
David Cronenberg: Howard, yeah, though that’s not the look of the film exactly…
Quint: Yeah, but it’s the identity…
David Cronenberg: But it’s all in the same. Each movie presents different challenges, so HISTORY OF VIOLENCE doesn’t look like and shouldn’t look like EASTERN PROMISES, one’s in a big European city and one is middle America, but it’s trying to find the visuals and the tone that brings out some subterranean hidden subliminal things in the script in the story and the characters, so you’ve got to feel that if you had a different cinematographer, the characters would be different. It’s not just the way they look, but it’s the atmosphere that they actually move through and that’s created by lighting. It’s also created by the production design, like the choices of location and the building of the sets and so on, so it’s having people that I have a real connection with that goes very deep and it’s cultural and it’s social and that’s why there’s that consistency in the movies even though SPIDER doesn’t look like HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, which doesn’t look like EASTERN PROMISES, but there is a connection and that’s partly because I’m working with these people and I have such a good relationship with them.
Quint: I like that familiarity, as a fan, just seeing one of your movies without Howard’s score would feel alien to me, you know?
David Cronenberg: Sure, sure. Well… to me too.
Quint: Have you gotten any feedback at all about what, if any, opinion the Russian mafia might have after seeing your film?
David Cronenberg: We hear that we get thumbs up from Russian mobsters. My joke is that we don’t know who’s thumbs they actually are…
David Cronenberg: …but yeah, we got a pretty quick feedback actually. This is the thing, they don’t really mind being portrayed as criminals because they are criminals. They’re rather proud of it, so saying that they are criminals and brutal is not going to bother them. What would bother them is if you made fun of them or if you got the details wrong, like the tattoos or the language and we didn’t, so we get good marks.
Quint: That’s good, because those are some critics you really don’t want to have upset at you.
David Cronenberg: You don’t want them to be mad at you, no, as long as you don’t attend a premier in Russia. In fact, because even the language or kind of Russian that is spoken for example, not only is it very convincing Russian, but it’s the right kind of Russian. It’s street Russian and idiomatic gangster thief Russian.
Quint: Yeah. Now I believe that I read you are involved in THE FLY musical?
David Cronenberg: Well, it’s not a musical, it’s an opera. It’s a genuine opera. Yeah, I’m directing that and it will be in Paris in July 08 and then it will be in Los Angeles, I think September 08 or maybe August.
Quint: That’s fascinating.
David Cronenberg: Yeah, it’s an interesting experiment for me. Howard has written the music and David Henry Wong has written the libretto David wrote M. BUTTERFLY the play and my screenplay and so it’s kind of an interesting coming together on a different project.
Quint: Is it at all weird for you to revisit one of your older films like that in this new context?
David Cronenberg: I would never do a remake or a sequel to my own film in that way, but it’s such a different art form and that’s the thing. It’s quite a different challenge and so it’s almost like we are revisiting it from a different universe really and to me that is interesting.
Quint: I take it then that you are busy with THE FLY for all of next year, but do you have any other projects that might be in the pipeline?
David Cronenberg: The opera is strange. It’s quite different from moviemaking and so I have one week of work in February and then I have four and a half weeks in May/June and that’s it, so I really… although I couldn’t be shooting a movie during that time, I could certainly be prepping one, so I’m looking at various things, but at the moment I don’t have my next film. I don’t know what the next is going to be.
Quint: Alright, well thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, I really appreciate it.
David Cronenberg: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.
There you have it. I was cut short a little at the end… I would have loved to find out more about the FLY opera, but I take what I can get.
Make sure to give my Alan Rickman interview a read… that’ll go up later tonight!