Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rob's New Cosmopolis Production Notes Interview

                                                                                                                      ROB'S INTERVIEW

Were you familiar with Don DeLillo’s novel?

No. But I had read some of his other novels. I first read the screenplay David Cronenberg sent me, and then the novel. One is incredibly true to the other, it is faithful in a way that seems impossible, for a novel that see med impossible to adapt. But even before reading the book, what impressed me the most about the script was the quick-paced rhythm and the unrelenting tension.

What was it about this film that appealed to you the most?

Cronenberg, obviously! I have played in only a few films, and none of them came close to what I expected working with him would be like. I wasn’t disappointed… I knew he would be very creative, and that it would be a real experience. And I was appealed by the writing of the script, like a kind of long poem. And a mysterious poem too. Usually when you read a script, you quickly know what it is about, where it is going, how it will end, even if there might be unexpected or sophisticated twists and turns in the plot. But this time it
was completely different, the further I read, the less I could figure out where it was leading, and the more I wanted to be a part of it. It doesn’t fit any film genre whatsoever, it is in a league of its own.

When you first read the script, did you see yourself in the role, could you imagine what it would look like visually?

Not at all. The first time I spoke to David, it is exactly what I told him, that I didn’t visualize anything, and he thought it was a good thing. Besides, I think that at this point, he wasn’t thinking much ahead, it all evolved in a progressive, organic way, starting from the text, towards the many visual choices that shape the film. It is a living process. Even during the first week of shooting, we were all still wondering what the film would look like once finished. It was fascinating, I felt like the film was fashioning itself.

Now that it’s done, is the film much different from the script, or on the contrary did you stick to what was written?

It is hard to say, because the film acts on different levels. I’ve seen it twice, the first time I was amazed by its farcical side, which I knew was there during the shooting, but which was unexpectedly apparent. The second time, the gravity of what was at stake prevailed. Both times, there was an audience attending, but the reactions were wide-ranging, from laughter to tension over the dark side Cosmopolis also has. Despite its complexity, I was amazed by the way it reaches a wide range of emotions.
In your opinion, who is Eric Packer? How would you describe him?

To me, Eric is someone who feels like he belongs to another reality, who lives as if he was born on an other planet, and who tries to discover in which reality he should be living. In fact, he doesn’t understand the world as it is.
Yet he has enough understanding of the world to make a fortune in it.

Sure, but in a very abstract way. Banking, broking or speculating are disconnected activities, he has done well in them, not as a genuine specialist or a mastermind, but rather thanks to a kind of instinct, something much more mysterious, with the help of algorithms not unlike magical formulas. You can see in the film, as well as in the book, that his approach of financial data tends to project him in the future, so much so that he doesn’t know how to live in the present anymore. He probably grasps the workings of the real world somehow, but only in peculiar and obscure ways.
Did you talk about it with David Cronenberg?

A bit, yes, but he liked me to search for something unexplained and unexplainable. He particularly liked it when I played without really knowing what I was doing, and as soon as he felt that I was making up chains of cause and effect, or coming out with a logical explanation for Eric’s behaviour, he would interrupt the take. It was a very odd kind of directing, entirely based on feelings rather than ideas.
How did you prepare for the part?

David doesn’t like rehearsals. We didn’t talk much about the film before the shooting. And I only met the other actors on set, during production. I discovered them as they appeared, literally, on Eric Packer’s limousine. And it was quite pleasant. From the beginning of the shooting, I sort of lived inside the film, and inside the car: I was always there, it was my home, and I welcomed the other actors in my space, sitting tight on this kind of captain’s chair, with everybody visiting me. Being used like that to this environment felt particularly comfortable. Everyone else had to adapt to what was basically my world.
Did you have an input about your character’s looks or wardrobe?

I did, but the thing is he had to have a neutral look, we tried to avoid the most obvious or stereotyped features of rich businessmen or traders. The only discussion was about the choice of the sunglasses at the beginning, I searched for the most indefinable pair, one that wouldn’t say anything about the character.
What difference does it makes to shoot scenes as much as possible in script order?

It is really important, it has a cumulative effect that shapes the film. At first, nobody really knows what the tone of the whole film will be – well, maybe David (Cronenberg) does, but he won’t let it show. For the crew, it is this cumulative effect, as the character reveals more about himself, which slowly builds the identity of the film. It also allows the character to loosen up while his life is falling apart.
One of the particularities of the part is that, one by one, you get to meet many different actors. How does it feel?

When I agreed to make the film, the only actor already on board was Paul Giamatti, which I found was great. Then, it was both magical and slightly scary to see Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Mathieu Amalric… show up like that. Each of them brought a different tone. It wasn’t easy for them either, all the more so as David expects the actors to transform their acting, to let go of their habits. It was challenging for them, in such a short time. As for me, I was sort of settled in this world, in tune with its rhythm, but the others had to get used to it right away. Actually, some made up very creative things while we were shooting. Notably Juliette Binoche, who came out with an unbelievable number of acting options.
Would you say that there were various styles of acting, especially due to the different nationalities involved, or that everybody ended up fitting Cronenberg’s mould?

Oh no, there were different sensibilities, and I think that David was eager for that. Paradoxically, this diversity is emphasized by all the characters being supposedly American, except for Mathieu Amalric. Such diversity is congruent with New York, where almost everybody seems to come from a different place, and where the mother tongue of so many people isn’t English. Of course, the film doesn’t aim for realism, including about the city of New York, it never insists on a precise location. But having actors with different backgrounds mirrors New York, just as it contributes to the strangeness and abstraction of the film.
As far as you are concerned, did you have any references in mind, maybe other actors to draw inspiration from?

Quite the opposite, actually, I tried to steer clear of any possible reference. I especially didn’t want to remind the audience of other films about Wall Street, financers, rich bankers, etc. It was more about finding the right a state of mind than relying on usual attitudes or acting effects.
Do you remember Cronenberg having any particular demands, focusing on certain points when working together?

He insisted that we had to say the dialogues exactly as they were written, to the letter. He wouldn’t tolerate any variation. The screenplay depends to a large extent on rhythm, we had to comply with that as far elocution was concerned. He was positive about that, so he made very little takes, which I found quite scary. On Paul Giamatti’s first day on set, Paul delivered in one breath his character’s long monologue, certainly the longest line in the whole film, and David shot it in a single take. It was done, we moved on. I was enthralled with Paul’s performance, with David’s promptness, and with the way he looked so sure the take was good.

Did you like working this way, scrupulously delivering dialogues as they were written?

It created something I wasn’t familiar with, which is precisely what motivated me the most about making this film. I had never been asked anything like that, usually scripts aren’t followed scrupulously, they are just a foundation and actors are supposed to make them their own. In my previous films, dialogues were flexible. This time, it was like acting in a play: when you play Shakespeare, you cannot rephrase the lines.

Incidentally, the limousine is a bit like a stage somehow.

Absolutely. And in such a setting, it is possible to shoot one scene or another, which means you have to be ready to play several of them. I spent a lot of time learning all the lines, for the first time since I started out as a stage actor, quite a long time ago now. It creates a tension, you have to remain on the alert, which is for the best… Even though it forced me to live the life of a recluse during the shooting: I had to know the part, remember dozens of pages and stay focus. But actually it is quite a pleasant feeling. It’s better than on most sets, where everything is fractioned.

What was the most difficult thing for you about the shooting?

It was disturbing to play a character who doesn’t go through an obvious evolution or follow a predictable path. Actually he does, it is even a hell of an evolution, although not in the way we usually get to see characters change. But David completely controlled this dimension. I have never worked with a director so much in control of his film, who considers himself fully in charge of each and every aspect of it, knowing exactly what he wants, every step of the way. At first I found it unsettling, but gradually I felt more and more confident and relaxed.


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