TORONTO — Celebrated Canadian director David Cronenberg and Twilight star Robert Pattinson are hardly anti-establishment radicals.
But you would never know it from their film collaboration, Cosmopolis, which opens in theatres across Canada June 8.
Cosmopolis has already had its splashy premiere at the recent Cannes Film Festival, but the Toronto-based Cronenberg and the London-raised Pattinson are happy to be back in the city where they shot the film just last year.
Looking casual in slacks and shirts at a downtown Toronto hotel, the dapper filmmaker and handsome baseball cap-wearing leading man are making themselves available to promote the film, which exposes modern-day obsessions with greed and power.
But Cronenberg said that Cosmopolis is less an excuse for socio-political diatribes and more about an opportunity to present a fresh story. And yes, the 69-year-old understands that the film hits screens as anti-capitalist protests abound worldwide.
The movie, based on the 2003 Don DeLillo novel, tracks the bizarre day in the life of young Manhattan billionaire investor Eric Packer (Pattinson).
“I wrote the script almost three years ago,” said the director. Still, he’s fine with the fact Cosmopolis might be associated with current events.
“The whole structure of the book was very rich in social meaning, and comment,” noted Cronenberg, who reflected the theme in his screenplay. “And any good piece of art has universal meaning and complexity, and it is provocative on many levels.”
That includes the movie’s simplistic yet subversive storyline, which has Pattinson’s narcissistic billionaire travelling across town in his fancy white stretch limousine to get a haircut, even while his massive monetary portfolio collapses around him.
During his limo trip, he takes meetings, and takes stock of his isolated life as a visit by the U.S. president snarls New York traffic, and anti-Wall Street demonstrators attack his vehicle en route.
The role is Pattinson’s most demanding, so far. But he knew that reality when he signed up for it.
“I’m in pretty much every scene in the movie,” he said. “It was terrifying for me until I started doing the movie.”
Apparently, Cronenberg helped him through some of the more difficult moments, but the actor soon realized extra effort was required because he would be expected to do the dialogue exactly as written.
“I quite liked mechanically learning lines,” Pattinson said. “I spent every night of the shoot going over them.”
It’s no fluke that the Packer part is a notable transitional role away from his dreamy vampire Edward. Pattinson will end his five year relationship with the Twilight series, and Edward, after the release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 on Nov. 16.
Certainly, the avant-garde tone of Cosmopolis and the cynical outlook of Packer are major departures for the 26-year-old.
In one scene, Pattinson’s Packer has sex in his limo with an associate (Juliette Binoche) as though the act was a business meeting. His brief discussions with his coy wife (Sarah Gadon) outside the limo turn out to be more like negotiations than conversations.
Back in the limo, things get even stranger when the sex-obsessed Packer gets a rectal examination from a doctor, who finds out he has an asymmetrical prostate.
“Normally, you can tell what’s going to happen in a script when you are five pages into it, but not with this,” said Pattinson. “It’s crazy to feel the danger of doing something like Cosmopolis, but it was also exciting once I started doing it.”
At the climax, Packer has a 22-minute verbal stand off with a former employee (Paul Giamatti), who has threatened to murder him. The dialogue-heavy confrontation seems more suited to the stage than screen.
Certainly, the latest Cronenberg film represents his return to a more bizarre way of dressing up a film compared to his straightforward approach with last year’s A Dangerous Method.
But the director believes all of his movies — from Shivers to Cosmopolis — have one thing in common.
“I’ve always been interested in language,” Cronenberg said. “The language has always been crucial to me. My creative roots are more literary than cinematic.”
Indeed, Cronenberg and Pattinson relished the opportunity to make the wordy Cosmopolis interplay come together at the conclusion.
“We discovered stuff like the priest-confessional kind of thing that evolved,” said the director.
Pattinson added: “We knew when we were doing it that no one had ever done anything like this before, and it should not work.”
Meanwhile, their partnership will continue in some form. “We are hoping to work together again,” Cronenberg confirmed.
“There are no greenlit movies, but we don’t want to stop with Cosmopolis. We had a really good time, and Rob (Pattinson) has become one of my favourite actors.”
Smiling bashfully, Pattinson can’t help but to nod toward Cronenberg, offering a quiet ‘Thank you.’
“That’s fantastic,” he said. “I didn’t think of myself, particularly, as an actor, until now.”