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No. But I had read some of his other books. I first read the script sent to me by David Cronenberg and only after I read the novel. The script is so faithful to the book it’s almost unbelievable, especially considering that Cosmopolis was deemed impossible to adapt. Even before reading DeLillo’s work, what surprised me about the screenplay was the agitated pace and the relentless tension.
What was it about this movie that got your attention?
Cronenberg, without a doubt! I’ve only done a bunch of movies and I could not imagine how it would be to work with him. I was not disappointed … I knew he would play with his creativity and that this experience would leave a mark on me. I let the script draw me in like it were a very long, misterious poem. Usually, when you read a script, you quickly understand what it’s about, where it will go and how it will end, although there are unexpected twists and sophisticated solutions that change the course of the story. With the script of Cosmopolis, however, it was completely different: the more I read and could not understand how it would evolve, the more I felt the pull to be a part of the movie. It wasn’t going to be like shooting any movie, but a separate and unique opportunity.
The first time you read the script, did you picture yourself in this role, imagining how it would be?
Not at all. The first time I spoke with David I explained him that I couldn’t prefigure anything and he reassured me, telling me that was a good sign. Since then, I didn’t ask myself that many questions and I let the script evolve itself in a progressive and organic way, turning itself into the visual choices that then made the movie. It was a living process, although during the first week of filming we were all still wondering which way he would take everything once the shooting was done. Everything was very charming, it was as if the movie was modeled step by step.
Now that it’s ready, is the movie very different from the script or, on the contrary, it stuck to what was on paper?
Hard to say, the film moves on several levels. I’ve seen it twice so far. The first time I was amazed by its farcical side: while shooting I knew what tones we had set, but to see it on screen was alienating. The second time, however, the weight of what I had been involved into took over me. We had two private screenings to test the reception of the public, whose reactions were varied and wide ranging, from smiling to tension. Despite its complexity, I was amazed at how Cosmopolis was able to cause such a wide range of emotions.
In your opinion, who is Eric Packer? How would you describe him?
To me, Eric feels like he belongs to another world, living as if he were born on another planet, and therefore he tries to discover in what reality he should live. Very simply, Packer does not understand how the world works.
However, he has enough knowledge of the world he lives in to be able to create a fortune.
Yes, but in a very abstract way. Banking, brokerage and speculative activities are unconnected. If he managed well in everything it’s not because he is an industry specialist. If anything, it’s thanks to a very rare instinct, something very mysterious and profound, that he can treat the algorithms as if they were spells. In the movie, as in the book, you can see that his approach to financial data tends to project him in the future, so much so that he doesn’t know how to live in the present. Perhaps, somehow, he manages to capture the mechanisms of the world around him but only in a particular and obscure way.
Have you discussed this with David Cronenberg?
A little, yes. But he liked when I was looking for answers to something inexplicable. In particular, he appreciated when I began to act without really knowing what I was doing and, as soon as he realized that I was giving birth to the sequences of cause and effect, he stopped me. It was a very strange way to direct, based entirely on feelings rather than ideas.
How did you prepare for the role?
David doesn’t like tests. We didn’t talk much about the movie before we began shooting. During production, I only met the other actors on set and only there I discovered how they would literally appear in Eric Packer’s limo. And it was quite pleasant. Since the beginning of filming, it’s as if I lived inside the movie and the limo: I was always there, it had become my home and in my space I welcomed all the other actors that came to visit while I remained seated on that kind of throne. Feeling a whole with that velvet environment was comfortable enough and all the others had to practically adapt to what was my world.
Did you have directions on the appearance of your character, or his clothing?
Yes, but what mattered was that Packer had a neutral appearance. So we tried to avoid the most obvious and stereotypical features of business people. The only discussion was centered on the choice of sunglasses to wear at the beginning, I looked for an anonymous-looking pair that would reveal nothing about the character.
Is it very different to shoot scenes in the same chronological order of the script?
I think it was very important [to do so], it creates a cumulative effect that shapes the entire movie. When shootings start, no one knows what will be the final tone… Well, perhaps only David does but he never implied it. For the crew, the identity of the movie was built as Packer revealed something more about himself. Also, shooting in chronological order let me capture the full essence of Packer when his life is gradually falling apart.
One of the peculiarities of your role is that, one after another, you find yourself having to meet and interact with different actors. How does it feel?
When I agreed to do the movie, the only confirmed actor was Paul Giamatti, whom I’ve always considered great. Then, it was quite magical and frightening to see Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton and Mathieu Amalric turn into their characters. Each of them brought a different tone on set and it couldn’t be easy to be as David had asked them to be in such a short time. They had to transform their acting and be guided by the context. I had been inside the world of Cosmopolis for a while but they had to immediately warm to that reality and tune into its rhythm. While we were shooting, Juliette Binoche was also very involved in the creative process, suggesting different hypotheses of acting that were then acted out.
Do you mean that there are different styles of acting, dictated mainly by the different nationalities of the actors? Or all the actors complied with Cronenberg’s dispositions?
There are different feelings and I think David didn’t want anything but that. Paradoxically, this diversity is underlined by all the characters who are allegedly American, except Mathieu Amalric’s. This diversity is connected to the city of New York, where everyone seems to come from different places and where the native language of many people is not English. Of course, the film does not aim to recreate the effects of realism: it takes place in New York but never insists on a particular location. Having actors with different backgrounds that mirror the people of that city contributes, if anything, to give Cosmopolis strangeness and abstraction.
Did you have a model or an actor in mind as an inspiration?
On the contrary. Actually, I just tried to avoid any possible reference. I didn’t want the audience facing Cosmopolis to be reminded of other movies that are centered on Wall Street, the financial world and the rich bankers. I had to find my own approach rather than relying on attitudes and acting that have already been seen.
Do you remember if Cronenberg has ever had special requests while you two were working together?
He insisted that we acted every word of the script verbatim, the dialogues had to be those that had already been written. He didn’t tolerate any changes. The screenplay is based largely on the pace and we had to be careful with the diction. But David’s approach was very positive, we did more than one take only for a few scenes, and it was almost scary. As soon as he got on set Paul Giamatti had to recite a monologue in one breath, and David was able to shoot it without any interruptions. I was fascinated by both Paul’s performance and David’s readiness and confidence.
Did you enjoy working this way and strictly adhere to the written dialogues?
It was something I didn’t know and that was one of the main reasons why I agreed to do Cosmopolis. I had never done anything like this, usually the scripts set the stage to follow, and each actor gives his contribution, adapting themselves to the character. In my earlier movies, the dialogues were flexible. This time, however, it was like theater-acting: when you take Shakespeare on stage, you certainly can not change the lines.
Somehow, the limo is a bit like a stage.
Of course. And, since this framework lends itself to different types of scenes, you must always be ready to change the registry. Many years after my theater-beginnings, I found myself having to learn all the lines. You live in constant tension, you constantly have to be careful but you know that you’ll get a better result. Even though I was forced to live as a recluse during filming – I had to know my part perfectly, study dozens of pages a day and put everything into focus – it was worth it: it left me a good feeling, much more than I’ve experienced on most of the sets where everything is fractioned.
What was the major difficulty while filming?
The most disturbing thing was playing a character that does not pass through a clear evolution and does not follow a predictable path. In fact, Packer changes, has a hell of an evolution, but it’s not like the public is accustomed to seeing. David kept everything under control. I had never worked before with a director who, taking care of every aspect of his movies, also considered himself responsible for everything, every little step. At first I found it disturbing but then, little by little, I gained confidence in his methods and I let myself go.
To begin with, as was done for A Dangerous Method, the actors that I have chosen are not what I had in mind. For Cosmopolis, in the main character wanted to Colin Farrell and Elise, his wife, Marion Cotillard. But Farrell had already honoring other contractual commitments and Marion Cotillard was pregnant. So, I changed the script sew on a very young player – in tune with the idea of the novel – and consequently his wife should be younger. I thought it was better that way. The real problem arises when closing agreements for funding from the protagonist’s name. Fortunately, it was not my case.
He thought right now Robert Pattinson?
Yes I found interesting in Twilight, even though the work done falls under very special. I saw him in Little Ashes and Remember Me, and I am convinced that it could be my Eric Packer. It is a heavy role, appears in each scene and do not think I’ve ever done before a movie where the actor is always on the screen. The choice of an actor is a matter of intuition, there are no rules or instructions.
She insists on the fact that his players should follow the lines of the script and recite them as they were written.
Yes, I repeat. You can make movies that leave actors free to improvise. Many successful directors have done but I have a different perspective. I do not believe that it is up to the actors write dialogues. Much less in this case, where I wanted the dialogues were exactly those of the novel by Don DeLillo. Given this, the actors still had a lot of room for improvisation during filming, they decided the tone and rhythm of the beats. Interesting I think the effort required to Pattinson. Crossing into the limousine various characters played by different actors, has had to adapt to the acting of those who faced him.
He tried to shoot the film chronologically?
As far as possible, yes. Were shot in a chronological scenes inside the limousine. As Paul Giamatti has arrived on the set filming almost completed, we shot the last scene of the final also. Sometimes there were some technical difficulties but I managed to respect the history better than in my previous films.As the story unfolds over one day and involves a complex evolution, I found it particularly useful to work in this way.
He too was at Estoril and we met on that occasion. But, contrary to popular belief, after we talked a lot of adaptation, I preferred to stay out of the project. We talked a little ‘just that it was shot mostly in Toronto and the main character but the actor we had in mind could not join the cast. When I heard that Paul had chosen Robert Pattinson, I thought that my fourteen year old nephew have finally looked at me with different eyes.
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