How a 1990s David Cronenberg screenplay became Future Crimes
David Cronenberg wrote the screenplay for his latest film,
, more than 20 years ago, at the end of the last century. Science fiction being what it is, I imagined that it had to be done before moving on to production, to modify things that seemed outdated. I asked him this question during an interview in Toronto, just after his return from the Cannes festival, where Crimes had its world premiere. Every change?
“Not a word,” he said. “All the dialogue is as it is written. What has changed, however, are the usual things that happened whether he was 20 or not, which is now you are producing him. So what is it? You’ve described it in the script, but you haven’t described it to the point where it exists.
So, for example, the bizarre piece of furniture in which the character of Viggo Mortensen sleeps, and whose opening remark is the memorable sentence: “I think this bed needs new software.” In the script, it’s called the spider web bed. But when the production designer tried to make something out of Webby, it didn’t look good.
“We found what we call the orchid,” says Cronenberg. “Which is much more fleshy, organic, almost like a flower or something. But it’s not a function of it being 20 years old, it’s just a function of when you try to make it work.
It’s not even a function of another designer. The notoriously loyal director has worked with the same creative genius, Carol Spier, on nearly every one of his movies since.
The dead zone
in 1983. So it’s a fair bet even if
had been made in the past, Spier would have been present.
Mind you, maybe Mortensen wasn’t there. He and Cronenberg first worked together on 2005
A history of violence
and have made three films together since then – four if you count the time Mortensen cast the sometimes-actor Cronenberg in his own directorial debut in the 2020s
“Just a bad habit that keeps working,” is how Cronenberg laughingly calls their friendship and creative partnership. “We keep in touch and talk about things all the time. And so it seems like a natural sequel… suddenly we’re working together again.
The director keeps busy with occasional acting jobs – he has a recurring role in
Star Trek: Discovery
– and plans to shoot another film,
, with Vincent Cassel. All this as he approaches his 80th birthday next spring. I wonder if a filmmaker so sensitive to the mortification and mortality of the human body has any thoughts on how well his own aging form works?
“Well, a lot of it, by the time you realize it, it’s too late,” he said with a chuckle. “I mean, of course there’s genetics. But there is also epigenetics; we now realize that the environment alters gene expression. But yes, you change your body and you change your reality.
He has a very concrete example. “I no longer wear glasses because I have plastic lenses in my eyes. I had cataract surgery. So I’m very bionic. I have hearing aids, I have plastic in my eyes, the colors are completely different now. Since I got rid of the cataracts that shaded everything towards the warm yellow end of the spectrum, now it’s kind of cool white.
He recalls that the eye surgery took place over two days, so he spent one night at home with an old eye and a new one. The walls he had always taken to be white now looked almost blue in his new eye, and stained with tobacco through the old one.
“But of course, it’s not just physical,” he continues. “It’s moving, and that’s all. I mean, emotions are bodily, they are physical. They are chemical, biochemical, they have to do with neurons. This does not detract from their power. Love, affection, hate, all that. Everything is physical, everything is chemical, you know. But it’s real. This is the reality we have. »
Cronenberg says he felt some trepidation returning to the director’s chair for the first time since 2014, now eight years his senior. And Mortensen says he noticed it. “I remember the first day in Greece, we finished the day’s work. And we left the set. And David said, ‘I think I still have it. I think.’ ”
“Did I really say that?” asks Cronenberg. “It can be overwhelming. Just to think, OK, do I still have the physical stamina? Will I get tired, will I lose focus because I’m tired? And for the first three days… I felt like I was acting as a director. I pretend to be a director. I can do anything because I studied how to be a director, but I pretend. And then after that, I thought: No, I actually realize. But it’s a real feeling, you know.
Or as he told the press gathered in Cannes: “What are the crimes in my future? I hope many. I hope to commit a few more cinematic crimes before I finish.
Crimes of the Future is now playing in cinemas.
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A STORY OF VIGGO
Director David Cronenberg and actor Viggo Mortensen have made four films together. Director Viggo Mortensen and actor David Cronenberg directed one. Back on their collaborations.
A history of violence
(2005) Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a mild-mannered restaurant owner whose violent reaction to an incident at his restaurant makes him a local hero but threatens to uncover a past life he would rather keep hidden. Hailed by critics, the film was nominated for its script adapted by Josh Olson, and for the supporting role of Willam Hurt.
(2007) Cronenberg’s next film featured Mortensen as a Russian mob enforcer; he was nominated for an Oscar for the role. The widely acclaimed film was notable for a brutal nude fight in a bathhouse and for stories of Mortensen’s intense preparation for the role, which included a trip to Russia, meeting former gangsters, and studying the meaning of tattoos of Russian criminals.
A dangerous method
(2011) Mortensen plays Sigmund Freud in this historical drama, opposite Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, and Keira Knightley as patient-turned-psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein. Less successful at the box office (30 M$ against 56 M$ for Eastern Promises and 61 M$ for A History of Violence), the film nevertheless won a great critical success.
(2020) Cronenberg has a small role as Dr. Klausner, a genius proctologist, in Mortensen’s writing/directing debut. Mortensen also stars in the film as John Peterson, a gay man trying to come to terms with his homophobic father (Lance Henriksen). The film received several Canadian Screen Award nominations, including for set designer Carol Spier, a regular collaborator on Cronenberg’s films.
(2022) Cronenberg’s most recent, from a screenplay he wrote in the late 90s, features Mortensen as a man whose body produces new organs, which he removed as a kind of performance art .
Untitled Viggo Mortensen Western
(20??) When I ask Cronenberg and Mortensen in an interview if they have any future projects planned, Cronenberg is quick on the draw: “I’m trying to insinuate myself as an actor in the next movie. from Viggo, which is a western, because I think I have to learn to ride a horse. Even if I fell off the horse, you could use it as part of the film.
Mortensen replies, “There’s a character who is – it would be nice for an atheist – he’s a Protestant preacher, a reverend.”
“I’ve played this before! Cronenberg shouts. (He played Reverend Verringer in the 2017 miniseries
Mortensen continues: “He speaks in a church, but he also says a few last words of the Bible to a person who is about to be hanged.
“I can totally do that,” Cronenberg says. “And I can do it with conviction. Especially if you hang someone for me so I can react.
Mortensen assures him that it could be done. “It’s almost done,” rejoices Cronenberg.
Cast at a theater near you.
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