Interview with David Cronenberg for MAPS TO THE STARS

We caught up with the director about his latest film…

MAPS TO THE STARS is released in Irish cinemas this week. The film stars Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska and John Cusack, and examines the world of Hollywood that is hidden behind closed doors. David Cronenberg is a director known for his darker, more intense films, so we caught up with the director at the Cannes Film Festival to find out more about this darkly funny film, the driving force behind the characters, and why so many of his films feature love scenes in cars…

I read that you consider 90% of your work is done once you have put your ideal cast together…
David Cronenberg: I would say 72.5%! Not 90%, but it certainly makes it a lot easier when you have wonderful actors who really know what they’re doing; it makes directing pretty simple, I must say. So a lot of the directing is in casting the movie, there’s no question about that.
Even your darkest films have comedy lurking under the surface, but the comedy is quite visible in MAPS TO THE STARS. What was that like for you?
DC: I think all my movies are funny, and I think this one is no exception. People say to me ‘You should really make a comedy’, and I say ‘…but I have made nothing else!’ This could be the Divine Comedy! It didn’t feel different… Every movie is, of course, different, and in Bruce Wagner’s script there is a voice that’s unique – it’s his – and I was really serving the script, and his vision of LA, and humanity in general… So blame him! It’s not my fault! Functionally though, it’s not different; it’s playing all the notes, playing all the tones, playing all the levels and they vary from scene to scene and moment to moment. You gotta admit there’s some laughs in the movie… C’mon!

What is it that drives these characters?
DC: As a card carrying existentialist, I have to say these people are desperate to exist; they’re desperate to exert their existence and Havana is terrified she will cease to exist because, as an actress who is being discarded by the industry, she is terrified that she will, in essence, cease to exist. It will be a living death. That’s where the desperation comes from… And the cruelty and the viciousness too, because it’s a matter of existence or non-existence.

The poem Liberty by French poet Paul Éluard is woven through the film. How did that come about in putting the film together?
DC: It was in Bruce’s script from the beginning, and when he sent me his first novel Force Majeure – a French title – he had a stanza from that very same poem, in French, at the start of the novel. Obviously that poem has meant something to Bruce. I have no idea why… Obviously the poem is most known in the context of the Resistence and the war, but because it’s a real poem – and not propaganda – it’s organic. It has life and a life that continues, and a life that’s allowed to be reinterpreted in different contexts and still have meaning. I find it, without even thinking of its origins, that it is really very emotionally powerful, and very provocative and evocative of many many things. It’s interesting, when I started to look back at the history of the poem, that Éluard himself was writing that poem for a woman, and not for liberty, to begin with. It transmuted, for him, into what it became.

It is a conscious choice to have characters having sex in cars in your films?
DC: CRASH was suppressed by Ted Turner – he was in control of the distribution of it – and he said that if people saw the movie they would probably have sex in cars. I said ‘There’s an entire generation of Americans that have been spawned in the back of 1954 Fords’, so it’s not like I invented sex in cars! You have to remember that part of the sexual revolution came about because of the automobile, because of the fact that young people could get away from their parents and being supervised, and that was freedom. I don’t think I’m breaking any new territory when there’s a scene of people having sex in cars… and why wouldn’t you? There are such great cars around now!

There is a lot of disgust with Hollywood in the film. Which aspects of the business are most repulsive to you?
DC: There’s nothing repulsive in the movie business. It’s all fabulous! The thing is that the movie – and I not being evasive – is not only about Hollywood and the movie business. You could set this in Silicon Valley, you could set it in Wall Street… Any place where people desperate, ambitious, greedy, fearful… You could really set it anywhere and still have it have the same tone and the same ring of truth. To see it only as an attack on Hollywood and the movie business is really short-changing the movie.

How do you keep reinventing yourself as a director?
DC: Do I!? To me, it seems like a very straight forward process. I don’t really feel like I am reinventing myself, but I am entertaining myself, I’m amusing myself… For me, a project is really an exploration; I am really asking myself many questions about what it is to be a human being, what is the essence of the human condition… There are many ways of approaching that; you can think of it in terms of genetics and DNA, in terms of cultural contexts and so on. It’s just [speaking French] by the power of words, I start my life.

MAPS TO THE STARS is released in Irish cinemas on September 26th 2014

Words: Brogen Hayes