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David Cronenberg

“You can’t arrest me – I have the Legion Of Honour”

David Cronenberg

For years, David Cronenberg was seen as edgy cinema’s pervy prince, turning in grisly shockers such as Videodrome, The Fly and Crash, and scandalising whole nations in the process. In recent years, however, he’s taken a turn into the mainstream (sort of), even going so far as to cast Robert Pattinson in his latest film, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. ShortList wanted to find out how he planned to bring Twilight fans into his twisted world...

You’ve recently accepted the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal – are you part of the establishment now?

I hope so. Given the fact that I have the Order Of Canada and the Legion Of Honour, I was hoping these were things that would help keep me out of jail. “Oh no, you can’t arrest me, I have the Legion Of Honour.” But it’s never really worked. I always thought they’d help keep you on the streets. It hasn’t been properly tested yet, I’m happy to say.

You cast Robert Pattinson in the lead in Cosmopolis; what’s it like trying to shoot with all the attention he attracts?

It’s unpredictable. It’s not something I assumed or expected to happen. In a weird way it’s a replay of my experience with Viggo Mortensen, who was a huge star because of Lord Of The Rings, and then he was suddenly doing A History Of Violence for me. I felt the same way about Rob; if they’re really fans of Rob, then they’re going to want to see Cosmopolis. If they’re just fans of Edward Cullen, because he’s not playing the character, they may not be so into it. I have to say that while we were filming, all these websites sprang up. They were Cosmopolis websites, and they were set up by young women, and they were tracking the shoot. When we were shooting in Toronto, there’d be somebody on a balcony with a cellphone camera, and it would all end up online. You may think it would be annoying, but it was really great, because they were reading the book, commenting on it, and these were young women who maybe had never read anything but Harry Potter, and here they were reading Don DeLillo.

In Spider and Eastern Promises, you’ve made two of the definitive ‘London films’ of recent years – how important is the city to you?

I have a long relationship with London, and I’ve been back many times. I first came to London in the Sixties – I saw the Rolling Stones at the London Palladium, and I met Christine Keeler. I was talking to her about maybe being in a movie I was trying to make. Canada and England are much closer than the US is to England; we still have the Queen on our money, after all.

What’s the situation with the planned sequels to The Fly and Eastern Promises?

There are a quite a few projects in the life of any filmmaker that don’t get made, and the sequel to The Fly is one of them. There were some quite nice things that it would have been fun to do, but it was too radical or too non-mainstream for Fox to want to do it. I think they would have done it if it had been incredibly cheap, but at that point you’re doing a studio movie for an independent movie budget, so you’ve got the worst of both worlds. You’ve got the studio looking over your shoulder, and you haven’t got the money that comes with a studio project. It was the same with Eastern Promises – in both cases you could say the problem was more budgetary than creative.

Do you have any plans to work with Viggo Mortensen again?

Yeah, we love each other and we’re in constant touch and we talk about things we want to do together. We don’t have anything at the moment, but we’re always looking. If we’d got the money for Eastern Promises 2, we’d be in pre-production by now. At the moment I’m being a novelist; I’m about two years late on a novel that I owe some publishers, so until the end of the year I’m working on that. It’s a much quieter profession.

Why do you think Hollywood is producing so many remakes and sequels at the moment?

This has been a question I’ve been asked since I began filmmaking, because there have always been sequels and remakes. I think there are studio executives who can’t read scripts – they’re not movie people who can visualise what they’re reading. That’s why you get these comic books and graphic novels being turned into movies, because it’s right there in front of them. Remakes and sequels fall into that category, because there’s a previous movie they can look at. There’s a conservatism – you want a proven product, if you think in those terms. Therefore, something that might be exciting, interesting and new might not be recognised as being a worthwhile project, because nobody can see it.

You’ve had a few run-ins with the censors over the years; do you think there’s a case to be made for censoring something such as Innocence Of Muslims, where there’s a demonstrable link with real-life violence?

Well, censorship of that film is impossible. With the internet, it’s impossible to censor anything the way it used to be done, for good or ill. The worst thing about that film is that it’s totally crappy filmmaking. The Pakistani minister of railways offered $100,000 to anybody who kills the filmmaker. I thought, “Well gee, what’s to stop me offering $200,000 dollars to anybody who kills this minister?” That’s the most weird, interesting and dangerous thing to come out of all this. Let’s say you’re a filmmaker who puts something online saying you’ll pay $500,000 to anybody who kills a particular critic. Now, that’s not beyond the realms of possibility. It’s kind of a frightening thought.

Cosmopolis is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 12 November