Synopsis : As the human species adapts to a synthetic environment, the body undergoes new transformations and mutations. With his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances. Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements, which is when a mysterious group is revealed… Their mission — to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.
Q&A with Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and Scott Speedman
Q: Could each of you could talk a bit about what brought you to these roles, what grabbed you about this story.
LS: I wanted to work with David [Cronenberg], and Viggo as well. I didn’t know Scott, and I have to say I was very impressed. It was exciting, but I didn’t quite understand everything, to be honest. But then, little by little, with Viggo we read the script together and we had ideas coming out of it.
It’s very layered, and it’s very deep, metaphorical, so that was, to me, very interesting. I think that how I related to my character is that she’s very committed to her art and [to Saul Tenser]. So I really loved that. Also, the love story that we have, with Viggo, in the film, the tenderness of it.
Q: Viggo, this is your fourth role in a Cronenberg film. You’ve played a gangster who’s gone straight, a gangster who hasn’t, and Freud. This is your fourth one, so what brought you to this character?
VM: He is above all a friend [and I like] working with him. But I’m also a David Cronenberg fan. So I thought, after “Maps to the Stars” that he was done.
He wrote a novel, “Consumed” (2014). If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. If you like his movies, you’ll love his novel — it’s like nine or 10 Cronenberg movies in a book. It’s kind of insane. It’s really something. It would make a great, an epic movie, or a really great, say, four-part series. He’d figure out something. But it would have to be directed by him. And he was happy doing that.
Things have happened in his life. For years, he’s always had pretty much the same experience. He’s always scrambling to get the money to make his movies, which is kind of shocking when you see other directors just pump them out — some of them if they want to, every year.
He’s very reliable, for a producer. You know he’s going to come in on budget or under budget, on time or before time, and his movies will always be talked about and create discussion — and [they] don’t lose money. He’s a bankable, reliable director — you’re going to get something of quality, something people will talk about. And he’s a well-behaved gentleman.
He can direct as many movies as he wants. And he was tired of that a little bit. So I was really happy, other words, to see how he was going to make another one. I would have been really happy to be in here with you watching this if I had had nothing to do with it. But to be part of it with these guys is really special.
I don’t think it will be his last movie, because now he’s gotten the bug again. But you never know. That’s the way life is. Take advantage when it’s there. He certainly does that as a filmmaker, and I’m blessed to be with him on this strange journey called “Crimes of the Future“.
Q: I thought there were maybe some aspects of Cronenberg in your character a little bit.
VM: Well, I was trying to figure out, for example, just on a physical basis, what is it that I have to do? “You have something that you want me to do?” and he said “Nah, no, just show me.” I said “Okay.” I can’t breathe, I can’t swallow my food easily. I can’t sit still. I can’t lie back or stand. I have all these “-ilities” problems. I’m not comfortable in my own body, and what sounds do you make.
And then I noticed that he sometimes, when he’s thinking or is a little nervous, he makes these little — [makes sound] — throat clearing sounds, and I started building on those. There are some days that are worse than others, okay? so a little more. On the set, I would do them. The first time I did it, he goes “That’s what you’re going to do . . .?” I said “Yes.” “I like that, I like it. I like it. I like what you’re doing there. It’s familiar.”
If he likes what you’re doing he doesn’t say anything, which, when you have not worked with him before, can be disconcerting. He’ll say nothing and then say “Okay, next shot” and then you’re like, “What’s going on?” And that means he likes what you did, and if you have a question you’d better ask him quick, because we’re moving on.
Sometimes he might say about that “A little less there, a little more here”, and then sometimes he didn’t say anything so I assumed it was okay. So that’s what it’s like with him.
Q: Scott, your character has a really intense emotional life, but is also an experimental artist as well and he wants to take things in a more extreme direction. For your character, Saul Tenser is not enough. What gripped you about your character?
SS: First of all — this never happens to me, but… I woke up one day and an email [came] from producer Robert Lantos with an offer to be in a David Cronenberg movie. That never happens to me, so I was psyched. I was like, I’ll do a week, two-day role on this thing with him, just because I don’t know if he’s going to make another movie.
So when I did sit down and read the script, I was blown away. I called my agent, I was like, “Are you sure this is the part they want me to play? I’ll do it. Yeah, I love it. I don’t understand any of it, but I’ll do it.” So then he goes, “You guys will work and get underneath it.”
I didn’t really see him as an experimental artist, to be honest. I saw it as more “He’s doing it wrong, he needs to not be cutting out these organs. We need to take this moment and see where this evolution takes us, which means to allow these organs to do what they’re supposed to do. They got us here, and let’s see where they take us.”
So that was it [for] me. Combined with the death of my son, and I pictured this guy as slowly going mad and not sleeping. Actually, for me, it was very dark material. But I had a blast, it was a real fun character for me to play.
Q: This movie takes place near the end of the world, after some apocalypse, so bad things have already happened and more bad things will happen. There’s kind of a love story at the center of it. Do you view this movie as pessimistic, or is there enough hope in it?
SS: Yes. Getting to hang out with David and maybe seeing more of Viggo’s [work]. Maybe I would have thought something different before we started shooting the movie just because of David’s sensibility. He doesn’t star in movies but he’s such a gentle soul, and what an optimist actually. I think he’s got more of an optimistic [perspective] — things are changing, I think he’s talking about that in this movie. Yet I feel he’s got a very optimistic point of view. .
VM: I agree. I think that’s true, and it’s true of this movie. It’s true of most of his movies, really, even though there are dark aspects to this movie. One of the things, there is this love story that’s unusual in the center of it: Two people who are obviously affectionate, who are respectful of each other as artists but also as people. There’s give and take, there’s an evolution in their relationship that we see.
But it’s also, among other things, about how people react to the efforts of authorities, the government, to control what you do in your private life — which is where we are now. What artists do… There’s this tension between new art, new technology, the interest that people have in it, and the fear of the new that some people have. That tension usually leads to some form of oppression from the Establishment, the government, parents, teachers, religious leaders, and that repression inevitably leads to more rebellion from artists, and from regular people saying, “Why not? Why can’t I call myself this? Why can’t I do this with my friends, or my partners? Why must you meddle in what I do with my body?” And so forth.
Some of these things are current. But it’s always been that way. There’s always this fear of the new, a hunger for the new, and the conflict with the fear of the new. Sometimes from the very same people that are interested in the new they’re also afraid of it — this push/pull thing.
No matter what you do, things will always change. I think Cronenberg deals with that, it’s what keeps him fresh as a thinker and as a person. Things will change no matter what, no matter how much you don’t want them to. Unless you want to have a law saying, “Things must not change” and people must not do these things.” Things will be changed, things will be destroyed; sometimes they’ll be improved.
What will happen is not what the repressors think will happen, and it’s not what the people who are rebelling against repression [think will happen]. It’s some gray-shade thing that’s going to change, and when you resist that idea, or you’re in denial of it, that things are changing, your body is changing and your mind is changing.
Things are changing all the time. By resisting that, you’re checking out and you’re dying, in a way, faster than you’re going to die anyway. You might as well take part and pay attention. That seems to me what Cronenberg is as a filmmaker, and that makes him optimistic.
LS: I think that from what I’ve understood [about] the film, he wants to talk about the fact that for him, it’s only the present that counts and that the world he has created is very chaotic. Inside this chaos, there is love, and love is hope and it’s optimistic. I think that art is also a way to fight against death. For me, an artist has to believe in his art, and so for that reason I hope that it’s something that is on the side of life — if that makes sense.
To me, when you have decided to live and create something out of the fact that we’re all looking for [the] meaning of our lives, I feel optimistic.
Q: In developing your characters, how much of that was talking to Mr. Cronenberg and telling him what you wanted to do versus him telling you exactly what he wanted you to do?
VM: The quick answer is he doesn’t tell you anything. Nothing. You ask questions all you want and he will definitely give you very clear, well-thought-out answers that can be very helpful. But if you don’t ask anything, he assumes he’s cast the right person. Show up on time, be ready, and prepared to work. If he likes what you’re doing, he’ll say, “Great. Next shot.” That’s it.
It can be unsettling at first,“Well, does he like it, or is he just giving up on me?” But then you realize, “Oh, it’s just the way it is.” It’s a true artistic bent he has where he’s really well-prepared, but he’s prepared for mistakes to happen or strange things to happen, and to use them in his art, in his storytelling. You’ve got to be on your toes.
If you don’t feel good about what you just did, you can ask him. Sometimes he will say, “You want to try it again? All right, I’d like to see what you’re talking about.” And other times… I remember in the last scene, I was going, “We were going to do it again because we didn’t feel we had a full run at it.” But in the end, he said, “No, I’m happy with it.” He just said that. Obviously, you’ve seen his movies, you know he knows what he’s doing. Did you feel that he was telling us what to do?
SS: Yeah, but I love that, because I don’t really like to talk about a bunch of stuff. As the days went by and he said less and less to me, I was like,”Llet’s see what I can get away with.”
VM: That means you were doing better and better.
SS: Yeah, and then with more freedom, you don’t have a director that’s constantly worried about what you’re doing. Remember, in that scene where you guys come to my apartment and I blocked it a certain way, but then when shooting, I laid on top of the freezer or whatever and I was like, “He’s never going to let me do this.” But he didn’t say anything.
Which is great, you want that. It’s nice to talk about stuff, but… I called him when I got the part, and very quickly I realized, this dude does not want to talk to me. He’s giving me one-word answers about the character and stuff, and I’m like, “That’s great.”
I found some approaches, like getting ready like an athlete and showing up, and then throwing it up against the wall and seeing what works and what doesn’t. That just gives me confidence.
Q: What was in the plastic bar?
SS: The bar was a real mystery. The bar was whey protein and…
VM: All sorts of disgusting stuff that I had to eat over and over and over.
SS: It was alright. It was alright. It wasn’t that bad.
VM: Fortunately, he doesn’t do many takes.
SS: And [there was] no actual plastic in the bar.
VM: No plastic.
Q: In many ways the film harkens back to earlier films, such as “Videodrome” or “Naked Lunch.” Did you find it helpful to look at any of Cronenberg’s earlier films that you weren’t in? Did you look at anything else, or did you feel it was better to come into this without seeing the other films?
LS: Yes, I watched “Crash.” Actually, I was in line to see the restoration of “Crash” in Paris when they called me for this film. [I thought] it’s a sign. So I saw “Crash” and it helped really to understand his world. And “Naked Lunch” I saw.
VM: I had seen them. I think I’ve seen pretty much all his movies at least once, each one. But the four times I’ve worked on are interesting. I don’t know that it helps me do my job, because each time he goes out there he does something different. Which may be part of the reason it’s hard for him to raise money each time out, because he changes gears and tries something new.
I don’t think he looks back. He’s said that. Actually, I remember hearing him answer that question. He doesn’t look back at what he’s done, and he doesn’t think in terms of genre. He wasn’t really even thinking about the fact that, as many people remarked, this harkens back to, say, the ‘80s or “Scanners” or later, “eXistenZ” or “Videodrome”, or “Crash”, even.
Although he recognizes that there are elements visually that make you think of that, and the same filmmaker. There’s certain preoccupations, obviously, that probably come through. But, it’s more helpful to know, say, from someone who’s worked with him before, “You’re only getting it in one or two takes” or “He doesn’t talk to you.” Tell us some more useful things that are more practical.
Q: Conceptual things?
VM: No. After the fact, or even after the day’s work, he’ll turn around and go “Well, it felt like a metaphor for this or that or maybe it means this or maybe it connects to that.” That’s kindof interesting, but in the doing. “Conceptual” ideas don’t really — you can’t act that.
SS: Yeah, but I didn’t want to say anything. I got the part and was so excited, nervous, terrified, and I just went to work. Not on purpose, I didn’t want to think about other things, think about this big director who directed “Crash” and “Naked Lunch” and all that stuff. It was probably just more nerves than anything. And like Viggo said, it doesn’t really help me to think about this movie in other terms than the actual story here.
Here’s the trailer of the film.