Graphic of a two-headed lizard from eXistenZ

Transcript: A Dangerous Method: Working with Actors

JEREMY THOMAS: Well, you know, actors want to work with David. And that’s a gift for his producers  because you can get actors to work with him at a special rate. They’ll work in the economy of the film. So if you’re making a 10 million dollar movie, you can’t pay the actor 10 million dollars. You can only have the right proportion of what the actor should get out of the movie. Like the director and producer - everybody gets the right proportion.

As opposed to a film that’s being made with Tom Cruise in it, when he gets half the film and then the film’s to be made with the other half. So it’s a very different economy when you work with David, because the money goes in the movie. The actors know that.

Therefore, you get a special sort of actor who wants to work with David.

But most actors want to work with him because they would like that notch on their gun belt: “I did a film with David Cronenberg.”

Secondly, actors love him because he gives the actors what they need and what they want. He gives them enough, and not too much. He helps them, but lets them be free. He loves them, but doesn’t want to possess them. He’s very, very good with actors and the actors really respect him. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better experience than on A Dangerous Method with the actors. I was living in a hotel with the actors, David lived in an apartment. They were completely sated. They didn’t need him at night. They were sated by him. They were completely satisfied and sated with what he gave them. The stimulation, the intellectual side of what their parts should be… he’s worked it out for them exactly what they should do.

And he’s so confident - I think he’s so confident - as a director. As what he’s shot and what’s he going to be having eventually in the film when he’s put it together with the music and the sound and how he’s going to do it. It’s very nice for an actor to have a ringmaster who knows. Because often they have somebody, they don’t know anything. They love working and they hear the jungle drums work out the acting profession “you should make a film with David Cronenberg because he knows something we don’t know.” And actors love working with someone who knows something they don’t know.

It makes them better.

The performances, I think, in A Dangerous Method were all absolutely peerless.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: David obviously takes a chance when he’s casting, like all directors do. But, he follows his instincts, you know. Obviously, he has to take into account, even though his movies have never been big budget movies. There was still a requirement. Anybody who works in independent movies knows that even in the smallest movie, there’s pressure to cast at least one or two characters that are if not mainstream actors, actors that are known to movie audiences just to ensure the financing and the possibility that people will actually go to the movie theatre and see it. Sight unseen, or not knowing much about the story, maybe.

Obviously, he has to take that into account but he always, whether it’s casting Keira Knightly or Michael Fassbender or working again with me, he takes into account – he has to, pressures of the producers – well, are they… what’s their box office potential is as actors? But, he’s always looking to cast the movie right. And as far as people getting along, he guesses at it. That’s part of the equation, I think, when he’s casting. How would she work with him? How would these two guys get along? He takes a chance. It’s a gut instinct he has when he’s casting. In the case of Michael Fassbender and myself, playing Jung and Freud, we worked. We got along. Michael had a different approach than mine, I’m sure. But, he does have a good sense of humour. And he does work hard in his particular way at being ready, showing up. I think that’s what David expects of people. That they’ll show up. It’s not that complicated, really, in terms of working with him, or what I in particular have in common with David, you know, actor-director collaborating. It really comes down to simply the expectation that we’re both going to show up well-prepared and ready to pay attention and see what we can get out of the day’s work.

Another thing that’s really good about him, is that, not only does he inspire an actor to do his or her best work and to be honest and efficient in portraying a character, but he also, working with him is a healthy reminder that telling stories, in the movies, can and maybe should be fun. Every single day of the shoot. No matter how complicated or disturbing, any script or scene might be. Why not? That does make it seem a lot easier. It’s never really easy, but it feels easier. He inspires confidence and a certain degree of playfulness.

I think, if I had to describe in a phrase what David’s working method is, what he’s about as a director and as a person, I would say that he’s about… his work, and his way of being as a man, is about the joy of acquiring knowledge. He doesn’t just push himself to make a new kind of movie this time just because, “Oh, I have to do something different.”

No, he wants to, because he’s always wanted to learn something else. That’s a great quality for a person to have, generally, but for a director, it’s wonderful.