Sources 1, 2, 3
Translation with SPOILERS!
On the week when David Cronenberg visits Portugal - he presents his last movie "A Dangerous Method" - Expresso releases a report done on the last day of shooting for his next movie "Cosmopolis". Robert Pattinson is the lead in the 1st transatlantic production for Paulo Branco. The screen adaptation for the Don DeLilo novel, shot in Toronto between May and July, and arrives in theatres in 2012.
We arrive to Canada on July 11th, at the time when the Cosmopolis team just left the Pinewood Toronto Studios, where most of the movie was shot, to install itself on another compound. Mission: to accompany the last days (in fact they were the latest 24 hours) of shooting for Cronenberg's new movie. We're going to watch the last scenes of the movie that correspond to the last chapter in the book. Eric Michael Packer (Robert Pattinson), the lead character and Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti) the man who will finish it all have a decisive dialogue. Pattinson, a now mega-star due to his participation in the Twilight Saga. is working for the first time with this director. His character, Eric is a Manhattan golden boy. 20 years old. Stock market broker who has made a lot of money. On that morning of traffic jams, he decides to cross New York in his limo to get a haircut. Addicted to the logic power that runs the American empire, confident on his excess of confidence (?), he decided to bet everything against the valorisation of the yen. In the 24 hours in which the Don DeLilo novel runs Eric will lose his whole fortune. Haunted by real enemies and by the ghost of his own end e goes on a descent to Hell: is condemnation is irreversible.
Cronenberg lost no time in transforming this story in which finances dictate the death of the ego, as the narrative progresses it takes the nature of a hallucination. We are in "cronenberguian" terrain by excellence. The owner of the rights for the Don DeLilo piece, it was producer Paulo Branco who suggested this movie to the Canadian moviemaker. Branco occupied himself with the financial building of his most ambitious project to date, and his first North-American experience, in this French-Canadian production that cost 20 million dollars. When we arrived in Canada, names like Sarah Gadon, Samantha Morton, Kevin Durand, Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel and Mathieu Amaric have already passed by the Cosmopolis set...Pattinson and Giamatti were the ones who stayed for the grand finale.
Tuesday, July 12th. At 10am in the morning we pass by Giamatti in the hotel lobby in downtown Toronto. Walter Gasparovic, first director's assistant for Cronenberg welcomes us half an hour later, somewhere in the city's suburbs. Gasparovic has been working with Cronenberg since "eXistenZ" (1999). He's part of a very loyal team that makes this shooting look like a family gathering. We get in on a studio department that's no less that then thousand square metres. Parked outside are 20 trucks that support the cast and the technical teams (and as many for the next door studio where they're currently shooting a "Total Recall" remake with Colin Farrel, but with no Verhoeven or Schwarzenegger). We should not think a movie is measured in how many trucks are outside, and if it does impress, let it be known that for a production like this the "apparatus" is only required for minimal services.
Inside the studio, Arvinder Grewal, artistic director, has built the last décor of the movie: the room in that dirty, dark building where Eric ends up at the end of the book - reflective of his state of mind. In this moment, Eric is already a destroyed man fighting his biggest enemy: himself. On the set is also the Polish photography director, Peter Suschitzky who's been working with Cronenberg since "Dead Ringers" (1988) - in their own way, they're inseparable too. In charge of the sound mixture is the experienced Jean-Paul Mugel. Also there are Ron Hewitt, head chief for the artistic department, Dug Rotstein, script supervisor (another "cronenberguian" who's been with him for more than 20 years now), Denise Cronenberg, who's been doing costumes for her brother's movies since "The Fly" and, Caitlin Cronenberg, David's daughter, a plastic artist who's here as a set photographer and is the only person on studio allowed to carry a camera. That's not to be thought of as strange, weeks before Pattinson was caught by paparazzi during an outside shoot (these photos would then appear all over the Internet). Caitlin is, therefore, the author of all the photos in these pages, which are being seen for the first time.
Our presence is noted. We appear at the end of a shoot that, until now, had not welcomed any press visits. Doing a report in this case is a thing to manage very carefully, a word too many and it might seem abusive. We're not allowed in the bit of the set where they're about to film. We have the script in our hands. They offer us chairs in privileged positions for the third monitor, the one that belongs to Jasper Vrakking, responsible for the digital treatment of image. The second monitor is occupied by Dug Rotstein. At the first is, obviously, Suschitzky. When Cronenberg's on set, in front of the actors, he rarely ever looks at the monitors. He works, as always, with only one camera: he's part of that moviemaker family that allows only one point of view.
When we get in the studio we see the white limo (a Lincoln) in which Eric Packer starts the movie. They explain to us that the adapted scrip was absolutely loyal to the original's dialogues. Also here are remains from other décor: the yellowed barbershop Eric decided to visit, it reminds us of "Naked Lunch" (1991). It's now 10:50 pm. Pattinson and Giamatti aren't at the studio yet. In their places are two body doubles dresses exactly like the characters, Eric (in a black suit) and Benno (with a towel on his head), it's with them that the technical team makes the last preparations for the shoot. Cronenberg arrives shortly after, we are introduced, he shakes our hands with a "make yourself at home" and a "you don't work for "News of the World, right?" (the scandal about illegalities in the British newspaper had broken just days ago). He's the friendly person who we had met before and who we met again two months later at the Venice Festival for an interview on "A Dangerous Method". As for Pattinson and Giamatti, they're only allowed inside when everything is ready to go.
That's what happens at 12:15pm. Pattinson and Giamatti arrive on set. It's all very fast, there's no time to lose. 3 minutes later, absolute silence. The bell that "shuts everyone up" rings and the camera starts rolling, Cronenberg scream "action", it's the first take of the day: a dialogue drenched in humour and derision between Eric and Benno. Eric says: "You're upset because you feel like you don't have a role to play, there's no place for you. But you have to question yourself: who's to blame?" The 1st take goes all the way to the end but Cronenberg is not happy. The same with the second that fails: Giamatti bursts out laughing. Suschitzky measures the lighting again. It's his first time working with an Alexa, the latest digital camera from Arriflex; arrived on the market in 2010 (it was the high tech response to the Red One by Canon). The third take starts: goes all the way to the end, all seems well. Cronenberg asks for a fourth that fails again. On the fifth, Giamatti explodes on a sentence previously quietly said: "I wanna be known as Benno!" Nobody expected that reaction, almost a scream, not even Cronenberg. Silence. Everything's done, that take is the one that will make it. Suschitzky and Mugel do an OK sign.
At 1pm Cronenberg gives Pattinson and Giamatti indications for the next shot. He speaks to them about "Sleuth: Autopsy of a Crime" because, just like in the last Mickiewicz’s movie, it will be necessary to do the next dialogue in one single long take, no cuts. We make good on that time by asking Mugel what's the sound design for the set, he explains us that he has four open ways, one mic on Pattinson's lapel, another one on Giamatti and two others on "perches". Cronenberg is following the chronology of the argument (and the book) and filming in sequence, like Eustache used to do, like Garrel does. He gets ready to shoot a central scene in the movie in which Eric/Pattinson shoots himself in the hand in front of Benno (like DeLilo wrote, "Eric didn't know if he was suffering.") The body doubles get back on set and the actors disappear. They come back at 2:15pm for the first take. Pattinson ends the scene by simulating the shot (and the pain). The tech for the Mr. X. company, in charge with the special effects is paying attention, later he will "add" blood to Eric's hand and the sound of the gun going off in post-production.
2:40pm: the next scene is prepared, a shorter one this time. The long final dialogue for "Cosmopolis" between Eric and Benno still has a few pages to go. Giamatti adds to this scene a new dose of emotion. "That's where the answer was, in your body, in your prostate." Eric, just like Benno, who will be his executioner, has an asymmetric prostate and what he metaphorically means is "the importance of asymmetries, of skewed objects", since Eric has already condemned himself, it was for blindly believing in the contrary: perfection. Cronenberg does two takes. Told like this, it seems that making movies is easy.
At 4pm, lunch break. Cronenberg tells us about the immense surprise of working with Pattinson. Of how this role can potentially change the young British actor's career. An hour and a half later it's back to work. The team is relaxed: they're one week ahead of the predicted shooting schedule. Walter Gasparovic, in front of his monitor, looks in the rushes for the exact moment when Eric's gun fell on set to avoid a fake continuity mistake ("the Internet falls on us if we fail at this"). After that Cronenberg smilingly informs us that he decided to shoot the last part in one single shot, but that implies, by a question of focus and depth of field, they have to intensify the lighting on set. Suschitzky doesn't hesitate: "Let's knock down some walls." It's the most important technical challenge of the day.
8:50pm, Cronenberg finally prepares to shoot the scene. The dialogue is very intense and it's going to take about 4 minutes with no cuts. "I still need to shoot you..." starts Benno. The first take fails. On the second one, Paul Giamatti goes almost to the end but breaks: his part is long and hard. Everyone's mesmerized by the monitors, it's a heavy moment and not a fly is heard on set. The third take goes even worse. The fourth is a success but Cronenberg is still not completely happy with Pattinson's conclusion: the finale of DeLilo's book is a cosa mentale, reflexive and distant; it transports itself into a twilight zone that goes way beyond the simple extermination of the lead character. It's not easy to enclose a suggestion on a cinema plan. The fifth take is started. Cronenberg says go. Benno goes around a table and points a gun at Eric. "As it is, you're already dead. You're like someone that has died already, a hundred years ago, many centuries ago (...) I wanted you to save me." Robert Pattinson closes his eyes like he's never done before. He stays like that for a few seconds. High tension moment. He opens his eyes. Cronenberg yells "cut". It's a genius take, you can feel it in the air. For a moment, the team was suspended one foot above ground and now they exhale in relief. This is certainly the take that will make it to the movie theatres, sometime in 2012. The filming is done. On our way out of the studio, 11pm in Toronto, we meet Cronenberg again: "You know I could not cut that take while Robert had his eyes closed. I had to wait for him to open them. I could have waited forever. Grand maître. [The big master.]"
From the Expresso newspaper magazine. November 5th