By MICHAEL GINGOLD
David Cronenberg creates a strange and distinctive world in CRIMES OF THE FUTURE, his return to visceral body horror after more than two decades away, and has populated it with a first-rate cast. At the top of that ensemble are Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux, who discussed their Cronenberg collaboration with RUE MORGUE.
Mortensen, who previously starred in the filmmaker’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, EASTERN PROMISES and A DANGEROUS METHOD, plays Saul Tenser, who has turned the removal of rogue organs from his body into performance art. Seydoux, the French actress previously seen in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE–GHOST PROTOCOL and NO TIME TO DIE, is Saul’s partner Caprice, who operates the “autopsy bed” that cuts him open in front of fascinated audiences. CRIMES (reviewed here), exerts a fascination of its own, the results of what its stars describes as a confidence in his own vision.
Viggo, after having done three films with David Cronenberg, was there anything that surprised you about this one?
VIGGO MORTENSEN: I was surprised he wanted to make another movie–pleasantly surprised. I thought he was done, that he was fed up with the process of trying to raise the money, and all the effort that goes into preparing and making a film. So I was happily surprised that he was going to do it again, and I hoped that it would go well for him. We were all happy to be working with him, and I think he ended up having a really good time, so much so that he’s going to make another one [THE SHROUDS].
You hadn’t done this kind of body-horror film with him before, so did that make it a new experience?
MORTENSEN: I didn’t think about that very much; I just thought about the story, and what my part was, and how I was going to help make this movie work. So I just got busy, and didn’t think about genre or the fact that it was like his older films. I recognized that it had something in common and was in the same family as some of those older movies, but I knew that he’s a different kind of filmmaker now, and in the movies I’ve done with him, I’ve seen an evolution where he’s much more specific with the shots, not doing a lot of takes; he knows when he’s got it and he’s very sure of himself as a filmmaker. Not that he wasn’t before, but he’s become more so, more confident.
And it was a different kind of character, more reactive, taking in what’s happening. But I think that’s the foundation of good acting anyway: good reacting. That’s where good acting starts–how you react to your environment and the other actors. So I liked it as an exercise. I let myself go to see what happened, see how Léa played the scene, and just went with it. That’s what we should always do, but sometimes we forget and we’re in our heads a little bit, like, “I don’t like how I said or I did that,” instead of just only giving our attention to what’s being given to us.
Léa, as a newcomer to Cronenberg’s world, what were your impressions of the script and your character, and how was your experience with him?
LÉA SEYDOUX: I thought, well, this is going to be a new adventure. Sometimes there are films where I kind of get the contours, I have an idea of what it will be, and sometimes it’s more obscure, it’s a bit abstract. That’s how I felt with David, but it was also a nice feeling. I like the challenge of the unknown. And also, it was not my language, and I love that; I enjoy being out of my comfort zone. I felt an immediate connection with David, and with Viggo as well; it felt natural. And what I also like when I make a film is to be part of a director’s vision, and to me David is a real artist. For that reason, and also because the movie is a metaphor about what it is to be an artist, I really connected to it. It was a pure delight.
Since one of you had plenty of previous experience with Cronenberg, and the other had never worked with him before, how did Cronenberg deal with directing the two of you together?
MORTENSEN: It seemed really easy, the way he dealt with us. I believe it was the first day or so, at one point Léa said, “Do you think he’s OK with what we’re doing?” because we had done a scene, and we’d done maybe a couple of takes, and he said, “OK,” and just walked over to another area to do something else. We were looking at each other and Léa said, “Was that OK?” and I said, “Yeah; if he doesn’t say anything, it just means he’s happy with it.” Of course, if you have a question or you think you can do something else, you can bring it up and he’ll consider it, and if he likes it, he’ll say, “That’s a good idea, let’s try another one.” He’s open to that, but generally, I said, “If he’s not saying much, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t like it; it means the opposite, it means he liked it.”
People get used to that quickly. He lets you understand that if you’re a crewmember or a cast person, he is watching everything, and listening to what’s being said to him, and he does take it in. There are times when you’re wondering if he’s paying attention, and then he does or says something and you realize, “Yeah, he didn’t miss anything.” Once you realize that’s his style, and that he’s paying attention all the time, it feels good and it’s comforting. As an actor, you want the director to be attentive to what you’re doing, and how you sound and everything about it. Once you trust that person’s criteria, that person’s judgment, then you feel like you’re in good hands and you’re on your way. And it seemed like that happened very quickly for you.
SEYDOUX: Yeah. The only thing that was a bit frustrating sometimes is that he does, like, maximum two takes.
MORTENSEN: You have to be ready.
SEYDOUX: Yeah, you have to be ready, and I have to say that sometimes for me, also because it’s not my first language, I wanted to do more.
MORTENSEN: Well, sometimes you wonder at first whether he’s satisfied with too little.
SEYDOUX: It’s not only that; of course, you want him to be satisfied. But sometimes, just when you start to settle and get into it, suddenly it’s over and you’re on to the next one. It’s just like, [snaps fingers], and you have to be ready to move on.
MORTENSEN: That’s the thing about David that you realize after a while; that’s the pure artist in him. All this time and effort and financing and everything has gone into the production work and the props, and then David… If it works, he doesn’t care, for example, how much time it took to build the Sarc; it’s like, if he can get it in one take, it’s fine, let’s go to lunch. He’s a pure artist in that way: He is very well-prepared and very thoughtful about what he is going to do, but when it happens, he believes in what occurs in that moment, and what Léa or I or anyone else does. Even if it wasn’t exactly what we thought we were going to do, or our idea of what our best is, from his point of view, that’s perfect, that’s what he needs. And that’s very self-assured of him. But it can be disconcerting when you’re like, “Oh, I’m just getting going…” “No, that’s great, I don’t think you can do it better!”
How was it working with the Sarc bed and the autopsy bed and the other props and prosthetics you interacted with?
MORTENSEN: It was nice because they were there. On some movies there’s nothing there; you have to make it all up in your mind, or they show you a picture: “This is what it will look like after we put this thing there,” but now, you’re sitting on a green box, and there’s supposed to be a thunderstorm and a herd of buffalo, and it’s, “Now look here, and there’s the Indians running after the buffalo,” you know? We actually had these things, and that bed was actually comfortable, so we could play with some of them, and that was good. Obviously they weren’t really cutting me open, but he described how that would look, and it helps the make-believe when you have the real objects there.
SEYDOUX: You always act also with what is around you, so it helped me to be in character. You know, it’s always hard for me to answer those questions, because that’s not really how I work; it’s more instinctive. I’m not thinking, “How am I going to use this or that?” I’m not very technical; it’s like, “OK, I’m here and now, we’ll try to make that work.”
MORTENSEN: David described it: “This is how it works, you’re using this thing…”
SEYDOUX: And then you do what you think is right.