While at Comic-Con, Movieweb was given the privilege of being able to sit in on an intimate roundtable discussion with the always interesting, David Cronenberg. His new movie, A History of Violence opens in theaters on September 23, 2005. His cerebral tale about a small town business owner (Viggo Mortensen) who thwarts a robbery attempt in his cafe, and is then pursued by some mafia hitmen (led by Ed Harris) who think he is someone he may or may not be, is a very interesting look at identity, relationships and the way we view violence. During this discussion Cronenberg was both candid, funny, intillegent and everything else you might expect from a man who has made a career out of challenging viewers through the medium of film.
He began this discussion comparing filmmaking to “having a kid” and saying that he doesn’t “put in or take out material just because that is what is expected” of him. He said that in A History of Violence, there are “specific reasons” for many of the elements in the film. He wants the audience “to be compelled by violence” when they first see it and “then repelled”. When asked about the graphic novel for which this movie is based, he stated frankly that he “never knew there was a graphic novel” so he had “no attachment” to it as they were working on the screenplay. In fact, he had been working on the script and “then I found out.” He went on to explain that Josh Olson (the screenwriter with whom he worked) “wrote the script with Viggo in mind”, but at that juncture Cronenberg was only “developing the script.” He felt that on his short list of actors to play the lead role in the film, “Viggo is the perfect guy not only as actor but where he is in his life.” He also went on to explain that there were other politics that went into the casting decision, such as “was Viggo happy with New Line after ?” He also went on to explain that “before an actor is cast, anyone can play the role.” Working with New Line on this project was very much a case of “once you agree on a cast, a budget and a script” you’re left alone. Cronenberg also informed us that to this day he “hasn’t made a movie that anyone else has cut.”
In regards to the script development, Cronenberg wanted some changes to Josh Olson’s sceenplay. “Originally there were no sex scenes... Olson hadn’t written sex scenes so he was a little shy,” he explained with a smile. Also, initially, Viggo Mortensen and William Hurt were not scripted brothers. This device was added because Cronenberg wanted to “deliver a taste from” Mortensen’s past. Also, he felt this naturally led to a sort of “Cane and Abel”-type relationship.
Lastly, it is wondered if after such daring films as Crash and Spider, if A History of Violence might be Cronenberg’s “return” to commercial films. To this he respoonded “when you make films like Crash, you have a limited audience.” In fact, in his inital talks with New Line about making the film he made it clear, “No, I’m not going to turn it into Spider.” His goal is always to make each film “that best it is”. In fact with A History of Violence, he “conciously went toward something that would make money but still be interesting.” As the roundtable discussion wound down, he informed us that the Director of Photography on A History of Violence, Peter Suschitzky, is the same person who shot The Empire Strikes Back. Cronenberg then went on to say that he feels that is the best Star Wars film and also “you can tell George that.”
As someone who has followed David Cronenberg’s movies since I was 10 (when I first screened the magnetic Videodrome), it was quite an experience to be able to sit down and hear him speak so candidly about his work. Like David Lynch, his movies seem to be exposes on “other sides” of society. Of people, relationships and events that exist just below the surface. After all the years he has spent making movies, it is refreshing to see him still challenging himself with works like A History of Violence.
A History of Violence opens nationwide on September 23, 2005.