DAVID CRONENBERG: HIS “SPIDER” HAS MORE BITE THAN BARK

This film was a real struggle to get produced, can you talk about how it all came together?
Yeah, it’s sort of a typical independent film kind of story. The actual making of the film was a complete joy. And that’s the way I’d have it. If it has to be hell, it might as well be on the financing side because that doesn’t necessarily hurt the film creatively. But the script came to me with a letter from Ralph Fienne’s agent saying he wanted to do the movie. Now that’s very unusual. Most agents will not commit their actor to anything on paper when there’s not a production, there’s not a director, there’ s not a deal. But Ralph was so passionate about it and really had Katherine Bailey, who brought it to him, so that’s how it started. But I find stories of high financing pretty boring. So I repressed most of it. I’m sure I could regurgitate, but you wouldn’t want to hear it. It just, basically, the financing kept falling through for various reasons. We had it, then we didn’t, production was started, then stopped, some money was spent, then it wasn’t to the extent that when we finished shooting the three weeks we did in London and went back to Toronto to do the five weeks of interiors and sets there, the English crew had not been paid yet. And this was extraordinary that they stuck with us because this wasn’t just the three weeks of shooting, it was also five weeks of prep. They kept being told they’d be paid and they weren’t paid, so they had every reason to walk off the set. So every day Ralph and I went to the set, we weren’t sure there was going to be a set. It was only people’s passion for the film and the project that carried it through. But you don’t want to work that way. You don’t want your crew to suffer and be uncertain and feeling insecure. I mean it’s hard enough to make the film when everything’s together, so it was a real trial by fire. And independent film tends to be like that. On the other hand, what you get for me as a director is complete freedom. I had nobody looking over my shoulder other than just for support. You had no studio execs giving you notes. You have no temperamental actors pulling star trips. So everyone was just fabulous. If I had to keep making that trade off, “Dead Ringers” was like that, it’s a tradeoff worth making.

How do you continue to get such groundbreaking films financed? I look at Spider and I think that only you could do this.
Well, it is… uh, agony. I have a producing credit on this film and I deserve it. It’s not an honorary credit. I mean, I was on the phone and normally I like to have a nap at lunch time. It gets very exhausting, but instead I’d be on the phone talking to Telefilm Canada trying to get a larger investment from the Canadian Government and talking to the French distributor about his withdrawal from the film and coming back in, and so on. So even while I was shooting, I was continuing to do the producing thing. But I really do believe it is passion for the project that carries it through because the actors ended up deferring money, the producers, I did, the writer did, uh, if they hadn’t loved the project, if they had been in it for anything other than the love of the project, it would have died a million deaths, y’know, it would have stopped many times.

What exactly was Ralph’s character in Spider scribbling in his notebook?
That’s an interesting thing. In the novel that the script is based on, “Spider,” the main character, who Ralph plays, is the writer of the novel. The novel is actually his journal and that meant that works as a sort of literary device and that means that they’re very self aware, very articulate, very literate because it’s a beautifully written novel. So originally in the first script I got, it had him writing in the journal and had voice-over from the novel. I realized those two Spiders were completely different than the Spider we were gradually coming to create on screen. I like the agonizing over the journal. And so I said, “Ralph, you gotta write in that journal but it can’t be anything that’s readable. It’s got to be your own language,” just as we eventually developed a kind of mumbling that he does which you can sometimes make out and sometimes can’t, which was in the script and the phantom storyboards. We just evolved it on the set so Ralph developed this sort of hieroglyphics that he could write very beautifully, which is a language of his own which schizophrenics often have.

I’m sitting here talking to you about film, but I feel like I should be putting on a robe and going into an examining room. What I mean by that, you’ve played doctors in previous films and people have even described you as being much like a doctor. Why do you think that is?
And also an “academic,” I might add. Sometimes they think “professorial” and so it’s just a demeanor I have. I never had parents who thought I should be a doctor, however, so it doesn’t come from that. But I do think that a movie is a kind of an experiment, you know. You are experimenting with yourself in a way and so I support that. I support that analytical, clinical aspect. Although I say the passion is very important too. Part of science does involve passion too. People think it has to be one or the other. Any human endeavor does require extreme emotion and to accomplish anything in a very complex culture, you do require passion. So I can accept that and I did recently get a doctorate, an honorary one, from the university of Toronto. So you can call me “Dr. Cronenberg” and it’s real.

Dr. Cronenberg, thanks again, I really appreciate your time.
(Shakes hand) Now, if you just remove those trousers, I’ll be with you in a minute. (Laughs)




Posted on February 28, 2003 in Interviews by

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