Interview: 'Antiviral' Helmer Brandon Cronenberg Talks Story, Characters and His Fathers Influence
When one hears the name Cronenberg certain things come to mind - askew stories, fascination with the flesh and an overall sense of something strange. But this time out it’s not the elder David who is making waves with a new vision of weird but his son Brandon and with his feature debut "ANTIVIRAL" (in select theaters April 19th from IFC Midnight) things in the Cronenberg universe are just as wild and wonderful as ever. The film tells the tale of a not-so-distant future where obsessed fans and collectors pay money to be injected with the viruses and diseases of their favorite celebrity. It’s a lovingly odd five-star flick that harks back to the time of "Scanners," "The Brood" and especially "Videodrome," but told with a youthful passion of a next generation of filmmaker. We got a chance to chat with the super-talented Brandon Cronenberg all about "Antiviral," his pitch perfect casting and what influence his prolific pop had on the young auteur. Leave making sense at the door and head for the unknown – here’s...
"Antiviral" is a creepy, but ever so timely extreme look at our celeb obsessed culture – where did the genesis of the flick come from?
Brandon Cronenberg: In 2004 I just started film school and I was trying to come up with a script idea and I got really sick. I had this flu and I had a fever and I was obsessing over the physicality of my illness and the fact that I had something in my body and in my cells that had come from someone else’s body and how that’s a weirdly intimate thing if you think about it that way. So afterwards I was trying to think of a character that might see disease as something intimate and I thought celebrity obsessed fan who wants Angelina Jolie’s cold or something. I mean it’s totally plausible as a way of feeling physically connected – plus it seemed like a good metaphor to talk about that culture.
Your casting is inspiring, especially the haunting and gaunt looking Caleb Landry Jones as the almost insect like Syd March – how did he come to be cast?
BC: His agent and my producer had worked before on some things so that was a good relationship. And there was this period where we were seeing who was around, who might be interesting and so they were talking and he said, ‘Here – take a look at Caleb.’ So we were at the production office and he sent over his reel and we crowded around the laptop. He’s totally exciting, meaning he has that hard to articulate fascinating thing that some actors have where you just want to look at them. We all got really worked up.
I had read that he delved deep into the character so being a first time director what was the collaboration between yourself and Caleb?
BC: He made my job really easy. (Laughs) He always wanted to push himself absolutely as far as possible and he really likes to feel it. It was really exciting working with him actually because he’s really talented but he’s just figuring out his method still so there are all these experiments that he was doing. They were usually successful and really interesting. There was once scene where there was a close up of him looking very intense and before one take he just bit the end off a dead leaf and rolled it around in his mouth for the entire shot. It was amazing and it was the one we used.
I know Sarah Gadon had previously worked with your dad in both "A Dangerous Method" and "Cosmopolis," but she’s even more captivating as the iconic Hannah Geist here. Can you talk about how you were able to get such a memorable performance out of such a short amount of screen time?
BC: Again, she’s just a great actress and has an incredible screen presence. Before we started the main shoot we took a lot of photos of her and the videos of her and this pre-shoot shoot. So it’s a weird type of acting for her because a lot of it is stills or little video clips, but it was a great collaboration to make an icon out of her. When I first sent her the script I got a message back saying she really likes the script but she wanted to play Levine. (Laughs) She doesn’t see herself as an icon, but fortunately I was able to talk her into it.
Your DOP Karim Hussain also shot and directed a very memorable and visually arresting short called "Vision Stains" for the film "The Theatre Bizarre" – how much did he contribute to the look of the film?
BC: He brought a huge amount to the table. I live Karim as a DOP and a human being. He came over a month before we even started pre-production to Toronto, moved to a place near my place and we would just sit in the park going through the script scene by scene and creating this theoretical shot list before we had actors, sets or locals. To discuss the visual language - to set some rules for ourselves.
I’ve read in many interviews you distancing yourself from the early work of your prolific father and its parallels to Antiviral, so at what point did you begin to become aware and see his work?
BC: Most of it I didn’t see until I was in my twenties actually and I still haven’t seen all of his films. Like late teens, early twenties. I was aware of it because it was always a part of our family life – that was his work. But people ask me was I inspired by his work and the thing is I don’t have a perspective on it to be inspired by it in a way that people usually mean by that. I was very inspired by him as a father obviously – we’d share dreams and I had a very close relationship with him. So in that sense I was influenced by him, but his work I have no perspective on it.
Your imagery such as the use of human parts and strangeness of organic tissue reminds me of work like "Videodrome" and "eXistenZ" – is there a fascination for the flesh within the Cronenberg household?
BC: I don’t know. It’s not something that we’re constantly talking about or anything. Maybe it’s something I picked up from him. I think the human body is very interesting because it’s at the core of who we are and yet it’s something that we really don’t want to look at – especially now I think. On Facebook people create these idealized Photoshop images of themselves and they tailor their identities and play the celebrity and paparazzi at the same time.
What’s next for you – what kind of movies and subjects do you want to tackle in the future?
BC: Well, I’m writing something but it’s in the early stages, but Antiviral is indicative of my interests to a certain extent.
"ANTIVIRAL" OPENS IN SELECT THEATRES APRIL 19 FROM IFC FILMS.