Horrors of Hollywood
FOR decades, the name David Cronenberg was synonymous with horror, albeit horror of a chilly, distinctly cerebral nature, established with films such as Rabid, The Fly and The Dead Zone. So the Oct. 31 release of the director’s Maps to the Stars plays as a Halloween trick. In setting and theme, it skews closer to Hollywood satire, say Robert Altman’s The Player, than Videodrome. That said, the movie should qualify as a treat in the way Cronenberg, 71, and screenwriter Bruce Wagner gleefully lay bare the narcissism, venality and just plain viciousness in its cast of movie stars, child stars, quack psychologists and the minions who facilitate their every need. Yet Cronenberg, on the phone from his Toronto home base, asserts the film is in no way an attack on the Hollywood club he, as a successful Canadian filmmaker, could never be bothered to join. The film’s dyspeptic view of Hollywood, he says, is very much a product of screenwriter Wagner. “If it wasn’t for Bruce, I wouldn’t even think of making a movie on Hollywood,” he says. “I have no beef with Hollywood. Hollywood doesn’t owe me anything. And I have no problem with the existence of Hollywood. “But Bruce grew up in L.A. and grew up in the film business. If you feel there’s anger and a critique against Hollywood in the movie, it comes from Bruce. “On the other hand, I’ve had enough studio experience and meetings with studio executives to know the truth of what Bruce has written.” For his part, Cronenberg’s experience of Los Angeles in relatively minimal. In a feature film career spanning 40 years, Maps to the Stars represents the first time he’s ever actually shot in L.A. — or in the United States, for that matter. “It’s not like I was always obsessed with Hollywood and felt the need to attack it,” he says. “In fact, in some ways, it’s legitimate to say that the subject of the film is not Hollywood, but the human condition itself, and the need to construct an identity, the desperation for that. It’s kind of an existentialist question.” That said, there is much of L.A. the film captures unspeakably well, including a scene — perhaps the movie’s central image — of actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore in an amazing performance) in a full lotus yoga position, screaming like an over-indulged child when things aren’t going her way. The film’s landscape is filled with such moments, including an aphorism-spouting TV psychologist (John Cusack) ministering to Segrand with a combination of massage and dubious psychotherapy, or Cusack’s very young movie star son (Evan Bird) subjecting his agent to harsh anti-Semitic invective, or an especially mortifying scene in which Serena gives a to-do list to her new personal assistant/“chore whore” (Mia Wasikowska) while noisily sitting on a toilet. It all reeks of L.A. “It’s the nature of the art form that you can only achieve the universal through the specific,” Cronenberg says. “So yes, it’s set in Hollywood, no question, but you can imagine it set in Silicon Valley or Wall Street as well. And you’d still have people who are ambitious and desperate and all of those things.” Given the film’s disturbing scenarios, one imagines Cronenberg having to handle his actors — especially Moore, playing the movie star as monster — with more delicacy than usual. “Not at all,” Cronenberg says. “With professional actors who are really experienced and really do understand their characters, there’s no problem. “It’s only when you get the wrong actor in the wrong role that you suddenly have resistance or fear of humiliation or whatever,” he says. “We didn’t have that. The actors were totally locked in. “It’s true that at some point of trying to get the movie made, I approached some actors who were afraid of the roles,” he says. “They didn’t want to be unsympathetic. “I talked to an actress who desperately wanted to do it, but could not do the toilet scene at all,” he says. “And there’s no way I’m going try to talk her into doing it, because it won’t work. “With Julie, we didn’t even discuss it. It’s in the script. Now we do that scene. We’re doing the scene. No big deal.” Just now, Cronenberg’s creative juices aren’t necessarily flowing towards his next film. Last month, the director launched his first novel, Consumed, a thoroughly Cronenbergian tale of French philosophers and Canadian journalists enmeshed in disease, international intrigue and cannibalism. Naturally, the question arises: Will he adapt it to film? “The rights are available, so if you’re interested, what can I say?” he quips. “There was a time — a short time — when I thought for sure I’m going to want to make a movie of the book, because how many novelists get a chance to do that? “But the I realized I’d be bored,” he says. “I mean: I’ve done it. I realized I don’t need a movie to validate or complete it. “So the possibilities have opened up. Now that I’ve proven I can write a viable novel, I want to write another,” he says. “It would take a very seductive, irresistible film project to come along to have me making another movie in the near future.”
Maps to the Stars opens in theatres Friday.