The guy from “Twilight” in a David Cronenberg film — who, what, how? We asked the star himself. In the Cannes contender, he plays a billionaire riding around a limo in NYC, embarking on an odyssey that includes guns, sex and anal probes.
“Twilight” and David Cronenberg. The two are worlds apart. Is “Cosmopolis” the start of a new career for you?
Just being here, representing the film, is amazing. For a young actor like myself, for people that love films, Cannes is the ultimate festival as it’s one of the only ones that sees film as art. It’s not about the celebrities here. As for my career, it’s definitely the start of something new. Filming “Cosmopolis” gave me the confidence I needed to only focus on projects I’m truly interested in.
Your career began in England, but it took off in Hollywood. Do you think all young actors dream of Cannes?
Maybe not … until the day their film is selected! In the U.S, Cannes gets very little coverage. It’s more of an industry event. In London, on the other hand, it’s huge. The weird thing is the amount of people that applaud the film at the end of the screening. I went to see “On The Road” and I was really stunned. In the U.S., people walk out the moment the closing credits appear. I asked David what would happen if people booed “Cosmopolis.” Do we still have to stand up for 20 minutes?
Apparently, you’re a Cronenberg fan. Is it true you signed up to one of his films without reading the script first?
Absolutely. Just last week my agent asked me if I was ready to be in David’s next film. I said yes without thinking about it first. On the other hand, I read the script for “Cosmopolis” a year before David offered me the part, and I thought it was amazing. From the very first time I read it, I felt some sort of connection. Like it was reaching out to me. I don’t know why.
Cronenberg didn’t make you rehearse. He says he wanted to see where the film was headed as it was being shot. Didn’t that scare you?
I understand why he did that. It’s a very complex scenario that could have been interpreted in many different ways. David didn’t say much about what he wanted me to do. We had a very brief conversation, but that’s about it. I remember being sat in my hotel room two weeks before we were due to start filming and telling myself, “Oh my God!”
The first few days, I was terrified. We were doing camera tests and I was sat in the limousine with nothing to do … and I nearly threw up! My heart was racing. I was scared David would fire me, that he would think I was an impostor. But he was very relaxed. His team told me how the first couple of weeks, he never really knows what he’s doing, but not to worry about it. He just needs time to get the feel of things! Once we got going, the pace got faster and faster. By the end we were only doing one take per scene. It was crazy.
What did you find most challenging? Was it the literary dialogue?
Most of the time, film dialogues aren’t that great. It’s the actors that transform them. It’s part of their job. But here, the dialogue was just so amazing. … The hard thing was that David had a tendency to make last-minute changes to the schedule — meaning I had to memorize the entire script. But it was nice, because most of the time once you’re done filming there isn’t that much to do. But this time I had to read through my lines every night.
What about the sex scenes? Those are both funny and exciting.
The most complicated one was with my bodyguard, played by Patricia McKenzie. The original plan was for the scene to start with us having an orgasm and then going straight into a normal conversation. But David suggested we talk and f— at the same time!
What about the one where the doctor checks out your prostate?
Five minutes before we started filming, David said: “I want the bottom of your balls at the top of the frame.” I remember thinking that at that moment, I would do anything this guy asked me to do. But then I had to go and see him and tell him I couldn’t do it. He took it very well. What you will get is a very bizarre scene you won’t be seeing again anytime soon. … I promise.
Don DeLillo wrote the book before 9/11 and the financial crisis. But the characters in “Cosmopolis” face current dilemmas. Did you have to do anything in particular in order to make things more contemporary?
It’s not something that we did on purpose, [but] a lot of things happened while we were filming. Occupy Wall Street happened at the same time that we were filming a riot scene. Also, Rupert Murdoch got a pie thrown in his face — and the exact same thing happens to my character! It’s funny, because at the beginning, I didn’t really see “Cosmopolis” as a description of reality, but more as a poem. That’s how the book reads, what makes it so timeless. But when it came to the critique of the financial world, there’s an almost virtual side to it. You could replace the dollar by rats and it wouldn’t change a thing. Personally, I’ve never invested money in anything. It doesn’t make any sense.
Have you prepared a speech, in case you win the Best Actor Award?
No, absolutely not! Just the idea of having to go onstage and risk being booed at terrifies me!
It would be your first big award …
I won the Best Kiss MTV Movie Award for “Twilight,” remember? Three years in a row!
This time, you might get the award for best finger up the a— …
[Bursts out laughing] That would be amazing; it would be an incredible award! For the best ever prostate scene in history!
So your next film, will it be another Cronenberg?
I don’t know exactly when we are due to start filming. But it will be the first time that David does a film on American ground. In Los Angeles, to be exact. It’s going to be about the film industry — and I promise you, it will be a weird one. In the meantime, I’ll be working on “Mission: Black List,” with the French director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire. It’s about the hunt for Saddam Hussein. We really want to shoot the film in Tikrit, in Iraq, even if it’s going to be complicated. But I’m only 26 years old, and that’s the kind of risk I need to take. If someone has to do it, it’s going to be me!