Talking with: David Cronenberg

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It's not only actors that get typecast.

Director David Cronenberg has received the best reviews of his career for "A History of Violence." But he's still regarded by some as the King of Venereal Horror because of his more graphic films, such as "They Came From Within," "The Brood" and "Scanners."

This despite the fact the Toronto-based filmmaker has proven himself as a sophisticated storyteller, thanks to projects like "The Dead Zone," his blockbuster remake of "The Fly," his psychological thriller "Dead Ringers" and his acclaimed adaptation of William Burroughs' novel "Naked Lunch."

Cronenberg continues in this vein with "A History of Violence," which earned a Golden Globe nomination for best drama. Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, the film deals with a mild-mannered café owner (Viggo Mortensen) who finds himself thrust into the spotlight when he kills two robbers in self-defense.

Maria Bello plays Mortensen's wife; William Hurt is his Mafioso brother. Hurt and Bello were named best supporting actors of 2005 by the New York Film Critics Circle. Hurt was given the same honor by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., and Bello was nominated for a Golden Globe.

Q: Is it a new experience for you to be squired around to Hollywood receptions and parties for one of your movies?
A: It definitely is. I haven't really had a studio supporting a film this way before. It's a pretty interesting experience. The constant thing about it, which is great, is meeting people I have been dying to meet.

Q: And who's on that list?
A: I had a luncheon where I was sitting between Carl Reiner and Alan Ladd Jr. and that was great. Of course, they had lots of stories to tell. That is unfailingly the good part of it because I don't live here and I don't get to run into people at the Farmer's Market. It's a delight. The food has been great and the venues have been all interesting.

Q: Have you done any Q&A sessions in town for screenings of "A History of Violence?
"A: Yes. For example we had a screening at the Museum of Tolerance the other night.

Q: That must have been interesting.
A: It was very interesting to connect with an audience in that building talking about the movie.

Q: What were the reactions?
Had most of the audience seen it before?
A: Actually, we asked them and they hadn't seen it. It was a group of 125 people and they were interested in my work. It was fresh for them and they had very, very intelligent questions about all kind of things, about the making of the movie and the meaning of the movie. I have done tons of things like that all over the world, but mostly it's been for promotion of the release of the film, whereas this is for the awards season. It is also to keep the film alive and going. It's still in theaters.

Q: "History of Violence" deals with so many complex issues, like violence and celebrity. Is that what drew you to the project?
A: There were many elements for me in it that were intriguing. It did feel like a film of the moment that still had enough resonance. In 10 years I think it will still have that resonance. And it is very emotional. In terms of its psychology, it's pretty intricate and interesting. It was going to be a challenge for me because it was different.

Q: Does it feel to you like any of your other films?
To me, it is most similar to "The Dead Zone" in that they are both set in America and in a small town and there is a family drama at the core of the film. But it is different enough that the family in "Violence," at least in the beginning, is a much more accessible family group of characters than I'm normally dealing with. So in my own way, I do domestic drama!Q: William Hurt's quirky performance as Mortensen's gangster chieftain brother is a real highlight of the film. Was his role written that way, or did the character evolve once he was cast?
A: It was in the writing first, definitely. One of the things I brought to the project was making those two men be brothers, because in the original script they weren't. Also the two sex scenes weren't in the original script. So the character was written funny and sinister. It was definitely there, but certainly William brought a huge amount to it and that's why I cast him.Q: Did you consider anyone else for that role?
A: I could have cast someone who plays Mafia characters a lot and you would have gotten a much more straightforward reading of that role. But I really wanted someone who could bring an amazing take to it. We spent a lot of time on the Philly accent and the understanding of who this guy was.Q: There's also something about the trappings that surround that character.
A: The character is formed partly by this house. He has delusions of grandeur. He wants to be an aristocrat and he has no idea how vulgar and tacky he is, and that is where the humor comes from. William's so subtle and he has such power.Q: I was always surprised that Jeremy Irons never received an Oscar nomination for playing the psychotic twin gynecologists in "Dead Ringers," especially since he won awards from critics' groups.
A: Well that is why I still retain a healthy skepticism when it comes to awards. So many people felt sure he would get a nomination at least for that role. I think there were a lot of people who had trouble with that concept of gynecologists. If he had been playing twin lawyers he would have won an Oscar for it! He did thank me when he got his Oscar for "Reversal of Fortune," which was an extraordinary thing him to do.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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