Tribute, December 2001, p. 65

on location Hollywood North

On set with David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg sits patiently in front of a monitor waiting for his crew to set up a shot. The room is small and dingy, and the atmosphere is eerie. We are on a soundstage in Toronto where much of the action will take place. This particular set depicts a run-down halfway house in the east end of London England.

The project is a U.K./Canadian co-production called Spider a psychological thriller based on Patrick McGrath´s best selling novel by the same name. Cronenberg has surrounded himself by an almost entirely British cast including Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Lynn Redgrave and Irish import Gabriel Byrne. It is a talent pool that Cronenberg finds refreshing to work with, "The attitude is so great, being not Hollywood."

This revelation comes as no surprise. Cronenberg has never been fond of the Hollywood machine. And although many consider Fiennes to be a Hollywood star, the filmmaker is quick to point out that the actor will never be one of them. "He is not a star like a Hollywood star. He is a lovely guy, totally lovel to work with and a totally serious actor. His concerns are all about the art. It is not for money, it is not for fame, it is not for glory. You don´t get any attitude problems. It is all about getting excited with each other, about creating Spider and bringing Spider to life."

Fiennes finally arrives on set. He looks disheveled in his wrinkled coat. But even at his worst Fiennes fills up a room with his presence. He portrays the lead character, Spider, a deeply disturbed bloke who ends up in a halfway house after being institutionalized for many years.

Fiennes is ready to rehearse a scene with Redgrave. With virtually no dialogue, his facial expressions carry the scene. There is complete silence in the room as everyone´s eyes are focused on Fiennes´s close up.

Cronenberg says not only is it a challenging role, it could be a dangerous role to play for most actors. "Most of what you are seeing with American actors these days is people looking good, attractive, sexy or glamorous. It is hard to find actors who are willing to not be those things and we´ve done everything we can to make Ralph not be as beautiful as he is."

Cronenberg´s work is very much about exploring the human condition. He refers to his film as an artistic enterprise rather than just an entertainment enterprise. This attitude certainly explains why Cronenberg hasn´t been seduced by Hollywood. He has turned down high profile films like Braveheart and Alien 4.

He did, however, come very close to accepting an offer to direct Basic Instinct II, where Sharon Stone was to reprise the role she made famous. "It was slightly perverse of me to want to do that," admits Cronenberg. "Maybe I was drawn to the perversity, but at the same time I know Sharon and I really thought we could make a very interesting movie. The script was also very good. I thought people would probably expect nothing from Basic Instinct II and it would please me to make a movie that was very compelling. That was my fantasy to do that."

That will remain a fantasy - for now. Cronenberg eventually turned down the project. It was reported that he bailed because of ongoing friction between himself and Sharon Stone. "It is completely not true, says Cronenberg. "I don´t know where that came from. We talk all the time. We were allies fighting for this movie. The one thing that didn´t get strange was me and Sharon."

- Ola Sturik