During his 41 years as a director – a span that has produced
a series of acclaimed (and often disturbingly violent) films including – Canadian-born director David
Cronenberg has rarely worked with the same leading man twice.
Yet for Eastern Promises,
the quietly powerful tale of a wide-eyed midwife who stumbles, quite
accidentally, into the murderous depths of the Russian mafia, the 64-year-old
auteur reunites with Viggo Mortensen, the rugged Lord of
the Rings star who helped turn History into such a memorable examination of brute violence
lurking below a surface of apparent serenity.
Is it possible that Cronenberg has finally found
a muse to
bring to life his most harrowing visions?
“It’s true that I haven’t often worked
with the same actors
twice,” he admits. “[Now that I have] it’s probably because I’m such a tyrant,
and Viggo is a masochist. But I have a crew that I work with a lot, and we’ve
grown old together. We’re not yet showing too many signs of senility.
“With Viggo, he
had such a firm grasp on his character in History
of Violence. For our second movie, we were
starting at a higher level of understanding of what we could do together, so it
made sense that Eastern Promises
could exceed what History
accomplished. I don’t feel an egomaniacal need to mess with what’s working.”
Mortensen, the appeal in both cases was the opportunity
to work with Cronenberg, with whom he quickly developed an easy, mutually
respectful rapport. Eager not to be typecast as an Orc-slaying swordsman, he
was quickly drawn to History. Eastern
Promises bore the promise of another
successful collaboration, one for which the Danish-American star, 48, moved to
Russia to perfect his accent and familiarize himself with the culture.
wasn’t the credited writer, he did a lot of
work on the screenplay for History of Violence,”
says Mortensen. “A lot of things that went into the final version
came out of our work together, as we got to know each other and shared
research. There was a lot more of that on Eastern Promises, because it’s about a culture we didn’t know so much
about – Russian literature, say, or music.
“The thing that’s really great
is David’s security as a
director, which allows him to let things work smoothly. We rarely had
disagreements. I would go to him, or vice versa, and we would never waste a lot
of time because there was no ego investment. A lot of actors get paranoid if a
director isn’t talking to them, constantly coaching them, but not me.”
While the two have
no formal plans to collaborate in the
future, both seem genuinely delighted by the prospect. (“He resents me working
with other directors,” Mortensen says. “Because I’m a slut.”) For now,
Cronenberg, who claims to consider himself “out of work,” is content to sit
back and await the reception for his latest meditation on human savagery.
surprised by the reactions to my films,” he
says. “That’s a good thing, because it keeps you from thinking that it’s all
like clockwork. Hitchcock liked to pretend that he could just manipulate his
audience like marionettes and get the reaction he wanted, making them jump and
feel afraid. I have a great respect for the unpredictability of audience
response. I think of human existence as a crystal with many facets. With my
movies, I’m putting together this crystal that reflects my own experiences as a