Cronenberg Jr chats to us about his cinematic gene and clinical black comedy, 'Antiviral'
Interview feature taken from the February Issue of Dazed & Confused:
Disease, decay, mutation. The viscera of the human body presented in an austere, vaguely clinical manner, injected with bone-dry, malignant black comedy (“tumour humour”?). Yes, it’s a Cronenberg film alright, though not the work of David, Canada’s foremost auteur; this time, it’s son Brandon, whose Antiviral depicts a sterile near-future where the ultimate celebrity worship involves getting yourself infected with the same virus as your favourite star. Cronenberg Jr, 32, may balk at the inevitable family comparisons, but with his debut feature premiering last year at Cannes, days ahead of his father’s Cosmopolis, such talent isn’t merely contagious, it’s genetic.
Antiviral deals with ideas of disease and body horror, just like many of your father’s early films. Was there ever pressure to tackle something completely different to avoid the obvious comparisons?
Brandon Cronenberg: It bothered me for a little while, then I decided not toworry about it. I didn’t want to be defined by that question. I’ve been dealing with it my whole life, and it gets boring after a while, so I just switched off.
Was he surprised when you said you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Brandon Cronenberg: I don’t know. My family never pushed me to get into film, but when I said I wanted to, they were very supportive. He was really good about it.
What finally convinced you to go into film?
Brandon Cronenberg: Well, I was really put off by the idea for a long time because I guess people had certain preconceptions – that I must love film, and really want to follow in my father’s footsteps. It was really obnoxious. I didn’t want to go into film for that reason and then I realised eventually that was a bad reason not to do something that was interesting to me.
Where did the inspiration for Antiviral come from?
Brandon Cronenberg: It came to me when I was sick and I had this fever dream and was obsessing over the physicality of illness. How I had something in my cells that had entered my body from someone else’s body, and how that was a sort of weirdly intimate connection if you think about it in a certain way. And then afterwards I thought it could be a good metaphor and a good plot for discussing celebrity culture, which is such a common aspect of our broader culture, but also one that I find incredibly strange and grotesque.
Has it always seemed to you to be a ‘bad’ thing?
Brandon Cronenberg: It’s an interesting thing. It certainly has the potential to be extremely grotesque, and the film is critical and satirical and probably paints it in a negative light. But it’s also part of a broader human impulse to deify each other and then tear each other apart.
People try to turn themselves into celebrities, they’re constantly playing both the celebrity and the paparazzi, taking pictures of themselves and what they’re doing...
Do developments in social media feed into that?
Brandon Cronenberg: Facebook is extremely interesting. I think we have a weird relationship with that celebrity culture – people try to turn themselves into celebrities, and they’re constantly playing both the celebrity and the paparazzi, taking pictures of themselves and what they’re doing.
Are you on Facebook yourself? Do you tweet?
Brandon Cronenberg: Facebook, technically yes, but I only check in like, once a week. Twitter, I only post once a month.
Your father has a big fanbase. Was that a factor in your thoughts on celebrity?
Brandon Cronenberg: Yes, to a certain extent. I remember starting to understand that aspect as a teenager because as a kid you don’t understand it. Then as a teenager people started asking me weird questions – ‘Is it alright if I meet your dad for lunch sometime?’ (laughs) Whoa, that’s really strange!
Did you have any reservations about casting Sarah Gadon, Who’s been in his last two films?
Brandon Cronenberg: It was more that I thought she was a very talented actor, and we needed someone who could be believable as one of the biggest celebrities in the world and have that screen quality, as well as being a real human being behind the icon. The one good thing with my dad was that he said he’d had a great experience working with her.
One can imagine Antiviral as an early Kubrick film. Was he a big influence on you?
Brandon Cronenberg: It wasn’t a conscious decision. I like Kubrick but he’s not an idol of mine. I think it more came from the fact that he had such a huge impact on the language of cinema that you can’t help be indirectly influenced by him.
Your father was at your Cannes premiere. Can you tell us what he said?
Brandon Cronenberg: I forget! Everyone keeps asking, ‘What was the one thing he said when he saw it for the first time?’ or, ‘What was the one piece of advice he gave you?’ It was never as dramatic as that. I think it was probably, ‘Where are we going for dinner?’
Did you consult him when making this film?
Brandon Cronenberg: Not really. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on his sets watching him work so I hope I absorbed a little bit about the filmmaking process from what he does. But he was pretty busy on his own film when I was making this.
Do you have a favourite film of his?
Brandon Cronenberg: I have a great affection for (atypical racing-car movie) Fast Company (1979) because I watched it so many times as a kid!
Are you squeamish?
Brandon Cronenberg: There’s a lot of close-up visceral imagery in Antiviral. I am squeamish about certain things, yeah. One aspect of the culture we’re discussing is a body obsession – who has the most cellulite, the funniest feet... Magazines are very obsessed, nit picking over people’s bodies, this fetishisation. So I felt the movie had to reflect that and take it to an extreme for satirical purposes. I mean, the film’s completely satirical. It’s meant to be a comedy.
A very dark comedy then...
Brandon Cronenberg: I ended up going further than I initially intended. It became a little bit more of a horror film – I don’t think it’s a straight-up horror film exactly, but some of that came as we were making it. When we came to do certain things that were in the script it felt like, ‘This won’t be effective unless we really embrace it.’ You need to accept that it’s a bit of a genre film.
The sound design is really striking.
Brandon Cronenberg: We had a great sound designer, David Rose, and the score by EC Woodley, some of it played assound effects. He was working with another musician, Michael White, who has this huge bank of analogue synthesisers. It created almost an interior bodily sense, this pulsing.
Can you explain the fascination for these bodily... things?
Brandon Cronenberg: It’s just such a basic aspect of our existence. To try and ignore thebody and pretend that it’s just an inconvenience when in fact it’s so much who we are, how we think, makes anyone who isn’t obsessed with the body a little... deluded?
How do your piercings fit into your ideology?
Brandon Cronenberg: Uh, I just wanted to see how it felt to have metal in my face...
Brandon Cronenberg: Every time I come up with a good idea for a tattoo, I wait a month and then think it’s a bad idea. I’m not opposed tothem. Some of the more extreme forms of body modification are interesting to me. I know people who do some amazing stuff – tongue splittings and implants... They really seize control of their body image. It’s really fascinating but not something I would want to dedicate myself to.
Photography Sarah Piantadosi
Styling Catherine Newell-Hanson
Photographic Assistant Peter Fingleton
ANTIVIRAL is out on February 8