David Cronenberg and actress Sarah Gadon on celebrity obsession and the destructive culture of Hollywood
Taken from the autumn/winter issue of Dazed:
Pioneering director David Cronenberg takes on the LA fame machine in his hysterical Hollywood nightmare Maps to the Stars, the very title referencing TMZ tourist bus tours spawned by celebrity culture obsession. Canadian actress Sarah Gadon plays an ingénue from Tinseltown’s golden age, who returns as a ghost to torment her washed-up actress daughter (a bleached-blond Julianne Moore), even showing up to haunt her during a threesome. Cronenberg whips a sardonic and toxic showbiz tale into a campy frenzy where the cast – including a nervy Mia Wasikowska and naïve Robert Pattinson – text and hook up at a Keeping Up with the Kardashians pace. It cranks the ethos of legendary fame satires The Player (Altman, 1992) and To Die For (Van Sant, 1995) to a fever pitch via incest and betrayal, with a Golden Globe trophy doubling up as a handy murder weapon.
The way you depict Hollywood is terrifying.
David Cronenberg: Yeah! I received phone calls from people from Hollywood who told me they are scared of going back to work now. The scariness comes from writer Bruce (Wagner). I amplified and made it concrete but everything was already in his writing. He’s scared by that place but he stills live there. That’s what I love about his vision. It’s not the usual apocalyptic LA with scary streets and nasty guys who would jump on you to rob and kill you. We see none of that in the movie. Did you see any paparazzi in the movie?
I don’t think so…
David Cronenberg: Because there are none! No red carpets either. We avoided all of that stuff to go to the really scary stuff, meaning what is it like to live every day in LA when you’re under this incredible pressure that deforms, that distorts everything? This pressure of a possible huge success, this immortality that you achieve if you become famous – it alters every relationship. This is huge on a normal person, so imagine on a child... Hollywood is incredibly hard on children.
Sarah Gadon: When I watch Lilith (a 1964’s film noir with Jean Seberg), I really understand why you casted me.
David Cronenberg: The movie that made Julianne’s mother famous in my film is very much like the movie Lilith with Jean Seberg. And Sarah looks more like Jean Seberg than Mia (Wasikowska) does. I was trying to find a resonance with all that old Hollywood royalty…
Sarah Gadon: … But with a very scary edge.
David Cronenberg: But remember, Jean Seberg committed suicide, so that royalty is already scary! Hollywood can be very destructive. Who knows how but I’m sure Hollywood hurt her very deeply. And the more beautiful the people are, the more destructive it is.
“Does Hollywood make me wanna kill anyone? Yeah!” – Sarah Gadon
Sarah, do you already feel that pressure?
Sarah Gadon: Do you mean do I wanna kill anyone? Yeah! I think the vicious industry side of the film is more than relevant. People are sometimes afraid to say that in the press but it exists.
David Cronenberg: And desperation. You can feel it in the streets. When people were screaming for Rob (Pattinson) – there’s desperation and sometimes even some kind of anger in their voices. So to people who say we did a satire, we say, 'It’s not a satire, it’s realistic.' Of course it’s just a particular slice; it’s not everything, but within itself, it’s real.
The other horrific element in the movie is the idea of getting old in Hollywood.
David Cronenberg: Don’t think about it Sarah! (laughs) Julianne (Moore) is unique that way. She told me that she knows many actresses who started with her and are now gone. The moment they got over 40 their career was over. I recently ran into an actress whom I had worked with 30 years ago. She told me: “Nobody calls me, nobody wants me anymore.”
Sarah Gadon: It’s so sad, but I try not to think about that because it’s hard to get work when you’re an actor, period. It’s always a struggle. Getting into the idea that you should preserve yourself from being a certain kind of actor seems to me like the best way to fail.
David Cronenberg: This is what I would like to say to actresses: accept the reality of what you are instead of doing cosmetic surgery to change it. Then you can become like Maggie Smith, who is in her 70s and is still amazing and working all the time.
Sarah Gadon: There’re so many actresses that keep working after they've turned 40. Look at Juliette Binoche! She just took different roles – but why would someone want to continue to play the same roles? I wouldn’t.
Maps to the Stars is out on September 26