Cronenberg on Cronenberg
The director reflects on 5 of his most intriguing films.
"[Actor] Patrick McGoohan had extreme Catholic views about sexuality, which came onto the set. My leading lady, Jennifer O'Neill, came to me incredibly distraught and said, 'Patrick said, 'Are you a whore? Are you a slut?' ' And he started to lay into her because she'd had like five husbands. That was Patrick, and those were the things I had to deal with as a relatively young director. He was probably the most difficult actor I ever worked with, though he gave a fantastic performance."
Dead Ringers (1988)
"It was 10 years in the making. It was a tough sell. I literally went to 30 of the best American and Canadian actors -- Jeff Goldblum, James Woods, Christopher Walken, Kevin Kline and Al Pacino -- and they all said no. William Hurt said it would drive him over the edge of madness. You'd think playing twins would be a no-brainer, but they were based on real people, and so it wasn't like the good twin and the evil twin -- and that is hard to play. Jeremy Irons was the first slightly positive response. But it still took a year before we could get it together, at which point he was cooling and I went to London to talk him into it."
Naked Lunch (1991)
"I found [novelist] William Burroughs to be extremely warm and sweet, which is not what his persona was. I did say that the only way I could adapt his novel was if I could incorporate autobiographical things, like the shooting of his wife. [Burroughs had accidentally killed her during a game in which he placed a glass on her head and shot at it, William Tell-style.] He said, 'Go ahead.' But there was always the sense of danger with him. He had an ankle holster, and he always slept with a revolver by his bed. I asked him, 'If you were attacked, would you shoot someone?' He said, 'I wouldn't hesitate.'"
"I thought it was very unprofessional and disrespectful [for Paul Haggis to make the 2004 film with the same title]. Later, we were at the Palm Springs festival, and Paul came up to me and said, 'Listen, I'm really glad to meet you and really sorry about the Crash thing.' Then, when we were standing around having drinks, Viggo Mortensen came up and said: 'Are you the Canadian director of Crash? Oh no, you're the Canadian director of Crash! Oh no, you are!' I don't have respect for Paul Haggis' Crash because it pretends to be tough and ends up being totally sentimental."
A History of Violence (2005)
"When you are on the road doing publicity, you get very bored because people ask you the same questions, so Viggo and I spontaneously started to say outrageous things. Viggo said, 'I really didn't know how to do this sex scene on the stairs, so David said, 'I'll show you with my wife, because we do this all the time.'' It was totally not true. But I said, 'Yeah, you have to give your actor whatever help you can give him, even if it means showing him how to have sex.'"