Sarah Gadon stars in her second David Cronenberg film
Toronto actress plays Robert Pattinson’s wife in Cosmopolis
Sarah Gadon in Cosmopolis (eOne Entertainment)
Sarah Gadon isn't offended when I use the word "impenetrable" to describe her new film, Cosmopolis. Directed and written for the screen by her A Dangerous Method director David Cronenberg, the movie is an adaptation of American writer Don DeLillo's novel about a financial whiz kid billionaire named Eric Packer (Twilight star Robert Pattinson) who takes his limousine across a gridlocked Manhattan to get a haircut. Gadon plays his new wife, Elise.
Cronenberg wrote the script in just six days, sticking closely to DeLillo's intellectually dense and not easily understandable dialogues. Coming out of the recent screening for Toronto critics, several of us stood around asking each other the same question: Did you like it? The debates that followed were lively.
Gadon herself admits that it wasn't until she saw the film for a second time at Cannes last month that she was "able to participate in watching the film, and laugh, and then have moments where I was really in it and really out of it. There was an ebb and flow to my engagement in the film as a spectator. And instead of being frustrated by that feeling, I went with it, and ultimately I think I got a lot more out of it."
It's no surprise that Gadon would be attracted to the intellectual aspect of Cronenberg's Cosmopolis script. The 25-year-old actress is a former junior associate of the National Ballet of Canada and a Dean's List scholar in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at the University of Toronto where she was enrolled in cinema studies. She won raves for her portrayal of Carl Jung's wife Emma in A Dangerous Method, and recently co-starred in American Psycho director Mary Harron's pseudo-vampire film The Moth Diaries. She'll next be seen in Cronenberg's son Brandon's debut feature, Antiviral.
Gadon says that the experience of making A Dangerous Method predisposed her to working again with the senior Cronenberg.
"I felt so challenged and stimulated as an artist that I knew how special it was and how rare it was. And so when he asked me to be a part of this second film, I thought, 'I have to! Of course! Whatever you say!'" she chuckles. "And then I read the script and I read the character of Elise and I thought she was so interesting. David says that he doesn't ask you to play abstract ideas, but so often, as an actress, as a woman, you're asked to play icons: play the mother, play the wife, play the girlfriend, play the pretty girl; play this, play that. And so you feel like you kind of get bogged down by those ideas."
Gadon's character Elise Shifrin is a shy poet and the daughter of an immensely wealthy family. Her marriage to Eric seems to be one of convenience, and their interactions in the film amount to surreal short films as they encounter each other at various points during the day and Eric presses her for sex.
"What I loved so much about her was that she deflects everything that her male romantic lead projects on to her," Gadon says. "[Eric] said, 'I want you to be sexy, I want you to think this, I want to have sex with you, I want to this, I want to that.' And all she does is deflect, deflect, deflect. And it's more freeing, I think, than people realize, as a woman, playing someone who just says 'No! I will not allow you to dictate how I feel in this emotion or sit in this scene! I'm just going to, y'know, listen, or I'm just going to, y'know, deflect.' And that's what I think is really kind of interesting about that final scene is when he says, 'Well, I'm not going to be the man that you want me to be,' and she says, 'Okay, well, I'm out then!' There's something that I find really interesting about that."
Gadon and Pattinson did not rehearse, the idea being that their unfamiliarity would work to their advantage given the unfamiliarity of their characters. That said, I ask what she thinks Pattinson is really good at.
"Um, what is Rob really good at?" She chuckles. "He's good at a lot of things! I think he was really great as Eric Packer. And I think that was one thing that kind of surprised me, because I didn't really know him very well. And in real life he's very kind of... I mean, you heard him in the press conference: he's British and he's self-deprecating and he's much more self-conscious [than his character].
"And then all of a sudden he put on his suit, and this American accent would come out, and he would be so sure of himself and so powerful! And direct! And it was amazing to me to see that transformation of going from himself into Eric Packer. And I think that there's few, few guys right now in the industry who can pull off that kind of powerful masculinity at such a young age."
Cosmopolis opens Friday, June 8.