Best of Fall 2012: Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral, a cold, hard and creepy look at celebrity worship
Your movie is set in a futuristic society where people pay to have viruses implanted in them.
Yeah, the main character, Syd March, works at a clinic that buys diseases from sick celebrities and sells them to fans who want to be infected as a way of connecting to their idols.
It’s a pretty twisted premise. How did you come up with it?
I was extremely sick with the flu a couple of years ago. During a fever dream, I was obsessing over the physicality of illness and cells and how I had something in my body that had come from someone else. I thought there was a weird intimacy to that. It got me thinking about extreme celebrity worship and how an obsessed fan might want Angelina Jolie’s cold.
Do people in the film buy all kinds of diseases, or just colds?
All kinds. People buy herpes and then walk around with sores on their face—kind of like a form of jewellery.
Are the celebrities in your movie real or invented?
They’re all fictional and without background. In the film you don’t know what anyone has done to become famous. They’re just famous for being famous.
Not totally unlike the real world.
Right. A lot of things in the movie have real-world parallels. After we’d finished filming, I saw Sarah Michelle Gellar on a talk show—I think it was on Jimmy Kimmel. She was sick and worried that the audience could get infected. Everyone cheered at the idea that they could catch her cold.
How would you rate your own consumption of celebrity culture? Are there any copies of Us Weekly tucked away at your house?
I don’t read that sort of thing, but it’s something I find interesting and kind of grotesque. Celebrity worship is everywhere. It’s on the same level as religion.
What kind of advice did your dad, David Cronenberg, give you about directing?
I learned more from him just by being around him, being on his sets, seeing his work and absorbing the whole process. You can learn about filmmaking in theory, but until you see it in action it’s hard to imagine. I’m still developing my point of view as a director as I go along.
Antiviral opens Oct. 12