I’ve done interviews in hotel suites, restaurants, houses, offices, conference rooms, and over Skype. A karaoke room was a new one for me, but such is the nature of the Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest. Friday morning I nestled into The Highball’s Rapper’s Delight Karaoke Room with writer-director and genre film legacy (in the college admissions sense) Brandon Cronenberg and actor Caleb Landry Jones to discuss their new squirmfest Antiviral, about an alternate reality in which adoring fans pay high prices to become infected with cloned versions of the diseases that previously infected their favorite celebrities.
As I enter the room, a camera crew exits…
Josh: This will be a print interview, so you guys are free to pick your noses all you want.
Jones: You can still write it in that we picked our noses.
Josh: Will do. Brandon, considering the types of films your father made, was there ever a moment in your creative development where you thought you might rebel and go the route of Disney movies about fluffy bunnies giving each other hugs?
Cronenberg: Well, that’s my next movie and you totally spoiled it.
Cronenberg: I knew this interview was a bad idea. This guy’s got us pegged.
Jones: Luckily I’m just producing it.
Josh: Did you guys know each other before shooting the movie? You have a good camaraderie.
Cronenberg: No. It was a good [shoot]. Everyone – well, I won’t say everyone – but a huge number of people on the set worked together in wonderful ways and we’ve all kind of become friends. Talk about huggy bunnies. It’s become very huggy around here.
Jones: I’m trying to put the same team together for the bunny movie, but it’s Disney, you know…
Cronenberg: They want real rabbits.
Josh: Okay. Time for a more serious question about Antiviral. What was the genesis of the film? Did it begin with the commentary on celebrity or with the high-concept sci-fi disease idea?
Cronenberg: With the disease. I was extremely sick in bed and I was obsessing over the physicality of illness and how I had something in my body that had come from someone else’s body and how it is a weirdly intimate thing when you think about it that way. And then I tried to think of a person who might see disease that way, and I thought of a celebrity obsessed fan. And things grew from there.
Josh: How much research did you do on diseases?
Cronenberg: A fair bit. I read a book about viruses, I talked with my doctor. I tried to get as much real science to plug into the fake science.
Josh: Did you approach your doctor and say you were working on a movie? I assume so right? Otherwise he’d just think you were a crazy hypochondriac.
Cronenberg: You know, that’s an interesting question. I think I told him.
Josh: Visually, the film is very much about Caleb’s character, Syd March, getting broken down physically. Were there other films you drew inspiration from, when it came to Syd’s devolving state?
Cronenberg: Not really. I mean, I’m sure I was influenced by a lot of movies. But I wasn’t really trying to reference anything. I don’t usually do that. I just absorb as much as I can, and it comes out the way it does.
Josh: Caleb, as for your performance — Brandon’s inspiration in writing the film came from being sick. How did you approach the physicality of Syd?
Jones: Very similar way. I was very sick about a year before, during X-Men [First Class]. I was sick for a section of it, then didn’t get better. I spent a long time being sick, then I got better, then I got sick again. It was off and on, off and on. But there was an intense period at the beginning [of the sickness] that I had to remember. I knew it was going to help someday!
Josh: You filed it away in your actor’s Rolodex.
Jones: Every “experience” as an actor – and you can note that I put that in quotes.
Josh: (leans into mic) Note. Made finger quotes.
Jones: As an actor you’re always trying to figure things out like that, so you can use it in your favor someday.
Cronenberg, costar Sarah Gadon, and Jones
In Antiviral lab-grown meat is cultured from the muscle cells of celebrities, so fans can buy and eat steaks made of celebrity flesh.
Josh: What were the steaks made of?
Jones: I actually finally had one prepared right, and it was quite good.
Cronenberg: It is wheat glutton. So it’s seitan. I’m a vegan so I eat a lot of seitan. I find it delicious.
Jones: It’s good for you.
Cronenberg: Yeah. You gotta let seitan in.
Jones: Hey, I just picked my nose. You can put that in.
Josh: (leans into mic) Note. Caleb picked his nose.
Cronenberg: But what Caleb ate [on screen] was totally unflavored and made by the props department.
Jones: It was bad. You tasted it right?
Cronenberg: No I didn’t. The props department were wonderful though.
Jones: They made the best egg salad sandwiches.
Cronenberg: They just hadn’t tackled seitan yet.
Jones: And no one ever got pricked by them. Every prick was intentional.
Jones: You’d think with everyone running around with needles, someone would’ve gotten pricked. Who wasn’t supposed to.
Josh: Does that mean some of the film’s many injections were real?
Josh: I couldn’t tell, because I always look away. I love horror movies and gore, but for some reason I can’t take needle injection close-ups.
Cronenberg: Really? Then you missed some good ones.
Josh: It’s because I know that sometimes crazy people like you don’t use special FX!
Josh: Brandon, you’re Canadian. Was it important to you to shoot the film there, or did you simply do it because that’s where your resources were?
Cronenberg: Huh. Interesting question. No one ever asked me that. I like Canada. And I want to continue living in Canada. So I guess being able to work there is something that I like.
Josh: Before I go, could you talk a little bit about the visual tone of the film? Things start our extremely white. Then the color scheme changes as things change for Syd.
Extremely loud karaoke starts playing in the room next to ours.
Cronenberg: First let me just start playing rock music. So there were two main aspects to the aesthetic. One was being able to control the eye of the viewer. The extremely white frame lets you draw people’s eyes to very specific points. So the clinic was all white walls but with these spaces and they take on significance. And blood. Blood really pops on a white background. So that was part of it. The other part was to sort of have the production design respond to the themes of the film. There are two world, which end up meeting. There is this divide between celebrities as these icons, these cultural constructs who are not human, who are media constructs, idealized and we consume them. Then the human being, the animal, the meat, is totally disconnected from it, and lives and dies and deteriorates and farts and shits -
Jones: And itches their dick.
Cronenberg: And itches their dick.
Josh: (leans into mic) Note. He itched his dick.