If you know anything about me, you should know that I’m a huge fan of all things David Cronenberg (I’ve written about his work several times here over the years), but I’m also an unapologetic nerd for the Underworld series and I also include The Strangers amongst my very favorite horror movies of the last 20 years, too. That’s why I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Scott Speedman this week in support of the release of Cronenberg’s latest, Crimes of the Future, which arrives in theaters today courtesy of NEON.
For Crimes of the Future, Speedman co-stars alongside Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, and Don McKellar in Cronenberg’s melancholic and often quietly disturbing examination of the future of humanity as society continues to evolve into a collective existence that is increasing synthetic in nature. During the recent press day for the film, Daily Dead spoke with Speedman about what drew him to his character, Lang Dotrice, and his enthusiasm for being able to collaborate with both Cronenberg as well as his fellow cast members. Speedman also discussed how Crimes of the Future challenged his way of thinking, his experiences immersing himself in Cronenberg’s world and more.
So great to speak with you today, Scott, and congratulations on the film. I'm curious, because of this journey that your character, Lang, goes on in this movie, what was the appeal for you in terms of taking on this character? There are some really dark elements to his journey and this world that he’s caught up in, for sure.
There are some dark elements, definitely. But to be totally honest with you, the appeal to me was getting to work with David Cronenberg. I would've done a lot lesser of a part, or a lot smaller of a part in any of his movies, just to get to see what that experience was going to be about. He hadn't made a movie in a while. Of course, just to be asked to be a part of this was such a huge thing for me. When I read the part, yes, obviously, there were some daunting elements just in terms of the emotional journey this character goes on, but I also saw a much weirder, wily, crazier character that was actually very fun to play.
There are the parts of the character that get the headlines with the arc, which is the death of his son at the start of the movie, which sets up, really, the plot of the movie, if you will. But I saw this guy that was slowly losing his mind, not sleeping, and this charismatic leader of this group. There was a lot for me to hang my hat on as an actor, especially right now. I was, yes, of course, nervous, trepidacious, and fearful about having to go to those emotional places, but I was also quite void and excited about some of the other characteristics of Lang, too.
I always feel like Cronenberg's work is like this provocative visual capsule of the times that they're made in, and it's been something really fascinating for me to watch over the years. I'm curious for you, coming into this and seeing the themes that he's playing with in terms of this idea of sex is the new surgery and what we're doing to ourselves and things like that and how inauthentic almost our experiences are becoming. I'm curious, did that change any notions that you had coming into this about your experiences as a human being? Did that challenge you? Did it change things for you or open you up in different ways?
Yeah. I think it cannot. Of course, probably not as in-depth because, obviously, David Cronenberg thinks about things and views the world as, obviously, some sort of a futurist who sees the way things are going and comments on them long before the society has caught up and that's it. To that point, he wrote the script in 1998 and it's obviously even more relevant now. I think the biggest one from this movie and what my character deals with is the notion of how much plastic we're ingesting and now, you can test our blood and we've got levels of microplastics we wouldn't have had 20 years ago. But I think, for me, the one that caught my eye and I guess that I'm most interested in is how consumed with technology we are and how we are becoming one with our technology.
I think you see that when Saul is in his breakfast or chair and it's doing every little thing for him, that's in the near future and where we're going. That's what interested me the most, especially when it comes to the other notion of the movie is the desensitized pain, or lack thereof pain that we're feeling. Yeah, that's fascinating to me. All that stuff is fascinating.
Definitely. And there's some really great world-building that we see in Crimes of the Future through the production design and the costuming and things like that. How great was it for you to have those elements to immerse yourself into this alternate university feeling because there's a lot that still feels real and futuristic, but ultimately, it's also grounded at the same time? Hopefully, that makes sense.
No, it does. It totally makes sense. Once you're committed to performing and playing in this world, you have to ground things and you let everything help you. Probably, more than other characters in a weird way, I'm in my own story and in a really grounded story as playing this real character that's lost his son. I was just hanging my hat on all those elements and whatever can help you, whether it would be the costumes or the set design or the world we're playing in, the shooting in Greece that dilapidated world and the other actors and what they're bringing to the table and how that affects you. All of it goes into the mix, but I don't get too intellectual about these things. I just try. If I am working well, it's because I'm working on instinct more than anything.
You mentioned being excited to collaborate with him, but how was your experience working with Cronenberg then?
My experience, honestly, couldn't have been better. I had this preconceived idea that David was going to be this edgy auteur who was non-communicative and introverted and controlling and exacting. That couldn't have been further from the truth. He was the exact opposite. He was a beautiful guy to work with, very open and supportive, and didn't direct too much. I think he really trusts his casting and lets people bring to the table what he wants to the table. My favorite thing about him is that he rarely, if ever, said no to something I would try. He would obviously go with it and let me take the character and the scene itself where I needed to take it or wanted to take it or instinctually wanted to take it on that day. That's how he works.
He comes to set and he's very open and not precious about the script that he wrote. He's not trying to get every notion and every word on the screen as written in his head. He's allowing it to be reinvented on that day. That sounds logical and normal and that's how it should be, but very rarely do you get to have that experience with a director. It's a tough job. He's quietly confident and that bleeds into everything else in the movie.
Because of his approach did that change your approach then when you were on the set and in those moments?
Well, it doesn't change my approach so much. I don't even know if I have an approach. He just put me at ease. How relaxed and confident, and he never seems to get overwhelmed and that puts everybody else at ease. Also, to be fair, Viggo too sets the tone as the number one on the call sheet. That actor really sets the tone. He, obviously, is a very confident artist, an actor. That bleeds down to everyone else I found. With Lea and Kristen and everybody else, it's quite a cast. Everybody is working, really, at the top of their game. I was super excited to be around that and to steal from them, basically, and to learn from them by osmosis. I'm a better actor, in a way, having had that experience than I was before.
I know we're almost done out of time, but I did want to ask one last question. I'm a really big believer that when you do something creative, obviously, you put something of yourself into that endeavor. But I'm curious, with your experiences working on Crimes of the Future, what has been your biggest takeaway from this experience, whether maybe it's something that affected you personally or professionally or maybe it's both?
For me, just getting to work with a director like Cronenberg has been huge for me right now. At this point in my career, I've been working a lot more than I have in the past, and this was a big part of it for me. It's made me excited about going back to work and trying to work with other filmmakers and other filmmakers of this stature, and I just want to keep that going. When you work with somebody like that, who's David's age and who's been making all these movies and he is still hungry and still going for it, it reinvigorated me to a point. It’s been wonderful.