David Cronenberg’s Greek tragedy

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David Cronenberg does not hate Hollywood. It’s one of the misconceptions the Canadian director has had to deal with after his latest film Maps to the Stars premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

“In France, the journalists all thought that I’ve been simmering with resentment and hatred of Hollywood all these years, and it finally came out in Maps,” he says over the phone, “and I laughed and said, ‘Actually, I don’t hate Hollywood at all.’”

Considering the story of Maps to the Stars — which opens Friday at O Cinema Wynwood and Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale — you may be forgiven if you too wonder about the director’s feelings for Tinseltown. The film is a darkly humorous satire that follows the Weiss family, a group of recognizable Hollywood types that include a bratty 13-year-old child actor (Evan Bird) fresh out of rehab, his “momager” (Olivia Williams) and his New Age guru dad (John Cusack) who makes house calls to celebrities, like an insecure, past-her-prime actress (Julianne Moore).

The already dysfunctional family, however, endures further dysfunction when the Weiss’ ostracized daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives. Disfigured by burns from a childhood case of pyromania, she wishes to “make amends” after being released from a mental institution in Jupiter, Florida.

Known for his surreal work in horror and extreme violence, Cronenberg brings a special touch to the script by Bruce Wagner, a writer well known for his critical view of Hollywood (Oliver Stone notably produced Wagner’s Wild Palms as a television miniseries for ABC in 1993).

But, Cronenberg notes, there is something much more basic that attracted him to the screenplay of Maps to the Stars.

“It’s almost like a Greek tragedy,” he says. “It’s really a family drama. It’s also a drama of ambition and greed, of desperation and betrayal. All of those things that good dramas are made of.”

Cronenberg adds that the setting could have been Silicon Valley or Wall Street. “But, the fact is, Bruce knows Hollywood. He doesn’t know those other places, and he’s written about nine novels about Hollywood, so that’s really his turf.”

Wagner’s incendiary script was one of the first things he wrote while working in Hollywood in the early 1990s as a limo driver, a character much like the one played by Robert Pattinson in Maps. No one would touch it until about a decade later, when Cronenberg expressed interest. “I had really not read dialogue like that before,” notes the director. “I thought it was incredibly compelling.”

Another person who was a fan of the script was this year’s Best Actress Oscar winner Moore, who plays a damaged, unsavory character in the film. Cronenberg says she stayed committed to the project even after financing fell through.

“I think maybe about seven or eight years ago, I approached her in a theater in New York about this character, and she said she’d love to play it, and then I couldn’t get the movie made. It was difficult to get financing, just in general for an independent film ... so I had to tell her I wasn’t able to get the film made, but then, when I finally did get the financing set up, I went after her and said, ‘What do you think? Are you still interested?’ And she said, ‘I remember the script well. It really made an incredible impression on me, and I would still love to play that character,’ so that was wonderful coming full circle after it took me about 10 years to get the movie made.”

Hans Morgenstern