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Interview: Kevin Durand on Cosmopolis

When we last left Mr. Kevin Durand, he was in town talking about the Toronto set, Sault Ste. Marie shot Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster and we asked him briefly about Cosmopolis, which he couldn’t say very much about at the time. This week, he returned to Toronto to give us the lowdown on his role in David Cronenberg’s latest film.

The tall and rugged looking actor gets dressed up for his role in this Don DeLillo adaptation where he plays Torval, the chief of security for Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a young financial whiz kid with a lot of people who would love to see him dead. Durand’s role is one of the most important in the film’s cast of rotating character because aside from Eric and his wife (played by Torontonia Sara Gadon), he’s the only other person who gets more than one scene to make an impression.

We caught up with Durand following the big Cosmopolis press conference in Toronto earlier this week to talk about his fear going in, working with David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson, Christopher Walken, and why the role represents something new for him.


Dork Shelf: This is a really interesting role for you because you’re one of the few people in the film for more than one scene. Did you end up reading the book and were you surprised you were pegged for one of the more pivotal roles in the film?

Kevin Durand: I’m obsessed. I read the book and read the script a bunch of times, and I was a little bit scared by it because of the density of the bits of dialogue and trying to figure out what the relationships between all the characters and between Torval and Eric was. I really liked it because I thought it would afford me the opportunity to play this guy who… You know, I play a lot of imposing figures, but this was a different kind of figure for me to play. I think that Torval actually cared about this kid even though he was totally aware of the level of danger he was putting himself into. It’s this love/hate sort of thing.

DS: It’s a special relationship and a difficult one to convey because you have to play the one person who doesn’t leave his side at all throughout the course of a day and you have to convey that mostly through DeLillo’s dialogue.

KD: Yeah, I hadn’t really seen that bodyguard/protector sort of role in that way until I read this. There’s a whole spectrum of emotions that you can play within that even though you aren’t acting in a flashy manner and you’re staying professional. It can come out in sarcastic remarks. Like when I say that the President’s in town, and Eric asks which one I’m talking about, and I say “The President of the United States.” (laughs) Which given his character it almost makes sense for him to say something like that. It was a heck of a good ride.

DS: It’s interesting that the dialogue is so specific to each character and you’re working with a director like David Cronenberg who wants everything said exactly as it appears on the page. The beats and the punctuation are so specific in this that they almost take on a Shakespearian sort of feel. When you approach a role like this, do you think about the character first or how the dialogue is going to shape the character?

KD: The dialogue in this script and in the book completely informs you exactly what the character is, so once you read that it sort of all comes together, and like working Shakespeare you start analyzing every single mark of punctuation, every word, and then trying to let it go and just let it live to the point where you can begin speaking the words, and that was a huge challenge, being able to get over the intimidation of the syntax. I had speeches where it was, like: One word. Period. Two words. Period. Three words. Period. And you think, “Oh my God, how do I not sound like an alien?” But through that it really told me who I was supposed to be and I’m really glad that David was so on top of us. His instincts were totally right.

DS: Since you had sort of played this type of role before, but this one is a lot more dialled back in terms his professional nature. Was it hard to not bring your previous work to this role?

KD: Once I found the rhythm of it all, it wasn’t hard anymore. It just felt right after a while. I think there was one day, just one day, where I had to fight off my emotions. Because I’m a pretty raw and a lot of my characters kind of reflect that and David just kinda told me to take it back a little, and I just thought, okay. I just kind of realized that instead of just being so outward with my emotions, that someone in that position like Torval can’t let show how frustrated he is with his and Eric’s decisions. Dialling it down after a while just became so comforting to the point where I actually kind of enjoyed it. (laughs) It made it easier once I understood what those boundaries are. And the one moment in the film where you kind of think “Oh, look! They’re becoming buddies” is the point where it all backfires.

DS: Did you have any personal impressions of David’s work or thoughts about what he would be like to work with going in?

KD: You know, for some reason I just thought he was just going to be really dark and kind of twisted, and when I met him and we spoke for the first time, he was obviously the fiercely intelligent man I expected him to be, but he was also very gentle with a really generous heart. He really knows what he wants and he really finds a way to put you at ease. When the captain of the ship is just that calm and collected, everybody else just follows suit. Otherwise, you get thrown off the ship. (laughs)

DS: We’re you ever experienced in having to do something that was this detail oriented?

KD: Well, I mean, no… not at this point. When I was younger doing Shakespeare, but that had a lot to do with the actual dialogue. In that same respect here, with DeLillo, it was all about paying respect to it. It was a completely new experience for me. I learned a lot. I think David got a performance out of all of us – and speaking specifically about myself because I’m the one in this room – that when I watched it for the first time the other day that I loved it. I saw all the things that I was trying to get across. Watching and doing this movie really informed for me just how much I can actually pull back on certain things and still get something across through just a look.

A lot of times in film you can just think about something like cheeseburgers when you’re saying something else. I always remember that Christopher Walken said in an interview with Letterman when Letterman said that his characters always worked on so many different levels, even right then in the interview, and he asked him what he was thinking right then, and he just says (in Walken voice) “Chinese food! I’m thinking of chow mein.” There’s always so much stuff going on in our subconscious when we speak that it’s interesting to experiment with that and bring it down to this and still get something like this. It was a really great lesson for me.

DS: That sounds like something that’s really easy to plan out in your head how that would play out, but then you have scenes with someone like Robert who might have a different idea. Was there ever any moment where you guys had to stop and talk about how a certain conversation would go?

KD: No. It was actually kind of terrific. The first scene that we shot in front of Union Station in front of those pillars, we literally did the shot that you see in the film, I think maybe twice and then it was a wrap on the day. David was just like, “No, that’s it.” I was, like, “Really? Are you serious?” You freak out at first because you start thinking there’s so much more you could have done and then you just see it and you know he was right. Everything he needed was there and it was so freeing.

With Robert and I, it worked so well because we’re both so obsessive on our own and our characters are so disconnected from one another that it kind of happened throughout the movie that we were on the same page. And yet, I did feel connected to him through duty because that other character’s life is in my hands. He was making bad choices. (laughs)

DS: And it’s kind of interesting to look at you two side by side, because you’re a big guy and Robert’s not that much shorter than you are. It kind of speaks to his character that he wouldn’t want to hire someone he had to actually physically look up to.

KD: Yeah! He’s a pretty tall fellow. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting him to be that tall. You know what’s really interesting though, was when I read the novel, Torval was, like, this guy with a shaved head, goatee, no neck, hunched over, just this brutal looking character, and the only thing that I wish I hadn’t done was cut my hair the way that I did. Visually I thought it would have been more interesting if I had more of a hair style, which was more of what David wanted, but the whole time I was thinking I might go and shave my head and just go really method with it. (laughs) LET’S DO THIS TOGETHER! (laughs) And David just says (quietly) “Oh, hey, you got a haircut.”

But the height thing I think does speak well to his character and how they both sort of come from this dark place. I remember the first time I met him and the first time we shook hands and I was taken aback by how big he was. Once I actually showed up to set for this job before I met him and I was watching how he looked on tape and I thought I was going to lose my job, because leading men generally don’t want to stand next to me because of my height. You know, the brave ones do…

DS: Or the ones where you have to look like you’re going to beat the hell out of them.

KD:… OR the one’s where they get to beat the crap out of me! Now wouldn’t that be cool? (laughs)

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