David Cronenberg, Michael Fassbender On 'A Dangerous Method,' The Film Meant For Julia Roberts


"A Dangerous Method" has been in the works for 14 years. But the film, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Michael Fassbender, began as something very different than what is currently being shown in theaters.

"I delivered the first screenplay in about '97, and it was commissioned by 20th Century Fox and Julia Roberts' company," screenwriter Christopher Hampton told The Huffington Post. "It was called 'Sabina,' and nothing happened with it. I thought it was a real shame cause I'd done so much research."

At that point, the Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung-centered drama was meant to focus less on the psychoanalysts, and more on Sabina Spielrein, a mental patient-turned-lover of Jung's.

"Of course it was because Julia Roberts' company was financing it, and of course it was meant to be a vehicle for her," Cronenberg said.

When it went nowhere, Hampton -- a playwright and the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of "Atonement" and "Dangerous Liaisons" -- took his script elsewhere, reworking it for the stage with Jung as the lead, a role that Ralph Fiennes would fill. This is when it materialized on Cronenberg's radar.

"I was curious about it because Ray Fiennes was in it, and I'd worked with him on 'Spider,'" Cronenberg said. And so we arrive, 14 years later, at the high-minded, perversely sexual film starring Fassbender (Jung), Keira Knightley (Spielrein) and Viggo Mortensen (Freud). With Cronenberg -- the brains behind "The Fly," "A History of Violence" and "Videodrome" -- in control, it essentially guaranteed more scenes like this one than we could have hoped for in a Roberts vehicle:


The predator jaw-ed Knightley you see above is the film's dramatic grounding. She enters Jung's life at the moment of this freeze frame, a hysterical patient, curdling at any touch. Over time, as she proves to be a budding psychoanalyst herself, she curdles less, and shares Jung's bed more. But much of "A Dangerous Method" hinges on Jung and Freud's intellectual back-and-forths on the future of psychoanalysis -- with Freud acting as both Jung's mentor and intimidator -- and their rift weighs heavily on the plot. As Cronenberg would tell you, Freud wanted to talk about penises and vaginas, and Jung did not.

Cronenberg and Fassbender ("Shame," "Jane Eyre," "X-Men") sat down with The Huffington Post to discuss penises and vaginas, and whether they're more Freudian or Jungian.

Would you have still made a film about Jung and Freud if there had been no Sabina?

Cronenberg: Well that's the thing, I'm not sure if it would've worked very well dramatically, especially since so much of their relationship was carried on through letters, which was the internet of the time. But that's not very dramatic for film, and it was really Christopher's structure that made me feel that there was a movie there, and the structure really depended hugely on Sabina. So I think the answer is probably no. I think it's crucial that there was a triangle. Not a duet.

Is this the first film portrayal of Jung?

Fassbender: I think there was one about Freud, but I'm not sure about Jung. I just checked up on YouTube some interviews with Jung as an older man and I managed to watch what I could of whatever was available there. So from there, I could get some sort of mannerisms, shadow moves that I could incorporate into the character, and get a sense of his personality. There seemed to be a sense of lightness about him, confidence, self-assured.

Do you feel more pressure playing someone like Mr. Rochester, who has been portrayed numerous times on film, or Jung, who has never really been represented before?

Fassbender: "There's always a healthy amount of pressure -- it's always good to have fear going into something, otherwise you're just operating in your comfort zone. With Rochester I thought, this guy seems sort of bipolar to me, so that's what I worked toward. I get a gut feeling, and it might not be right, but you have to respond to those things. The pressure -- you've got to respect it, and then you've got to disrespect it. It's the same pressure doing something like Magneto, where you have such a huge loyal, vocal, passionate fanbase out there, and so you respect that, but at the end of the day, you disrespect it and say, well this is my take on it.

Cronenberg: Actors need to scare themselves. When I started to talk to [Robert Pattinson for "Cosmopolis"], it became apparent that he was terrified, as Keira was terrified to do Sabina, and that's always good.

Why did you want Pattinson for the part in "Cosmopolis"?

Cronenberg: Well I'd watched a movie that I think not too many people have seen called "Little Ashes," where he plays Salvador Dali, and he plays him as a young man and plays him with a Spanish accent. So I thought, well that's really interesting, I mean this was before he was a "Twilight" star, because, it takes a particular handsome young man to decide to play that role. And then I did watch some of the "Twilight" stuff and I watched "Remember Me" and I felt that he had a lot going on. He's supposed to be a super smart billionaire at a young age, 28 he says in the movie. It's intuition. I didn't know him as a person, but I'd figured from the movies that I'd seen, like "Little Ashes," that I could maybe interest him in doing something that's not "Twilight" obviously.

How do you usually go about casting? Why didn't you cast Ray Fiennes in this case?

Cronenberg: I knew that Ray would wonder if I would cast him, but the problem is he's 20 years too old. Though he's a fine-looking 50-year-old, he's not 29. Part of the excitement for me of this moment in the careers of Jung and Freud is their age, because we're used to this grandfatherly, 78-year-olds with beards and moustaches and white hair, and that's what people think of Jung and Freud. But here was a 29-year-old Jung, just at the beginning of his career, and a 50-year-old Freud who was charismatic and handsome, and at the height of his power. And Ray was too old for that. It works on stage of course -- with that moustache, he really looked very much like Jung.

How was it working with Keira Knightley -- did you meet her before her entrance in the movie, when she comes in and kind of explodes onto the scene?

Fassbender: I met her the night before. We were both staying at the hotel. Or a couple of days before. She's great, she's just so cool. She's super prepared. She's sitting there and she's got her folder, with all this writing everywhere. She doesn't bring her process into your world, she comes ready. And she has fun -- she's ready to play and try different things. She's really an impressive person, I have to say.

Do you identify with Freud or Jung more?

Fassbender: Maybe I'm more sort of Jungian because I believe anything is possible. I think there are so many things out there that are unexplained. I wouldn't be as rigid in the Freudian beliefs that everything is dealt in a physical form, and everything stems from that. I do like to think there's a lot of mystery out there, the idea of interconnectivity. But then you look at what Freud says as well and they're such well thought-out and intelligent theses in both quarters that you can see relevant elements to both.

Cronenberg: What I like about Freud is his insistence on the reality of the human body. Freud was considered a very destructive force because he was talking about incest and body parts and fluids and things that nobody wanted to talk about. Jung is saying, well perhaps if you didn't call it libido, or perhaps if you didn't insist so much on penises and vaginas, they could accept it. But [Freud's] saying, no, we have to accept this stuff, that's of the essence. And the other thing is, he knows that he's under attack. Part of the reason for that is that he's Jewish and this is an anti-Semitic society, so that's a problem. So I want you, Carl Jung, because you're Christian, and you're not Jewish, and it would be great if you became my successor, and you carried on the movement. That I feel less connection with Jung is because I feel ultimately he, and certainly later, you could see, everything that Freud worried about with Jung came true. Jung did go into mysticism and religion and away from science. And at that point, as an atheist, I disconnect from Jung. Although undeniably he was an intriguing guy.

(To Cronenberg) Any word on a "Fly" sequel?

Cronenberg: I wrote a script, and at the moment I think it's dead basically. It's a dead fly. It's a script I actually wrote and would be happily in pre-production doing if Fox were interested. (They're not.)

(To Fassbender) You're in two films this year with heavy sexual themes ["A Dangerous Method" and "Shame"].

Fassbender: It's in my contract (laughs).

Could you relate your experience on one to the other when you're preparing?

Fassbender: Not at all. When I finish something, it's gone. I went from "Dangerous Method" straight into "X-Men" and then that was that beast that it was of its own, and then straight from "X-Men" into "Shame." So the key is then spending time with the script, and then meeting people. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet with people who suffer from [sex addiction] and then listen to them and ask them to tell me stories. It's more interesting for me to hear stories. And from stories I can get some glimpses of a personality.

Did that make you go crazy at all?

Fassbender: Well, I did go a little bit loopy. I started with "Haywire," "Jane Eyre," "Dangerous Method," "X-Men" and then "Shame," so I was like [makes a bug-eyed face]. But again, you learn in your profession to wash away whatever you do.

"A Dangerous Method" is out today.

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