Movies have always been fertile ground for double acts — especially collaborations between directors and their stars and writers.
This year’s crop of award-seeking films seems particularly fruitful, with such repeat pairings of creatives as Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg (“A Dangerous Method”), Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman (“Young Adult”), Phyllida Lloyd and Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen (“Shame”), Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) and David Fincher and Rooney Mara (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”).
“A Dangerous Method” marks the third collaboration between Cronenberg and Mortensen folowing “Eastern Promises” and “A History of Violence.”
“We hit it off right from the start, before filming on ‘A History of Violence’ commenced in 2004,” Mortensen says. “We communicate in writing and by phone a lot before shooting starts. Not much needs to be said, aside from telling a good joke or making fun of ourselves and anything that comes to mind during the shoot. We understand what we are trying to accomplish, we are on the same page before I start working with the other actors, camera, and crew. I believe this allows us to keep things alive and moving forward on the set, to be open to the lucky accidents, the unexpected moments that happen while filming.”
“We’re both fairly obsessive when it comes to research and detail,” Cronenberg says. “We exchanged over 25 emails just about Freud’s cigars — the type, the size and so on. But we never question why that’d be important, and we’re very gentle in terms of ego, so it makes for a very enjoyable working relationship.”
Ego — or lack thereof — also figures into Cody and Reitman’s collaboration.
According to Cody, the relationship is “effortless.”
The scribe says, “We seem to communicate in the same terms and we’re never really at odds, the way some writer/director pairs are. We don’t have a fiery relationship. It’s calm and friendly. We have a creative shorthand and I don’t have to explain myself and vice versa.” Cody also stresses the creative freedom that this relationship allows.
“I can’t think of a screenwriter who’s been granted greater freedom than I have,” she says. “Jason’s such a generous collaborator and always looked for input from me — even when I was a totally inexperienced writer working on ‘Juno,’ he wanted my opinion.”
For Rooney Mara, who first teamed with David Fincher on “The Social Network,” the director’s work ethic inspires “a similar dedication in the people he chooses to align himself with. He also has an incredible sense of humor, so on top of the hard work, there is a lot of inappropriate laughter. David says he likes to align himself with people that he can root for, people he wants to get behind. There isn’t anyone I’d rather have in my corner.”
A strong sense of trust also opens up more possibilities on the set.
“I wouldn’t trust him with a secret to save his life,” she admits, “but I would trust him with just about anything else. David is incredibly collaborative and for me, he creates an environment that feels safe enough to try anything. As a result of that trust, there isn’t a whole lot I wouldn’t do for him.”
Trust and a willingness to — literally — expose every aspect of a character also drives Fassbender’s collaboration with British director McQueen.
For their 2008 prison drama “Hunger,” he shed 40 pounds. For “Shame,” he shed all his clothes, and “fully embraced” the full-frontal nudity and sex scenes that illuminate “the loneliness and disconnectedness” of his sex-addicted character.
“I just trust Steve’s creative instincts,” he says. “I knew the sex wasn’t there for titillation or exploitation. It was there as a way for the audience to access this guy’s head. I saw all the sexual encounters as being very revealing about what’s actually going on inside (Fassbender’s character) Brandon.”
“The Artist” is the third film collaboration for Hazanavicius and Dujardin, who teamed previously on the two “OSS 117” Gallic spy spoofs, and according to both director and actor, they mirror each other’s approach to a project and their art.
“He thinks and I do instinctively what he has thought of,” Dujardin says. “We don’t need to speak to each other, and neither one of us likes to speak. We are both very shy.”
Adds Hazanavicius: “Sometimes I forget to tell (give him a direction) before the take, and he does it as if I had told him. We call it ‘the Bluetooth’ shorthand.”
And both stress the importance of having fun on the set. “Michel prepares his films a lot, and I prepare my roles a lot,” Dujardin says. “As a result, when we’re on the set, we can have fun and mostly work on the subtleties and nuances.”
As with other teams, trust also plays a big part in their relationship.
“I feel if I ask him to do anything, he’ll do it,” the director says. “That’s very freeing for me, because our relationship is about working, and when I try things on set, he’ll follow. I think he trusts my taste, and he knows I won’t edit a take if he’s not good.”
Adds Dujardin: “I think I represent his fantasy of an actor, which means he always treats me with the utmost care, which allows me to let myself go totally. Our teaming and the success that it has generated allows us to explore many things. I think it guarantees our creative freedom.”
Year of couples therapy
Drama: Best Picture | Comedy: Best Picture | Best Director | Drama Actor/Actress | Comedy Actor/Actress