TORONTO — In the dark satire Antiviral, the debut feature film from Brandon Cronenberg, celebrity-obsessed consumers pay top dollar to be infected with viruses that once thrived deep inside their favourite Hollywood hunk or starlet. Other consumers line up to buy meat that’s been bred from celebrity cells.
Sound a bit far-fetched? Maybe just a bit.
Cronenberg, the 32-year-old son of auteur David, didn’t think it was that much of a stretch when he dreamed up the concept, while himself suffering through a terrible bout of sickness.
“I started obsessing over the physicality of illness and how I had something in my body and in my cells that had come from someone else’s body, and there seemed to be a weird intimacy to that connection,” Cronenberg said during an interview before the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film shared the best Canadian first feature award with “Blackbird.”
He was validated after watching a clip of Jimmy Kimmel Live! from last November, when a slightly ill Sarah Michelle Gellar sat in as a guest. During a segue in the interview, Kimmel mentioned Gellar agreed to be on the show even though she was fighting a cold.
“Let me infect all of you now,” Gellar then says with a smile, as the audience hoots and cheers deliriously.
“That was a little spot on,” Cronenberg says.
“Everyone started cheering like they wanted to have her virus and it was all funny, but at the same time, you could imagine there was one person in that audience who would’ve gone for it if she’d said, ’I’ll spit in your mouth and get you sick.’ Somebody would’ve done it.
“(Antiviral) is meant to be a satire and it’s meant to be a caricature of our own society … but I don’t think it’s a very large exaggeration.”
Sarah Gadon, whose biggest projects involve the Cronenberg clan (she also starred in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis), stars as Hannah Geist, the world’s most desirable female star. When she gets sick, virus peddler Syd March (played by Caleb Landry Jones) is assigned to collect her germs for the mass market.
To help get into their characters, Jones and Gadon agreed they wouldn’t meet before filming the movie. Gadon wouldn’t even speak to him on set in between takes.
“It allowed me to build her up,” Jones says, “what Syd was supposed to think of her, I got to do that. And it was very easy to (portray) that because of the way we went about it.”
“I think dynamics between actors are really important,” adds Gadon.
“And I like to work hard at preserving whatever I can to keep things at a level of authenticity or realism. It all helps.”
Gadon didn’t agree with Cronenberg’s suggestion that “Antiviral” is almost realistic but did call it very relevant to today.
“It’s certainly a film that makes you step back and think about (celebrity obsession) and why we do that, and that’s what I love about the film.”
Antiviral opens on Friday in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg.