Back in May, David Cronenberg told the French magazine Le Monde that one of the reasons he cast Robert Pattinson as the American lead in his new film Cosmopolis is because the actor is British. If that sounds strange to you, welcome to the world of government-financed films.
As Cronenberg explained in his interview, Cosmopolis “is a co-production between France and Canada,” and so he was only allowed one American actor (Paul Giamatti, in another role). “I could take a Briton, however.”
Is this a common practice? And why, if the movie is being bankrolled by France and Canada, could Cronenberg cast an actor from England?
Telefilm Canada and its French equivalent, the CNC, typically collaborate on four or five film projects every year. And when they do, such hiring practices are standard. Each film can hire one “lead performer” and one “cameo performer” from a third country. (A cameo is defined as a “brief appearance of an internationally known personality … involving no more than three shooting days.”) Allowing these foreign actors at all is essentially a business tactic, one that acknowledges the international appeal of American stars and their ability to help sell films to U.S. and foreign markets.
According to the 2012 Film France Incentives Guide, Cosmopolis was a minority-French production, with 70 percent of the film’s support—comprised of copyright ownership, expenditures, and financial contributions—coming from Canada. This does not mean that France paid only 30 percent of Giamatti’s salary. Those expenses are shared by both countries combined.
Exceptions can be granted, with a film allowed to hire more than one third-country performer. But this happens very rarely. And when it does, it is not widely publicized, so as not to inspire other directors to take such liberties with their casts. For a production to get such an exception, it needs to prove that an additional international actor is so integral to the film that no one of approved citizenship status would do.
Such arguments for creative freedom are rarely compelling, according to Arthur Evrensel, a partner at Heenan Blaikie’s Entertainment Law Practice in Vancouver. Evrensel did think of one highly unlikely example: If a script required two major actors to be twins—and did not want to go The Parent Trap route—and third-country performers were the only plausible options for both roles.
So how come Cronenberg was allowed to cast a British actor like Pattinson for his French and Canadian co-production? Because any actor with an E.U. passport qualifies as a contribution from France. So while any number of European stars were eligible, no Americans—save ones that happen to have an E.U. passport—were.