Andrea Riseborough Helped Brandon Cronenberg Get His Plans For Possessor Past The Producers

"Possessor" is a mind-bending, face-melting thriller about the very thin line between the human body and brain. The film, which centers on an assassin who enters other people's consciousnesses in order to carry out her missions, features plenty of trippy imagery as a psychological battle rages between the titular possessor and the possessed. True to the Cronenberg name, this includes bodily distortions ranging from the surreal to the gnarly and everything in between. The film's producers, however, were particularly uncomfortable with one effect that highlights the morphing of the psyches by giving lead assassin Tasya Vos a penis. The scene remained because both Brandon Cronenberg and Andrea Riseborough, who played Vos, thought of the idea without even telling each other.

The uncut version of "Possessor," which is now the release that's most commonly available for viewing, features more violence and gore than in its theatrical run. It was an issue with nudity, however, that made the producers nervous. As Vos is inhabiting the body of Christopher Abbott's character and having sex with his fiancée, there's a cut to Riseborough in place of Abbott as the camera pans down to show her with an erect penis. Cronenberg used almost entirely practical effects for the film, including the blood and gore, psychedelic hallucinations, and, yes, even the prosthetic phallus. However, as Cronenberg shared in a 2020 interview with Seventh Row, the producers were skittish about asking an actress to wear a penis "just in case it was a total dealbreaker," so he revised the script "in a kind of vague way."

More than a penis

It turns out that Andrea Riseborough had an almost psychic connection with Brandon Cronenberg when reading the screenplay, or at least caught on to the way he may have hinted at the idea in the updated script. Cronenberg recalled the moment the actress suggested that her character should, indeed, don a penis for the scene:

"I sat down with Andrea for one of the first conversations we had once she had already signed on to the film, and one of the first things she said when we were talking about the sex scene, was, 'Look, I don't want to freak you out here. But I really think that Vos should have a penis.' I just thought, 'This is amazing. You're reading my mind. You're clearly the perfect person for this.' And I was just thrilled to go back to my producers and say, 'She absolutely must have a penis. This is her idea.'"

Riseborough wisely caught on to the fact that Cronenberg's intention for the scene wasn't to shock for the sake of exploitation. There's a deeper theme here about the blending of sex and gender since both characters are part of the same body. The moment makes the audience question where the identity of both characters begins and ends, or if they're one and the same. In their fight for control, perhaps they're turning into each other and becoming the same being. Just because there's a penis doesn't mean it's, as Cronenberg succinctly puts it, "penis-focused."