Talking ‘Mozart In The Jungle’ With Gael Garcia Bernal, Lola Kirke, Bernadette Peters, and Malcolm McDowell: BUST Interview

by Erika W. Smith

If you’ve heard of Mozart In The Jungle, chances are you might have first heard of it not quite a year ago when the Amazon series took home two Golden Globes — big ones. Winning Best Television Series — Comedy and Best Actor In A Television Series — Musical Or Comedy for star Gael Garcia Bernal, the wins sparked explainer headlines like “What Is Golden Globe Winner Mozart In The Jungle All About?” “What Is ‘Mozart In The Jungle’ And Why Did It Win A Golden Globe?” and “What Is ‘Mozart In The Jungle,’ You Ask?”

To fill you in: Mozart in the Jungle is something wholly unique on television. The show follows an orchestra and the people in it from continent to continent and makes classical music seem wholly new, thanks to the eccentric and swoon-worthy conductor Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal) and the orchestra’s newest member, ambitious yet insecure oboist Hailey (Lola Kirke) or, as Rodrigo pronounces it, “Hi-a-lie.” The cast also includes with Malcolm McDowell as conductor emeritus; Bernadette Peters as the symphony’s president; Saffron Burrows as a cellist; Hannah Dunne as a newly minted nightclub owner; and Jason Schwartzman (who developed the series along with Roman Coppola, Alex Timbers and Paul Weitz) as a weirdo podcast host/amateur documentarian.

MITJ 303 04465

Mozart In The Jungle drops its third season today; it’s the first season since that Golden Globe win, and new audiences won’t be disappointed. The new season takes us from Venice to Brooklyn to Rikers Island, with romances, power struggles, and music along the way.

“I think the Golden Globe win was amazing. I definitely was weirdly having a memory while I was falling asleep last night of when they said our name, of when we won,” Lola Kirke tells BUST during a press day at New York’s Crosby Street Hotel.

“I don’t fall asleep every night thinking about when my show won a Golden Globe!” Kirke adds. “But I was like ‘Holy shit, that was so weird,’ and what that ultimately did was make the shown known to people instead of complete confusion — ‘You’re on what? Bach in the Desert?’”

MITJ 305 08393v1

The season opens in Venice, where, while the symphony is on a lockout and undergoing increasingly tense pay negotiations, both Hailey (Kirke) and Rodrigo (Garcia Bernal) have found themselves. Rodrigo has decided to conduct — and romance — opera diva Alessandra (Monica Belluci), while Hailey finds herself working for the pair as a dresser after she’s fired from a traveling orchestra for puking onstage after eating a few bad oysters (oops).

The first few episodes concentrate closely on the three characters, exploring the tenseness between Hailey and Rodrigo’s unusual relationship.

“The writers have really expanded what their relationship is, and they’ve not just gone with the typical narrative of ‘Young woman meets man, they fuck,” Kirke says. “They have this dynamic that’s creative and professional and a deep friendship, and that is also romantic.”

MITJ 303 03983v1

Somehow, Rodrigo manages to encourage both women’s affections — and neither the characters (at first…) nor the viewers hate him for it at all.

“I love that Rodrigo can get away with many things, and doing things that I never dared to, because they’re incorrect or whatever,” Garcia Bernal says. “I tapped into that, and I also tapped into the enjoyment and the poetry of it all. He’s a character who doesn’t stop being fascinating. I wish I had a friend like Rodrigo — though maybe it’s difficult to be friends with him.”

Garcia Bernal also moved behind the camera, directing an episode. Directing and starring in the same episode, he says, “is impossible. It is so complicated.”

Kirke had some fun with Bernal’s dual role. “At this point, there is a kind of shorthand between the two of us, where I would just be rolling my eyes when he would say something for me to do, and then I’d come down and do what he said.”

MITJ 305 09110

In the episode Garcia Bernal directed, Hailey (Kirke) tries out her newfound conducting skills and introducing Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell)’s new composition to the world — with Pembridge interfering every step of the way.

“I keep butting into rehearsals and I can’t let it go so that’s I’m sure quite funny, isn’t it,” McDowell says. “I don’t know how he did it, because frankly he works pretty hard on this show.”

In the same episode, McDowell’s character shares a moment with Bernadette Peters’ — “a romance,” as Peters puts it. “Hanky-panky,” as McDowell says. I won’t spoil too much, but the show definitely didn’t waste Peters’ voice. (McDowell, on the other hand, mimes his piano playing: “Darling, I can’t play any instrument. But I do love to sit down and play ‘Great Balls Of Fire.’”)

Unusually for McDowell, Pembridge is completely loveable (though cranky at times). “To be honest with you, it’s such a relief to play a bit of comedy,” he says. “The next few things I’m back to playing serial killers, which I also enjoy. There’s a certain part of me that just enjoys playing people so outrageous and so far from where I’m at that it’s fun to play. But I love this character, so it’s nice playing somebody who’s sensible and mature.”

MITJ 308 14645v1

Peters’ character, a former cabaret performer who now works purely on the business side of the symphony, has never been able to escape her love of performance. “I think the best people that can run something artistic have a big creative part of them,” she tells BUST. “Otherwise they couldn’t choose the way they choose. She loves Rodrigo and understands him really well, and he makes her crazy, and she knows that he’s going to lead her to a beautiful creative place, and yet she’s got to balance the money part and the music part.”

The episode also showcases major moments for Saffron Burrows’ character and Hannah Dunne’s — all vastly different characters but all fully realized.

MITJ 302 09488v1

“It’s something I think about a lot when I come out of hair and makeup and feel fabulous, and Bernadette Peters walks by and I wilt in a way,” Kirke says. “And Saffron, and everyone on the show. But something I love is about the show is that it does not buy into this silly idea that women should be discarded after a certain age, and the show is really aware of creating roles for women that are special and dynamic. It feels like a parody of a liberal person to be all ‘We need more diverse roles for women!’ but we really cannot say that enough.”

Peters adds that the show benefits from having women involved behind the camera as well, with women directors and producers joining the Schwartzman/Coppola team. “I think we have to hand it all to our creators, they don’t really differentiate who’s important, who’s not important,” she says. “Everyone is equal in this show, which I think is perfect.”

Garcia Bernal, however, points out that real life has a ways to go to catch up. “The first director that I met and became friends with is Alondra de la Parra. She is a conductor from Mexico, and she’s incredible,” he says. “She plays all over the world and she is well known all over the place, but here, something happened and she is not. There is a lot of resistance to female conductors.”

This resistance is something we see in the show as well, as Hailey takes her first not-so-popular steps onto the conductor’s podium — which meant Kirke had to learn how to conduct as well as mime the oboe. “Both make me look awful. I’m glad I don’t have to look like I’m dying from lack of oxygen as I do when I play the oboe,” she says. But while watching the first three episodes, “I was like, ‘You are bouncing everywhere. You’re meant to be rooted in your feet and your core.’”

MITJ 304 05091

Conducting, Kirke says, makes Haley “become more independent and able to make her own choices. And I think that being a member of the orchestra and being an actor are actually a really similar thing, in terms of you are in service of a larger body of work which is generally not something you have written.”

It’s a comparison Garcia Bernal makes, as well. “With the musicians we play with here [in New York], for example, and the ones we played with in Mexico and the ones in Italy, we established this brotherhood. They are a bit like actors — actors all over the world are good with each other, they take care of each other. And musicians are very good with each other, they help each other out a lot and they’re used to traveling and playing. You might not speak the language, but then you start to play and it’s all good.”

Though few viewers will have dreamed of playing oboe in the New York Symphony orchestra — or a Venitian opera — the orchestra’s struggle is all still familiar.

“I think it is really cool to get to play the life of a struggling artist when they’re not making noise music in Bushwick, they’re trying to make Mozart live once again,” Kirke says. “Mostly it’s the same shit, you just get to hang out with Monica Bellucci.”

Photos courtesy Amazon

More from BUST

Lola Kirke Talks ‘Mozart In The Jungle,’ Meeting David Bowie, And Going Barefoot At The Golden Globes: BUST Interview

‘Girls’ Star Jemima Kirke Talks Acting, Art And Abortion: BUST Interview

Helen Mirren On That Sexist Interview: ‘It Was Enraging’

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.