Thematically the film is tackling a number of subjects, but it really touches on the recent trends of the #MeToo movement and cancel culture. Did your own opinions on those topics influence your portrayal of Lydia, or is it more Todd’s voice in that regard?
It’s many things. There’s a line in the script where it says right at the beginning that, “Lydia Tar is many things,” and that she’s had a varied career. I think the film is about also many things, but it is a meditation on the corruptive nature of power. I think, in the same way, that the mobile phone influenced the way narrative unfolded, we haven’t even processed the ramifications of the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, and the pandemic. We are altered by these things, positively and negatively. Already, the #MeToo movement is talked about in pejorative, negative terms, as much as had a profoundly positive effect in awakening people’s consciences. But we’re changed by it. And so, any film that is alive now will have reverberations with those things that have happened to us as a species. This film is no different. But it’s not about that. You know what I mean? But of course, it’s a texture and influences the atmosphere in the film.
Many actors will say that no matter what your character does or has done, you have to believe in them or at least try to understand what they’re thinking so that you can play them. Did you inherently think that Lydia was a good person, or do you feel like everything she has done has been for her own benefit?
I don’t think about things in terms of good and bad. My mother had said to her friend, because my mom has seen the film, she warned her friend, “You won’t like her.” But I think it’s more accurate to say that you may not want to like her because Lydia does things that we could all possibly do ourselves when no one is watching, and she’s very charismatic. The personalities of conductors often cement their reputations. She’s also enigmatic. She’s also human. And so, it wasn’t about me thinking she was good or bad, but I did understand her. The “liking” her or thinking she was good never came into it for me because I find that quite a general way to look at someone or a situation. I like this. I hate that. I understand the sacrifices and the compromises that she had to make to get where she got, and also I understood how brutal and how disciplined she had had to be with herself, and also often with other people because when she felt that they were holding back because of fear.
I think that the tragic thing is that once she’s got into a position of power, once anyone gets close to power, just how seductive it is and how difficult it is not to be changed by it, and how desperately one can want to hold on to it. Peter Brooks says this fantastic thing, that, “You’ve got to hold on tightly and let go lightly.” But that’s really difficult. Look at all of our politicians. Once they’re in power, they spend most of their time trying to hold on to it as a flame, and we’re moths, and it takes an inordinate inner strength and an incredible spirit to let go of power. So, I think I was trying to understand that situation.
Does it bother you if people ask you if you based Lydia on anyone you know?
No. No. No one person in particular. I looked at the tortured nature of Carlos Kleiber. One of my favorite conductors is Bernard Haitink. I’m absolutely inspired every single day by Nathalie Stutzmann, who’s been a contralto who’s now moved over into conducting through being a singer, and she’s about to take over in Atlanta, which is really exciting. There’s an incredible, very rough, raw documentary about Antonia Brico. I thought about [Herbert] von Karajan and [Claudio] Abbado, all of these people, [Valery] Gergiev, how politically compromised he has become to get how massive his career is and his conducting style.
So, it was sort of all of those, all many of those people, and then also I thought about the CEOs of major banking corporations and massive architects who don’t necessarily make the work anymore, but are across the construction of buildings, and how, in my own experience, I think running a major cultural institution, how you can get isolated from the artists that you’re working with because you have a corporate responsibility as much as you have a creative artistic responsibility. So there were a lot of things that were coming into play with me, but it wasn’t based on any one person in particular.
When you saw the final film, what did you come away with the most? What was your reaction to how it all came together?
I didn’t see dailies at all. It was fast and furious. I was so kind of inside the experience with Todd and with Nina and everybody. I saw it with my husband, thank goodness. I fell into the film, which I think is a testament to Todd’s filmmaking. I just thought there were some things that we shot that are no longer in there, but they’re sort of homeopathically in there. If that makes sense.
And the first time I read the script, I found the end quite tragic, but I was so uplifted by the end. I thought, “I really want people to see this,” and I wanted them to see it in the cinema. I was bowled over by the sound as well, and the silence. One of my favorite parts of the “Mahler’s Five,” for instance, is the silence at the end of the scherzo before the adagietto begins. I feel Todd’s use of silence was really powerful when in a film about music. So, there were so many parts of it that I felt like I wanted to go back and watch it again. He’s such an extraordinary filmmaker. I feel so, so deeply lucky to have worked with him.
“TAR” opens in limited release on Friday.