Gael García Bernal liked classical music before "Mozart in the Jungle," but he didn’t know much about it. Two seasons later, that is no longer the case. The star of Amazon’s Golden Globes-nominated comedy about life behind the scenes of a prominent New York City orchestra was excited to recommend composers and pieces when Indiewire sat down with him to learn more about the new season.
Below, Bernal reveals what he prefers between acting one-on-one or being part of a larger ensemble, how proficient the cast has become in playing their respective instruments and what horizons — both geographical and musical — he’d like to see the show explore next.
So I want to start off by asking how you came to this show. What was your intro into the world?
I was just invited to it. And the way that I was invited to it, it came out like a perfect kind of package because I was working with these people, being invited to play this role. Being invited into this world of classical music, shot in New York during that really nice time in the summer. And also doing something that’s a comedy is very kind of relaxing…a sort of exciting project…it just felt right from the beginning.
And also, not so much time as well because it takes, like, three months — less than three months to shoot. So, it’s perfect. Not that kind of commitment that I see people going into TV series, seven or eight months every day on set. This is two months and a half. We got to shoot in Mexico this season, so shooting at home was really nice.
The show is such a New York show, I feel.
How did going to Mexico affect that?
It makes it even bigger, a bigger scope, because you get all these kind of New York-type scenarios, but then you are with a youth orchestra in a small town in Mexico City in this beautiful, amazing place. You get all this array of color and substance. It’s really beautiful. I really love the show. I really care a lot for it and the people that work on it. And I have so much fun being part of it and I’m so privileged to be able to get an education from this. I get such an education from this show.
With regards to music?
Yeah. With classical music.
How much background did you have going in?
None. I mean, I would enjoy classical music. Of course, I would enjoy it, but only enjoy it. I wouldn’t really dig into it or inform myself about it and now I do. Now I listen to it. And I listen to it attentively and I discover more stuff and I talk to people. It’s a new topic of conversation as well with friends. Friends that like music. It’s great that now I’m able to share that with them because before I used to be one of those guys that doesn’t talk about those things. But now I can, and it’s really enjoyable. And also with friends that aren’t in the classical music world, to talk with them about it.
It’s so interesting– When you think about classical music, there’s two ways to think about it, I think. One is that classical music is just the stuff written prior to 1900 — the really old school guys. But there’s new stuff being written all the time that falls into that model. Where do you land on that?
Well, as I’m very innocently and openheartedly put into this, I accept everything. And, of course, post-modern contemporary music, it’s complicated. It requires a thought process and insight that doesn’t necessarily… It’s really interesting what they have to say, all the composers from all over the world and all the new music. Because this is very complex music. it’s really complex. Like, if anybody is interested in listening to good modern music I would recommend Jim Fassett, "Symphony of the Birds." It’s really beautiful… with real birds.
How do they pull that off?
You’ll see. You’ll see. Go to Spotify. It’s on there. Or YouTube.
It’s interesting watching the show being aware that many of those actors are not necessarily trained musicians. I was trying to think, what’s tougher–?
Learning which instrument is tougher?
Not necessarily which instrument is tougher, but learning how to act like you’re playing an instrument versus learning how to act like you’re conducting.
I think for all of us there’s two who have had the most difficult job, which is Joel [Bernstein] and Saffron [Burrows]. Joel playing the violin and Saffron playing the cello. Because the cello is pretty big. You know, it’s very graphic. You see the bow. You have to follow it the way everybody else is doing it. And if you look at somebody’s face you see where their hand is standing. So, you can really tell how they’re grabbing the strings here and the bow. For example the violin, it’s a really complicated one because if you’re not used to it, it’s not very ergonomic. You put it here [mimes an incorrect placement of a violin] and this sells it out. To be correct, it has to be a little bit more like this. And the flow of it. Fortunately, I don’t have to [play]. I have to conduct.
So, conducting is easier?
It’s not that it’s easier. It’s that it’s perhaps more immediate, but again, it’s more fragile and more vulnerable because you’re really doing it with yourself. At least with an oboe you can hide a little bit. Or a flute, you can hide a little bit. But they’ve done such a great job. I think it would be great to tell everybody how much we’ve learned. We started to learn a little bit of our instruments. And to learn a bit of what we do.
Do you end up goofing around in between takes?
Yeah. Oh yeah. Completely.
What are the odds a jam band will get together at some point?
I mean the thing is, sometimes we can play the music that we’re playing because there’s real musicians in the orchestra. So, sometimes it’s like, "Okay. Should we go for it?" [Sings Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.] You know, they know this and this music. They know all these pieces without having to rehearse them.
One of the things that I really like about the show is that no matter what the personal problems these people have, they are all incredibly talented and incredibly dedicated musicians. That’s always really exciting — to see someone who is completely committed to a creative art, seeing them at the top of their game.
It’s really strange. It’s really nice to get an approach into a world that is so complex. A work of art that is so sophisticated in the way it’s put together that it’s just– I don’t even know how to… We are so lucky, so privileged to be able to do this. And to put it into a show, it’s great because there’s a lot of people connecting. People who like music already, and people who don’t like music are connecting to this world of classical music as well.
I’m not necessarily a classical music person, but watching the show definitely does reconstruct the world in a way where you feel like you can enter really easily.
Yeah. Yeah. It is very accessible. Even though it seems that it is very high art. No. It’s quite accessible. The problem is it’s a world of difference, like theater in a way. Film. Theater. At the end of the day, being in the hall, it’s the whole experience.
Definitely. It’s interesting, the fact that your character, his function almost represents stripping down the pretensions of classical music. It’s just really a celebration of the music. In terms of approaching the character, I read that he’s based on an existing composer–
It’s kind of inspired loosely on [Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo] Dudamel.
In terms of constructing that character from the beginning — because he is so specific as a person — was he on the page perfectly formed or did you get to work with the writers?
We play a lot. And we improvise a lot and we’ve been building it from the beginning, We’re still building it every day because new perspectives open up and new challenges happen, so I think we’re all, like, "Where is this guy going?" And I don’t know. But I kind of know more or less the psychology of the character. I can’t put it into words, but I know what the character would do in a situation like this. I know where he would sit. I know what he would drink. I know how he would order room service. I know what he would order.
That’s exciting. How do you feel that he’s evolved in Season 2?
He becomes a little bit more grounded in that he really tries to make this orchestra sound good because it’s not that good. And he really struggles to make it sound good. But he runs into the situation of real life meeting the art.
There’s that challenge you see in depicting creative people; that question of, "In order to be brilliant, do you have to be an asshole?" Is that something that you guys dig into here?
I think that that’s an archetype they fight against, as well. For some person it probably works — the "you have to be an asshole" kind of thing. But I don’t know. I feel like love and respect are the same thing.
What’s it like being a part of this ensemble?
It’s a great group of people. They’re all really talented. We’re all getting into this as well with a very open heart and a very soft mind. We’re quite moved by everything we do and we help each other out. We are there for each other. Lola [Kirke] is a great person. She’s fantastic. We get along so well. And I get to do a lot of scenes with her.
It is a big ensemble, but it seems like so many of the scenes are just one or two people…two or three people maximum…is that something you’ve caught? Do you like that?
I just realized it, as well, you were mentioning it. Oh, yeah. That’s true. There’s very few moments that we’re all together. It’s when we’re performing, basically, that we’re all together.
What’s the difference between playing a one-on-one scene versus one of those bigger ensemble scenes?
In general, it’s a bit more boring to do a one-on-one.
Not boring. But it gets tedious drama — back and forth, back and forth kind of thing. With more people it gets more chaotic and fun. But at the same time now, that’s just an abrupt sort of generalization. Is there a difference? No. Not really. But with more people it’s exciting, because we don’t get the chance to do it that often.
For you, looking forward to a potential Season 3, what’s a direction you’d love to see the show go?
Well, I mean this time we toured Latin America. Definitely, we need to tour all the world. We need to tour Europe. I would love to– There’s many worlds of music that we haven’t touched. We haven’t done Bach. And that’s complicated. Bach is a world of surprises. And we haven’t done Chopin. We haven’t done many of the Baroques, who are very complicated. And we haven’t done opera. So, maybe.
When you talk about it like that, there’s so many different directions for it to go.
And still from the classical time or the romantic time…I mean the neo-classical…there’s just so much that we haven’t done. We’ve tried to have a piano concerto but then we changed it to a violin concerto. We haven’t done a pianist. And that’s going to be interesting as well.
Is that coming up?
No. I don’t know. I’m just thinking stuff. There’s so many ways to go still. So many ways to go. Chamber music, as well. We haven’t done it. It’s always nice to have four instruments. Five instruments.
Beyond the music, is there stuff you’d like to see the show try? Or is there a show without the music?
Yeah. I think so. But at the same time it’s great to have the music as a guideline. Every piece has a relationship with what we’re doing. That’s really nice, as well…of what’s happening in real life, you know? So, the thing is that outside of the music we can go any direction. I mean who can stop us? In a way, it’s incredible. I love it. I love it.
"Mozart in the Jungle" Season 2 premieres December 30 on Amazon Prime.