“Mozart in the Jungle,” for the second year in a row, holds the title of Most Critically Acclaimed TV Show To Be Released in The Last Week of the Year. The Golden Globe-nominated comedy starring Gael Garica Bernal, Malcolm McDowell, Lola Kirke, Saffron Burrows and Bernadette Peters (among many others) continued, in its second season, to delve behind the curtain of a New York symphony, but also expanded its scope by bringing in new characters and traveling to new locations.
The Amazon Studios original series, based on the book by Blair Tindall, is executive produced by Paul Weitz, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman (the latter two being, in case you weren’t aware, cousins), who collaborate intensely together on the show.
Indiewire got Weitz and Coppola on the phone during the Christmas break to learn more about shooting in Mexico City, what the show has in common with the films of Ernst Lubitsch and what it’s like to write at Talia Shire’s dining room table. An edited compilation of their thoughts is below.
A Story About Artists
ROMAN COPPOLA: Ultimately, this is a show about people. It’s a big family of artists coming together to do this endeavor, and the relationships between them. So, that could be transposed, I suppose, to some other setting. But we do get inspiration from the classical music, and the things that spark the stories come from that. Although, of course, there are relationships that exist beyond the work that they do. But I feel it springs out of this endeavor that they’re all embarked on.
PAUL WEITZ: [The show] needs this beautiful music. The whole show is scored with classical music. There’s a certain amount of contemporary stuff, but there’s a point in the last episode where Bernadette Peters turns to Malcolm McDowell and says, “Have I killed the thing? Have I killed the thing that I love the most?” And Malcolm says, “You can’t kill that. It was here a long time before you were here and it will be here a long time after we’re gone.”
The show is about the great passion of art and it’s a great way to manifest that, with music. I don’t think this one particular show could exist without it being that, because it needs to be contemporary. People devoting themselves to something that’s been going on for hundreds of years.
COPPOLA: The thing about classical music is that’s just not something you can do casually. It feels like when you’re a professional football player or something. You have to train for years and years. The folks who have the ability to do this, it is such a commitment and the people that do decide to take on the commitment as we portray with our characters — particularly Lola [Kirke] as a young person — is your life becomes consumed by it to some degree. You practice five or six hours a day as a young person — what does that do to other aspects of your life and so on? I do think our characters are particular to this world and that makes it particularly interesting for us.
WEITZ: What’s the role of creativity in one’s life? What’s the role of passion, and how much does that overwhelm everything else? In this case, I thought it was really fascinating that someone like Lola Kirke’s character would have chosen an instrument at age five in order to be this good. Who’s to say when you’re age five that you’re making a valid decision for the rest of your life? And also how much can you hide behind your instrument and your creativity. How much can you avoid emotional steps you have to take? So I thought all those things were very interesting.
COPPOLA: When Jason first found the book that inspired the show, it seemed so natural. What a rich, interesting world where there’s so many stories to tell, so many characters colliding with one another. We all know that people of artistic temperament can be a little nutty, manic, colorful and yet there are 80 people in an orchestra led by someone and all the temperaments have to be contained. It’s just a curious combination of forces — all that discipline and skill and the eccentricity and the passions, that are also part of the people who seek out that endeavor.
Classical Music is Essential to the Show
COPPOLA: We realized that the hook of the show is: Is classical music relevant? And we refer, in some of our stories, when [Schwartzman’s] character B Sharpe speaks about: Is classical music dead? That’s a big question in the world of classical music. And that was sort of the hook. We have this super vital guy, Gael’s character, and this slight, stodgy establishment and those two forces budding against each other. So, I guess there’s two points I want to make.
One is we were delighted to hear that this particular conductor who is a little bit snobbish in a friendly way, when he saw the show he said, “I loved it. It was so accurate. I really enjoyed it. The only problem is some of the people didn’t know how to hold their bow in the orchestra. But other than that I totally enjoyed it.” That was wonderful. The conductor enjoyed the show and found it to be enjoyable and reasonably accurate. And then when other people who have enjoyed it become exposed to classical music, and say, “Wow. I love that piece. I’m eager to know about the soundtrack.” That’s particularly gratifying knowing, there’s this little spark of classical music.
WEITZ: Classical music, in general, is trying to redefine itself, with the forefront of that in a way what [conductor] Gustavo Dudamel is trying to do. Dudamel is coming from not a wealthy background. He’s part of this system in Venezuela that brought poor kids into symphony music and he believes that there’s a role for classical music not just with the audience that is, unfortunately, getting older and older, but also with young people. That’s part of why he and other luminaries in the classical music world wanted to be involved with [the show]. They’re hoping that the art form will transform itself in some way.
COPPOLA: Dudamel and Lang Lang and Joshua Bell and Emanuel Ax and these others who participated wanted to participate, from my sense, because they were really pleased that their world was being exposed to other people that normally aren’t familiar with it. So, that’s a real treat when people are drawn to the show for whatever reason. They hear it’s good. They like Gael. They like Saffron. They stick within it and become exposed to classical music and maybe it lives on even further, with them becoming interested in that.
But They Didn’t Know Much About Classical Music Beforehand
COPPOLA: We were exposed in a pretty amazing way. We got to work with Gustavo Dudamel, who has a cameo and attended the performance that Gael conducted at the Hollywood Bowl. And Jason got to work very hand in hand with a lot of notable luminaries in that world — he directed his episode with Lang Lang and Joshua Bell. So we’ve come to learn a lot by doing the show, but didn’t really start out with any particular vast knowledge. Just an appreciation.
WEITZ: I use stuff to write. I used Bach a lot. I use Glenn Gould and the different interpretations of Bach he’s done over the years. And I use some of Bach’s solo cello pieces from Yo-Yo Ma or different cellists. But no, I’m not a particular aficionado. So I’ve learned more while doing the show. I learned more about the story of different composers. In particular, Mahler came to New York. He was sort of an ex-patriot. He and his wife were the rock stars of their era. And he ended up dying young. And falling ill in New York. We were thinking of him, in terms of Gael’s character being an ex-patriot.
COPPOLA: There’s little things that pop up in your history, growing up, that you’re familiar with. In my case, I directed the two episodes that take place in Mexico City and I wanted to have the music that was performed have a relationship with that culture and that country, and so that was an occasion for me to learn about it. So I got to use Danza No. 2 by Marquez. Another beautiful track. These were things I couldn’t have told you six months ago, but in the course of preparing and engaging with the show, we got to learn about that stuff and now share it.
Shooting in Mexico City
COPPOLA: I’d never shot [in Mexico] before. And the crew was excellent. The only hassle was the traffic can be pretty bad there. So getting around takes forever but I guess that’s true in New York and LA as well. But we had a great group and the episodes I was involved with as a director had a nice contrast, because one is set in the heart of the city. It takes place in a pulsing underground — night-time driving around — this kind of caper is unfolding. And the other episode, Season 2, Episode 6, is set in the countryside largely and we got to see another side of Mexico, a more mellow and beautiful, kind of enchanting side. That was something I got to appreciate. Mexico City in particular is a very cosmopolitan place. Great food. Great culture. Great dynamic art scene and just outside is this other much more beautiful setting in touch with nature and that type of thing.
When we were first daydreaming about the second season, knowing of course that Gael is from Mexico City, it seemed so fitting that we’d do something there. That’s what I was excited for. When it was time to choose a director I raised my hand, because I wanted to have that experience.
The Ernest Lubitsch Connection
WEITZ: It was a chance to do a 1930s style comedy. Even if the characters are completely down to Earth, there’s a part of most shows where they’re in black tie. There’s something about the potential cinematic nature of it that really struck me. You can talk about what you want to talk about. Look at “Ninotchka,” talking about Totalitarianism and Consumerism. And yet it’s a delightful, comedic romantic comedy with extremely eccentric supporting characters. That’s the stuff that is almost impossible to do in film nowadays. The great thing is — weirdly — when we were working on the show this last season, it felt like a Lubitsch film in and of itself.
How the Collaboration Worked
COPPOLA: We have a pretty unusual way of [collaborating]. I’ve never been involved with another show so I can’t say, but normally there’s a lead showrunner and everything kind of filters down from that one individual. And with our case there’s three of us predominantly. There are a lot of writers and other people that are very close collaborators. Paul Weitz, Jason and myself are sort of the three collective showrunners. And basically, we all share the various duties.
Each season we kind of each shepherded three and a third episodes. Jason and I are kind of a team. We co-write things and work together closely, but basically, Paul directed three episodes. I directed two and helped write one and supervised the other. Jason directed one and supervised the other two. We all kind of shared in it so there’s kind of a lead person that was responsible to answer the day to day needs but then we all confer and make sure we’re in agreement at which we are.
WEITZ: It was really fun stuff to write. It was really fun for me to collaborate with Roman and Jason because, I don’t usually collaborate. And Alex Timbers [who is credited as a co-creator] is great as well, but he was just less involved because he’s got a very busy theater directing schedule. He’s a fantastic, prominent theater director. And then I did the pilot and it was really lovely.
COPPOLA: I think the first season Jason and Paul — and, of course, we worked with John Strauss on the first season — it was a totally new experience and just kind of day-to-day and finding your way, trying not to fumble. And on this season, we had a bit more preparation. We kind of had more time as writers, and were more organized perhaps. But at the same time, as you probably know from being in the TV world, it’s a very fast-paced thing. Things are changing quickly. You only have five days to shoot an episode.
A Family Affair
WEITZ: I was excited to do it because growing up my mother’s best friend was named Moura O’Brien, who was a Hollywood brat. Her mother and father were film stars, but she was a bass player and she was the first woman hired for the New York Philharmonic. She was hired by Leonard Bernstein in the 60s and she was the first woman hired for a permanent position in the New York Philharmonic. And she’s still in the Philharmonic. And so for over 50 years I’ve had this image in my head of this striking six-foot-tall woman with a long black ponytail who plays bass in an orchestra. And she would occasionally tell anecdotes about traveling with the orchestra or in’s and out’s about how people were getting along with the conductor at the moment, and it really struck me as a rich terrain for a show.
COPPOLA: Jason and I — we’re cousins, and so our grandfather was a composer and conductor and our great-uncle Anton Coppola is a noted conductor who appears in our show. So we were exposed to music and come from a culture of family that appreciates all art, but in particular music. And there are a lot of musicians in our family. But beyond that I don’t have an intimate knowledge of all the different pieces and composers and so on. I’m drawn to it. I’m curious about it.
WEITZ: We did most of the work on the season in Jason’s mother’s dining room. And so Jason’s mom, the renowned actress Talia Shire, was wandering in and sharing anecdotes about her father, who was a flutist for Toscanini, and her crush, when she was a kid, on Toscanini. All sorts of crazy anecdotes and stuff. Jason would be there with his dog, and we’d be wandering and circling this gigantic wooden table with a bunch of cards laid down on it. That in and of itself felt like the three communists who joined Greta Garbo in “Ninotchka.”
“Who Cares When It Launches?”
COPPOLA: I feel like Amazon is leading the charge in terms of how to release it and when to release it. I know that in my family, this time of year is the time of year that we all watch movies and gather around to view things, so it does make sense in this holiday period to release it. A lot of people are kind of huddled around and enjoying watching things with their family during the break. So, it makes sense to me. Obviously, there’s so much stuff out there. One hopes that there will be enough curiosity to have people put this high on their list to watch it. This seems like a good time to me as a far as I know.
WEITZ: I think the great thing about streaming is that if what you genuinely care about is people eventually watching the show, who might enjoy it, then who cares when it launches?
“Mozart in the Jungle” Season 2 is now available to stream on Amazon.
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