Mozart in the Jungle promises orchestrated mayhem

By Catherine McGregor

It was the surprise hit of the Golden Globes, winning Best Television Comedy and Best Actor for Gael Garcia Bernal. Catherine McGregor speaks to the cast and crew of Mozart in the Jungle.
Gael Garcia Bernal as the charmingly demented conductor, Rodrigo.
Gael Garcia Bernal as the charmingly demented conductor, Rodrigo.

What happens when your dreams come true - and then you realise your dreams have changed? It's a question at the heart of the new season of Mozart in the Jungle, a comedy-drama about the surprisingly exciting lives of classical musicians.

Last year we followed oboist Hailey (Lola Kirke) as she fought her way into a symphony orchestra; this year, she begins to have doubts.

"In an orchestra, you fight so hard to get that job, to become tenured - and then you're just there for decades," says Jason Schwartzman, who co-created the show alongside his cousin, the writer and director Roman Coppola. "You have a person trying to get to that point, succeeding, and then saying, 'Woah, do I want to commit to this? Do I really want it?'"

The series, made for Amazon Studios in the United States and streaming on Lightbox here, explores the personal relationships and professional rivalries inside the fictional New York Symphony Orchestra.

Inspired by former oboist Blair Tindall's 2006 memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music, it's a deft blend of workplace drama, romantic comedy and magical-realist flight of fancy. A recurring motif is the contrast between on-stage discipline and off-stage tumult: once the curtain falls, the musicians hive off to wild parties, one-night-stands and strip clubs.

More often than not, the craziness is instigated by the orchestra's charmingly demented conductor, Rodrigo, played by Gael Garcia Bernal.

This season the series decamps to Mexico for two episodes, including a romantic sequence in which Rodrigo shows Hailey around his home town.

In reality, the Mexican-born actor, who shot to fame in the movies Y Tu Mama Tambien and The Motorcycle Diaries, wasn't able to act as tour guide. "What I hadn't realised before we went to Mexico was that he gets mobbed there," says Kirke.

It's likely the smoky-voiced actress (the younger sister of Girls star Jemima Kirke) will soon be stopping crowds herself. She earned excellent reviews as the lead in Noah Baumbach's indie comedy Mistress America and recently wrapped filming of the drug thriller Mena, starring Tom Cruise.

The parallels with her Mozart in the Jungle character, also a young creative on the rise, are fascinating. "In season one Hailey was just happy to be there," says Kirke. "Now she has more of a sense of direction. She relates to her colleagues more as equals, but she's still a little green. She trips up a lot. There's no better way of showing you don't know anything than being someone who thinks they know everything."

Hailey may still be finding herself, but she's at least relatively sane. While Rodrigo and drug-fuelled composer Thomas (Malcolm McDowell) indulge their artistic manias, the women of the orchestra do their best to hold it all together. The show's roll-call of impressive female characters includes symphony president Gloria (Broadway legend Bernadette Peters) and Cynthia (Saffron Burrows), an uber-cool bisexual cellist.

"Luckily the men who make this show really love women," says Kirke.

One of those men is director and executive producer Paul Weitz (About a Boy, Grandma). "We're not giving the women characters plotlines where they fight over a man," he says.

"It's purposeful to us to avoid that crap. There's rivalry between women, but it's on a professional level. These female characters are so rich and the actors are so smart, they know their character so well," says Schwartzman. "We rely on them. As writers, it's like opening a door for a dog who wants to go outside and run: 'Go!' That's when a scene feels best, when you just give the actors the acreage to explore."

For Schwartzman, best known for his frequent collaborations with director Wes Anderson, this season will be memorable for a number of reasons. He'd already found success as an actor, musician (his band Phantom Planet performed California, the theme song to teen drama The O.C.) and screenwriter - he co-wrote Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited - and now he's now made his television directing debut.

He says it was a long time coming. "Part of me was like, I really want to do this, but there had never been a story that was like 'tell me'," he says, stretching out his arms dramatically. "But Roman and Paul convinced me I should just do it."

He says that technically this isn't his first directing gig, citing a self-penned "crazy drug epic" he made, aged 10. "It was called One Man, One Reality and featured guns and bags and bags of cocaine." The violent story was inspired, Schwartzman claims, by the movies he watched on TV. Movies like The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, his uncle.

Mozart in the Jungle is also something of a family affair. Schwartzman and Roman Coppola tapped yet another member of the extended clan for a cameo appearance this season, persuading the opera conductor Anton Coppola, their great-uncle, to play a retired musician.

"He brought all his own belongings and we filled the set, his character's home, with them. I was just sitting there asking him questions and talking. He's so sharp, he's got every memory just right there and he's almost 99. It's incredible the things he's done, the people he's known.

"The way these family stories are passed down through the generations, it's beautiful. They're like music in that way."

Lowdown

What: Mozart in the Jungle, season 2
Where & when: Available now on Lightbox

- TimeOut

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