Why I Changed My Mind – Saffron Burrows

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Emblazoned in my memory is the image of Saffron Burrows as the kind of vulnerable villainess, who, if memory serves, does redeem herself in the end, in the film Circle of Friends. I haven’t seen the film since its release back in … 1993? 1994? But the image, accurate or not, has remained. Recall if you will that I had misgivings dating back to that film about its starlet, Minnie Driver, as well – and overcame them in a big way. Burrows, as the beautiful temptress, thwarts the whole “inner beauty triumphs” story (at least temporarily) that propels Circle of Friends. And Burrows has been held, in my mind, to that femme-fatale, bad guy standard of the character she played (testament to her performance, though, that it had that kind of staying power) ever since.

My opinion has changed, but it is not like it ever made any dramatic shifts because it is not like I ever hated her or actively avoided her films or multiple recent TV appearances. She has always been sort of low-key, turning up when I was not expecting to see her, and always making an impression. She might fall victim to the misguided idea that beauty of her type could not possibly come with the kind of talent she has. I don’t really know, but seeing her recently in Mozart in the Jungle, I felt oddly moved by her portrayal of Cynthia, a flawed, complicated woman who is seductive and unapologetically in touch with that side of herself but who also gives generously of herself with whatever she can offer. At least that’s how I interpreted her character. Seeing her in this role made me go back and re-evaluate other places I have seen her. There are quite a lot of performances, and none really stand out – but she always brings something different and fresh to her roles.

While I don’t necessarily evaluate actors and other “stars” based on their personal lives, Burrows’ public openness and fluidity about sexuality and relationships has been refreshing. Despite being someone who seems quite private (but also political), she recently revealed that she married her female partner and has long been a voice for equality. Being in the public eye, it’s hard to keep such matters secret, and her love life has been mentioned here and there in the media before (with well-publicized romances with men, such as Alan Cumming, who himself wed his same-sex partner a few years ago. And of course, he was the actual “villain” in Circle of Friends, although villain might be too strong a word!). Burrows exudes a kind of “accepting” vibe – seeming very in control while being open and welcoming. I don’t know her, so this is just imagination. But this is the kind of confidence that her most memorable characters convey (in particular her Mozart character). Worldly but not jaded, a seen-it-all but still loving taking it in attitude.

Considered, reconsidered – I’m really impressed with Burrows. Her work speaks for itself, but by extension, I think her public handling of her relationship and situation is brave in that it can actually be difficult to recognize how and when to “live an honest life” – whatever that means. And sometimes that means not really defining yourself the way people expect you to be defined (that is, putting yourself in one box or another).

Lunchtable TV Talk: Mozart in the Jungle – “Toblerone – it’s my weakness”

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Let me start by stating that there is no actor I can think of who is as blessed with a ready, genuine and overwhelming smile as Gael Garcia Bernal. One might look at him and see the other things that make him attractive – the eyes, for example – but it is the smile that disarms completely.

But then if you just catch a quick glimpse of the man from a distance, sporting a beard and a certain haircut, and think, “Add a Members Only jacket”, you get a passing resemblance to Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I know – it’s not very flattering, and it’s not something one would say if she could see the actor up close. It’s a bit funny considering Gael Garcia Bernal’s role in Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, Rosewater, playing an Iranian-Canadian journalist, Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned in Iran during Ahmadinejad’s time in office.

Given the opportunity to see Gael Garcia Bernal lead an ensemble cast as the most eccentric of what are arguably all eccentric characters (all members or patrons of a New York City orchestra). His character comes along to breathe new life into a staid and loss-making institution, and the story follows his peculiarities as much as it follows several others, including Lola Kirke as the young oboe player, Hailey, who is not quite ready for the big time but acts as an assistant at the orchestra, answering to Garcia Bernal’s character (the new conductor, Rodrigo De Souza) who never fails to pronounce her name as “Jai alai”. By the end of the first season, which I binge-watched on Amazon, Hailey knew how to make maté just the way the Maestro likes it. I won’t spoil anything else about it because it’s simply a slightly addictive glimpse inside the crazy world of orchestral players and all their personal quirks.

There are some great characters and performances and a mini Mozart-Salieri style rivalry between the old guard (the orchestra’s former conductor, played by Malcolm McDowell, being put out to pasture – but not without larger-than-life egotistical monstrosities being put on display, much to the delight of the viewing audience) and the new. Saffron Burrows, about whom I used to have doubts, plays a cellist and a complex woman with plenty of her own issues. Her character, Cynthia, serves as a kind of mentor for the aforementioned Hailey. Bernadette Peters is the trustee of the failing orchestra – by the way, does Peters ever age? She’s undoubtedly had some work done, but it has been subtle and well-done enough that she does not look artificial. Not the point really. I just found myself shocked to see that the woman is almost 70.

I highly recommend this series – I breezed through the first series, and while it’s not a masterpiece or groundbreaking, it is quite entertaining – largely down to its superb cast.

Incidentally, the book upon which the show is based, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, by Blair Tindall, opens the door to a sort of stranger-than-fiction real-life in tabloids kind of story. Tindall, a professional oboist and later journalist and writer, married the famous Bill Nye the Science Guy – and he left the marriage just a few weeks later. It all took an ugly turn when he filed a restraining order against her after she tried to poison his garden (?!). They have had a bunch of legal wranglings ever since. Alas, it is completely off topic except to point out that the source material for the show was clearly rich.