At the Cannes Film Festival, Adam Driver talks about singing, surrealism and Annette
In Leos Carax’s Annette, a rock opera of enchanting madness, Adam Driver sings in very strange places. On a motorbike. At sea. In the midst of love.
Annette, as you might expect, caused a stir at the 74th Cannes Film Festival, where her opening night premiere drew a wide range of reactions. As you might expect, opinions tend to differ on the absurd but heartfelt 140-minute musicals of elaborate melodrama written by Sparks (pop duo Ron and Russell Mael) and starring a Shiny Baby (the titular Annette). rendered in the form of a puppet.
And yet, if anyone can agree on anything about Annette, it’s that Driver is really good at it. Extraordinary, even. For an actor inclined to fully embark on the visions of filmmakers, this may be a new pinnacle of rigorous engagement. Even in Annette’s most extravagant parts, Driver is fiercely dedicated and intensely physical. He goes all out. And those more unusual places for singing, like in the middle of oral sex? Another new experience.
“It’s very singular,” says Driver. “Like: I won’t do that again” – and then he laughs – “most likely.”
The driver was in Cannes only briefly. Immediately after sharing a cigarette with Carax during Annette’s applause, he took off to return to film White Noise in Ohio with Noah Baumbach. But a few hours before the premiere, he met for an interview on the balcony of a hotel on the Croisette in Cannes. His head, he said, was completely immersed in the white noise.
But Annette is something different, even for the eclectic pilot. He signed it seven years ago after Carax, the French filmmaker of the blissfully crazy Holy Motors, contacted him after only seeing him in Girls.
“I’ve been talking about this movie for seven years,” says Driver. “So there’s also a sense of relief to have someone looking at it somewhere. I’m relieved it’s out.
Annette will open in theaters on August 6 and debut August 20 on Amazon Prime. In it, Driver plays a famous comedian named Henry McHenry who puts on a grim physical spectacle, nicknamed “The Ape of God”, while wearing a boxing robe. (The conductor modeled his movements on those of a gorilla.) His wife is Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), an equally famous opera singer. Each evening, Henry “kills” his audience while Ann saves them by dying at the end of each performance.
The mix of Carax and Sparks sensitivities is hard to describe, but everything about Annette is heightened, surreal, self-aware – except for the performances. “Even though it sounds surreal, I can’t play surreal,” says Driver.
Ron Mael told reporters in Cannes that talks with Carax started very early on with the film’s tone. “We were happy to hear, because it’s kind of a shared belief, that the characters should be sincere in what they say, that they shouldn’t be left behind,” Mael said, “It’s really important and separate from so many other kinds of modern musicals.
It opens with the Maels themselves leading Carax and company in a walk out of a recording studio singing “So May We Start?” But from that moment on, the performances no longer have the slightest trace of a wink. When romance darkens after the birth of the puppet Annette – gifted from the start with a beautiful singing voice – the film slides into tragedy and, perhaps, into the heart of artistic creation.
Justin Chang for The Los Angeles Times wrote that the film “Belongs to Driver” and that it “rarely seemed more imposing in its physique, more bottomless in its capacity for rage and deception.” Eric Kohn, for IndieWire, called Driver a “disturbed force of nature.”
For the first time Driver is a producer. He stayed with Annette, even if that meant waiting seven years – the length of her entire Star Wars run.
“When someone like that wants you to make a movie, is it like you don’t?” It is so obvious. I’m just trying to do things that aren’t obvious to me, ”says Driver. “I didn’t always follow my own advice. But it must be so obvious. Do you want to work with the Coen brothers? Yes of course. Or Scorsese where it’s going to be in Japan? Yes of course. So it was easy to stay engaged. “
Driver was particularly drawn to Carax’s famous 2012 fantasy, Holy Motors, which, like Annette, is about the imagination and the nature of performance.
“In all of his films, it seems that his actors have such freedom – which turned out to be true,” he says. “He’s also good at balancing that with incredible choreography. He likes to sort through the details of the impulses and then suddenly he’s choreographing a dance. When I watch his films, they look like freedom.
Driver tends to be more comfortable talking about the directors he works with than his own acting. About Carax, he describes the director’s notes as soft lyrics, “almost whispers”. After a scene, he sometimes realized that Carax had played it by his side, and was now out of breath. But as to what Driver personally clings to Annette?
“I don’t know myself. I get totally lost in the details of the cinema, the technical aspects of it, ”he says. “What it means or what it means or what the film is to me, I don’t often analyze.”
Driver sings almost all the time in Annette, a performance that follows in the footsteps of his Oscar-nominated tour in Baumbach’s Marriage Story, which reached an astonishing climax with Driver’s character singing “Being Alive” from the Steven Sondheim company. Before that, Driver’s musical debut was more ironic, as part of the “Please Mr. Kennedy” recording session in The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis.
“I don’t have a project or necessarily interest in singing in films again. I always like it in the movies, ”says Driver. “People sing in life – I mean, they broke into song. But we don’t communicate through song. In a way, it seems more appropriate. There is something more vulnerable about this.
But Driver, who was Marine before devoting himself to comedy, is not unaware of Annette’s craziest dimensions. How did he describe it to his friends and family?
He’s laughing. “It’s just your fantastic baby musical.”
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