Norah Jones, Thespian
(from brinkzine.com 4/2/08)
- Norah Jones stills
It's big news in film circles that the celebrated Wong Kar Wai chose to come to America to make his first English-language film. Moreover, his choice for the leading lady of the dreamlike "My Blueberry Nights" was Grammy-winning singer Norah Jones, who had no acting experience at all. As a young women who leaves New York City and travels across America in search of herself and a true love (not realizing she left him behind in New York) after her heart is broken by a cheating lover, Jones acts in the same low-key style in which she sings. But she looks pretty, seems sweet, and safely plays an observer of people, which allows her talented supporting cast—Jude Law (as the diner owner who wins her by serving her blueberry pie), David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, and Natalie Portman—to do most of the emoting. I was at the press conference held this week for the movie, which comes out Friday. These are the questions Norah was asked.
Q: Nora, why did you pick this to be your debut film?
Norah Jones: I got off tour and learned Wong Kar Wai wanted to meet with me. I loved two of his movies so I said okay. I didn't know what he wanted—I thought that maybe he wanted music. And he asked me to be in his film. To be honest, I don't know why I said yes because there was no script, there was no story, there was no cast! I had not idea what the movie was going to be, but I thought, "This guy is an artist, and I trust him." I definitely think a lot of people will see this film that maybe haven't seen his other films because it's in English and it has actors they are familiar with. That's the goal.
Q: It's a lyrical film where the score sets the tone. What was your input in regard to the soundtrack?
NJ: My director sent me a lot of location-shot photos before we started filming and asked me to pick some music that I thought would fit. I knew only a little about the story at that time but I knew we would be going to Memphis. So I chose Otis Redding; and Cat Power because I thought the album she made in Memphis was great. And I suggested a Cassandra Wilson cover of a "Harvest Moon," a Neil Young song. Those are what I suggested and Wong used them throughout the shoot to set the mood and to choreograph the action with the camera. It's nice that those three artists are part of the soundtrack because it wouldn't be the same film with different music. He chose all the rest of the music.
Q: Wong Kar Wai is known for an exact, particular way of filming, so was that incongruous with you, coming from jazz?
NJ: He is known for being meticulous but I actually think his filmmaking style is very similar to jazz and to making music in that way. He knows what he wants but he's very open to interpretation. If something's not working he'll move on until it is working. He'll do something else. I actually think his style is very musical. I've never worked with another director so I can't compare, but from everything I've heard, his style is more fluid.
DP: Did you relate to Lizzie's search for identity?
NJ: I related to that a lot. I just turned twenty-nine but still consider myself youngish. The past ten years have been a big leap, from nineteen till now. Even though I had a lot of success and was making music for people when I was twenty-two, I didn't know if that's what I wanted to do I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I'm still searching.
Q: How was it working with Jude Law?
NJ: Fabulous! He's really just a nice guy. He'd tell jokes between takes and made me feel very comfortable at a time I was very unsure of myself because my first few scenes were with him.
Q: How many pies did you eat in your scenes with him at the diner?
NJ: Too many. My face was really sticky filming that shot when he kisses off the crumbs.
DP: How did the stories of Arnie and Sue Lynn (Strathairn, Weisz) and Leslie (Portman) impact on Lizzie so that she retunred home?
NJ: I think Elizabeth observing all these characters she meets in her travels, especially Arnie, helps her realize things. She learns from other people's mistakes, and from their humanness and beauty. She learns a lot about herself that way.
Q: Have you caught the acting bug and plan on doing something else?
NJ: Maybe if another special film came along and I could have another great experience. I don't really know. I like my day job. I loved doing this film and gave it all of myself but it would take a lot for me to do it again.
Q: As you said, you filmed scenes in Memphis. What should a person do there?
NJ: You should go to Gus's Fried Chicken and order twelve pieces so that you can save some for later in your hotel room. And you should go eat ribs at either Central BBQ or Cozy Corner, and you should go to Wild Bill's and hear music and dance. You should also go to Sun Records and Graceland. We didn't have time to do any of that while shooting, but we did have the food delivered.
Q: If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
NJ: Well, I've been busy the past few years working, so when I finally had an opportunity to take a vacation I actually went camping in Big Ben National Park, down at the border between the United States and Mexico. I went there as a child and again recently and it was pretty spectacular.
Q: Are you planning your next album?
NJ: I have no plans for my next album, no idea...we'll see. I have no plans at this moment other than to stay at home for a while and relax
Q; What do you like doing now that you're taking time off?
NJ: I'm taking a pottery class. I like doing normal stuff—go out and hear music, watch Dexter.
Q: The music industry today is different from the one you stepped into. Do you seeing any changes that make you hopeful?
NJ: There are two sides to that coin. Record labels aren't going to make as much money, big artists aren't going to make as much money. But the time is great for the small indie bands who can get their music out there on the internet. I think something positive will happen.
Q: Who are your musical influences?
NJ: Lots of people!
DP: Dolly Parton and Hank Williams?