“A Late Quartet” star Catherine Keener talks about making beautiful music with Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Catherine Keener and costars in "A Late Quartet" (Photo: RKO Pictures)
Lust, competition, mortality: they all come together in "A Late Quartet." It's the magnetic star-driven story of a fictional famed string quartet that implodes when its cellist, Peter (Christopher Walken), discovers he suffers from Parkinson's. After 25 successful years touring the globe, this marriage of musicians, and the marriage of the viola player, Juliette (Catherine Keener) and the second violinist Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) come to a crescendo. Meanwhile the first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir) mentors the couple's daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots) all the way into her bedroom.
Betrayal, harmony, ambition, belated coming of age and dedication become variations on themes that transcend musicians and result in a stirring chamber piece impeccably played for four terrific actors. I talked to Keener ("the 40-year-old Virgin," "Friends with Money") about keeping the beat, the great Christopher Walken (Oscar nomination please!) and playing Philip Seymour Hoffman's wife — again:
Thelma Adams: Did you have musical experience prior to playing a musician?
Catherine Keener: I play the viola now. The only instrument I ever picked up was for this movie. In my upbringing, playing an instrument wasn't afforded me. We had a radio and I could always turn on the radio and nobody could stop me from that. I'm very connected to music. Today I'm listening to Mojave 3 because I'm in a mellow mood. Yesterday I listened to A Tribe Called Quest. I love hip hop. I love gangster rap. My thirteen-year-old son thinks it's hilarious.
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TA: What about your co-stars: can Christopher Walken play the cello?
CK: He doesn't play the cello but he loves music. He's a graceful person. He's a dancer. If you see him in that Spike Jonze video, his partner is the music.
TA: Contemporary audiences have become used to the wild-man, "Seven Psychopaths" Walken, and this performance is so much richer. He deserves a supporting actor nomination. The last time he won was in 1979 for "The Deer Hunter."
CK: It's such a complicated role — and that's who Chris is: an elegant eloquent gentle man. He also has a very good sense of humor. Whenever I say I'm working with Christopher Walken to another actor, they say, "That's prime!" Everybody wants to work with him. He has the utmost respect no matter what the role is, how crazy the character. He is just pure. Though the character is unusual for him, Peter is actually very close to who Chris is.
TA: And then you play the wife and quartet partner of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who seems like a lock for a best supporting actor nom for "The Master," although he's brilliant in "A Late Quartet":
CK: We've worked together before. We're great, great friends. I'm always excited to go to work when Philip's there. We feel very safe with each other. When you feel that way as an actor you can go as far as you can.
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TA: Playing husband and wife seems to carry its own freight. Last summer, I interviewed Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones for their marriage counseling movie, "Hope Springs." During the interview, Jones had his arm protectively over the back of Streep's chair. When he was prickly, she gave him a gentle chiding look, as if they were still a married couple.