Norah Jones on My Blueberry Nights: The RT Interview
The American songstress talks Wong Kar-Wai.
This is your first acting job, straight into a starring role. You're surrounded by some of the most talented actors around at the moment -- was that intimidating at all?
Norah Jones: No... I mean, I felt definitely they were more confident in what they do -- they know what's going on and I don't, but they're all really easy to work with and such nice, normal people, and they really made me feel comfortable. Also, they're great actors, so I believed their characters -- especially because I didn't really know them. We got to know each other as we were shooting, but in the beginning I didn't really know Natalie Portman, and I'm wasn't really thinking "That's Natalie." I was thinking, "Wow, that's an interesting character -- what a weirdo!"
But before you got on set, did you feel the need to study?
NJ: I did, I felt the need to study acting, and I wanted to do a good job -- I wasn't taking it lightly, and I didn't want to be laughed at if I could help it! I found a good acting teacher, and I asked [Wong Kar-Wai], "Can you tell me what to work on? Can you tell me something about the story, the character, anything?" He said, "No, and I don't want you to take acting lessons -- I think you should stop. It's okay, you'll be fine -- you're a natural." And I'm saying, "How do you know that? You don't know that! You've never seen me do anything!" He was so sure of himself though that I just believed him, so I stopped.
Were you afraid of becoming a name on the list of failed singer-turned-actors?
NJ: No, because I don't think I'm doing the kind of film here... this is not Glitter, first of all. It's not all about me, as a singer or whatever -- it certainly doesn't have the same kind of pressure attached to it for me.
Wong Kar-Wai has said that he built Elizabeth's character from hearing your voice. Did he then try to change you to become the character, or was it all about fitting the character to you?
And the rest is all you?
NJ: Yeah. He would even change things sometimes, if my reaction wasn't honest -- I'm kind of bad at faking things, so maybe in a typical film I wouldn't be good at acting. It's pretty obvious when I'm not genuine, and he knows that. He never wanted me to fake anything, which again was why having such great actors around was good -- I could honestly react to their character, because I believed them.
So given that he cast you from your singing, do you see a connection between your songs and his films?
NJ: Somebody who saw the film said to me once, "I really liked the film, it was like a very sweet ballad." And of course, I sing a lot of quiet ballad music, so there's a similarity there. Chungking Express is not a ballad, that's a different kind of movie, but certainly some of his movies are melancholy, and slow moving, and subtle. Likewise, I think the way I make music is with a lot of subtleties that people don't always catch - but to me they're there, and of course I make melancholy, quiet music. That's the only relation I can think of. I think mood-wise it can be similar, but not everything -- not when I sing country music, maybe!
Do you feel there's anything in common between the way he filmed the women in this film and the women in his Hong Kong films? Do you think there's a way he looks at women?
NJ: I do, but I'm not sure if I could put it into words... I think he admires women very much, and it's a womanly thing. Whenever I was doing the stuff in New York with Jude Law, he would always make me more womanly, because I'm kind of a dude; I don't really carry myself as a woman, you know? I'm not like that - some people are just like that. So he was constantly trying to get me to move a hair on my neck, and then tell me to wipe it away in the middle of a scene, stuff like that. He definitely tends towards the beauty of the feminine thing, I think.