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Cate Blanchett on Learning How to Play Piano and Conduct for ‘Tár,’ How Movie Depicts the ‘Corrupting Nature of Power’

Cate Blanchett stunned audiences on Monday night at the New York Film Festival with her commanding performance as Lydia Tár — a fictional celebrity composer who experiences a grand fall from grace after her past comes back to haunt her.

When writer-director Todd Fields premiered “Tár” last month at the Venice Film Festival, the film generated instant Oscar buzz and received a six-minute standing ovation. Now, it’s gearing up for a limited release in select theaters later this week.

On the red carpet at the North American premiere of “Tár,” Blanchett spoke with Variety about the parallels between Lydia Tár’s ferocious musical ambitions and her own illustrious acting career.

“Any parallels between my experience and her experience will just be there,” Blanchett said. “I had the experience of running a major cultural institution. Lydia is an artist, too. She’s a musician running, as the film describes, one of the greatest orchestras in the world. With that comes a lot of corporate responsibility, which can have an impact on your relationship to what it is that you do as an artist.”

Blanchett, a two-time Oscar winner for her roles in 2005’s “The Aviator” and 2014’s “Blue Jasmine,” said that she “understood that dynamic” despite not being a musician herself.

“All of the musical terms, the relationship to the score, the ability to conduct and play on the piano — all that stuff I had to learn,” Blanchett said. “Her experience is quite different, but you don’t have to be an artist to understand the corrupting nature of power.”

During a Q&A discussion that followed the “Tár” screening in Alice Tully Hall, Fields revealed that he wrote the entire script with Blanchett in mind — long before she agreed to sign on for the film. The second person to join the project was composer Hildur Guonadóttir, who previously won an Academy Award for her work on “Joker.”

Fresh off her Oscar triumph, Guonadóttir told Variety that she had worked on “Tár” for about 18 months and took a much different musical approach this time around.

“In ‘Joker,’ the music is going along with the character in his quest for madness, so I was painting that picture with him,” Guonadóttir said. “But in this film, the music is very different. This is a film that’s about the process of making music.”

She continued, “The music was really a part of forming the inner tempo of the characters in their musical landscape, which is such a big part of the alignments and misalignments that they’re going through personally in the film.”

The film sees Tár losing her grip over the prestigious symphony orchestra that she runs in Berlin. The composer starts investing her time in a young Russian cellist named Olga (Sophie Kauer), but as crippling allegations detailing harmful behaviors Lydia displayed towards her former pupils begin to surface, their relationship starts to crumble.

Kauer, a cellist from Northern England who learned to speak in a Russian accent by watching YouTube videos, makes her feature film debut in “Tár.” She expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work alongside the “incredible” Blanchett.

“I feel so lucky that I actually got to learn to act from her,” Kauer told Variety. “The amount of effort she put into the conducting and the musical aspects — I was blown away by how she bent over backward for this film.”

Sharing one of the “generous” pieces of advice that Blanchett shared with her on set, Kauer said, “she was always saying to be true to yourself and do what you feel. And that there’s no right and wrong, just several different options.”

While crediting the film’s “amazing” ability to tackle systemic issues that the classical music industry is facing, Kauer said that she loved how the film asks a lot of questions without giving the viewer any answers.

“The audience is meant to go away and think for themselves,” Kauer said. “Change doesn’t come without discussion, and now people are asking and discussing these questions.”

Bina Daigeler, who has over 60 credits as a costume designer extending back almost 30 years, said that she observed power structures in the film industry significantly shift over the last decade.

“If I see something that I don’t like, it’s much easier to bring it up,” Daigeler told Variety. “Ten years ago, when I brought something up, I often was alone and it was hard. And now I know I wouldn’t be alone. It’s now super easy to change or say something.”

Focus Features will release “Tár” in select theaters on Oct. 7, with a wide release scheduled for Oct. 28.



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