Few scenes in writer-director Todd Field Tarr 's provocative masterpiece have the audience talking and sometimes violently arguing—not least the first confrontation between Cate Blanchett's brilliant conductor Lydia Tarr and her Juilliard student Max. Filmed with stunning visuals, the ten-minute episode begins gracefully enough with Lydia manipulating the space in her own unique way, with several impressive music students tuning in to her every expression.
But then he focuses on Max – a handsome young student played by Zetfan Smith-Gneist – who is clearly not interested in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. "As a BIPOC pangender," says Max, "I have issues with Bach, and wasn't he a misogynist anyway?" Thus, a sharp conflict between generations began. "If you want to dance the mask," said Tar, "you have to serve the composer. You have to sublimate yourself. Your ego and, yes, your personality." In the end, Max storms out of the classroom in disgust, falling to the floor regardless of Lydia's holding up some pedestal.
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Smith-Gneist (21) was born in New York but moved to Berlin after her parents divorced, where she was raised by her mother, actress Eme Gneist. He encouraged her to take action by showing some of her favorite movies. (He cites Gary Oldman's performance in " Leon : The Professional " and Christoph Waltz's work in "The Faceless Bastards " as two of his favorites.)
Acting is relatively new for Smith-Gneist, who only started doing it during the pandemic. Shortly after turning 18, he landed a regular role in Druck , a German series about a group of teenage friends. Then came news of an audition for a mysterious new film with Cate Blanchett in the world of classical music – well, the rest of her story hasn't been written yet. He hasn't seen Tara yet. (Opens in Germany only in February.)
But that didn't stop the American public from sitting back and taking notice. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Smith-Gneist for her first interview, where she talked about everything from learning to speak American to dealing with her nervous legs for hours.
How did you first hear about auditioning for Tár ?
I got a letter from my agent saying, "This is an audition, it's a great movie, Cate Blanchett and Nina Hoss." And it was a great title. “And it's about music. If you're interested, let me know and send me an audition as soon as possible." Try not to get too excited when you get these messages. Oh, and he also said, "Really intense scenes, a lot to play with Cate Blanchett." So I sent the first audition tape. .
Did they send you the scene or the whole script?
I just have a scene. Here's what I know about this movie so far. They really kept it a secret. I met Noémie Merlan (who plays Francesca, Lydia Tar's long-suffering assistant) on set one day and we were talking about the movie and she was talking about Tara, the character, and I was really interested and she said, “Come on. do you have a script Do you know anything about the movie? I'm like, "I have no idea what that is."
I didn't even know what the tone of that movie was, it was actually very exciting because it helped me see the scene as a whole without context. It was like a musical with a certain direction in my head and that's all I really knew. As soon as I saw the first teaser trailer, I thought, “Wow. Which one?! "I didn't know it happened. And I still don't know. I haven't seen the movie yet as it was released in Germany on February 23rd and I want to watch it with my friends and family.
Does the trailer make you go "Wow?"
The images were very intense. I was thinking Black Swan , I don't know. Someone on the set told me that the movie was a thriller or something psychological, but for some reason I didn't believe it. I said, “Well, that sounds weird. How can it work? But when I saw the trailer, I thought, " Wow , this looks special."
How did you end up playing Max?
It was the longest and most difficult audition process I've ever been through. I sent a lot of tapes because Todd's vision for the character was incredibly detailed and rich and I needed to get it right. From Max speaking, speaking and acting with the right accent and lilt ? And that tone of character and attitude. So when I got one thing right, something else was missing. When he played well, the noise was low. He wanted more noise. It was great. So you feel completely safe. When my agent called to tell me I got the part, I jumped out of bed and ran around the apartment in my underwear screaming, "Yes!" It was beautiful.
Who sings Lydia Tar on the audition tapes? she was your mother
Yes, she was my mother. And wow, he was patient because he had a lot to do and he had more to say on stage than I did – this big monologue. There came a moment that he knew by heart. It will be very interesting for him to watch a scene from the movie.
It's my first time interviewing a filmmaker and I can't spoil what's going on.
Yeah, it's fun, isn't it? This is strange.
You can tell from this scene that this is no ordinary scene. It builds up to a really controversial climax. Then let's go shoot. What's going on?
It wasn't like a typical shooting day. I felt something different right from the start. First, I had running shoes because Todd wanted everything to be as realistic as possible. So I had to learn how to behave. And then we had two full days of rehearsal. That's when I met Kate and Todd. The three of us rehearsed two days in a row from morning to night, then filmed the scene for two days in a row from morning to night. We shot this scene – this shot – for two days in a row, from morning to night. And I never went on stage.
Halfway through the first day of practice, Todd sat down and said, "Hmm, I think we should do it all at once." This is a dirty scene. There is actually a real reason and purpose behind this decision which is so effective.
And what is the reason? Who needs to naturally stir up conflict between you?
Yes, but it also says a lot about character. The scene should look like Tar is directing the scene. He decided to direct the camera to another place. Even when Max shows up, it's only when he points to Max and wants me to say something. There is so much control. I heard that this scene comes back later in the movie, but in a [edited for the web] version. Therefore, it is very important that you, as a viewer, do not miss anything that happened in the original scene. So you know what really happened and how it happened.
The cool thing about this scene is that he's a controller, right? But he wasn't ready for you. You are something else. You just don't match his skills a bit. So it's interesting to see the comparison. This conflict is happening everywhere now. I think that's why this scene resonates so much.
And in the end you just say: "You are an ugly whore ". And he never felt it in his life, I'm sure.
Yes it is true. Yes, you're right – these conversations happen very often, but often on the Internet or in places where it's really easy to do it. But I think that's what makes this scene tense. I think it's personal. This is not their only argument in favor of separating the art from the artist. First it's just this topic, two ideas clashed. But there are many things that make it so intense.
But first, it's incredibly well written. This is the most detailed and beautiful scene I have ever read. But Todd also said something: He saw a scene where Tar talks to a 20-year-old version of himself. There's this new student and he's really trying to understand Max, but Max just doesn't want to.
At one point, he attacks Max's entire identity and beliefs and practically kills Max in front of a live audience. He is not just a normal person or just a celebrity. In fact, this is the man Max is looking at. He is an idol and a hero, which makes him even more devastating. When I first read this scene, I made it clear that this young student is angry because, "You don't understand me, and this is your generation, and you don't understand me, you idiot." But later, when I was working on the scene, I realized that Max was really trying to befriend Tar and make Tar look like them, which was very frustrating.
So if I may ask – do you like Zetfa – who do you like in this scene, Max or Tara?
I think the reason this scene is so beautiful is because it shows us these two people, these two ideas, two sides of the same coin, and the scene just flips a coin and it lands in a different place for everyone. The person watching this scene . That's why I don't want to get involved. I think Max really understands what Tar is talking about. Max understands Tara, but there are only these principles and beliefs and things that Max has built around them as part of their identity, and he just can't accept it. At some point it just breaks. It happens a lot.
I want to ask you a question about your leg on stage.
( laughs ) Yes.
Where does this irritation come from?
The knee is marked on the page where exactly the blow begins, when it is strongest and at what point it stops.
Was it difficult for you to do that, to say your words , to give the speech, and all the other things that Todd Field asked you to do?
Yes, absolutely. I had to do this for almost four days in a row. And the hardest thing is to keep a steady pace, I think. I feel like it's more than ten minutes on stage, but when you're on stage for eight minutes, you can't say, "Oh, I can't take it anymore." It was amazing.
And this is recovery. So you need to maintain a steady pace for 10 minutes.
What did Cate Blanchett say to you to make you feel comfortable enough to do it with her?
He told me I was fine. He also told me that everyone in the room, on the monitor in the back room, was talking about 'I'm fine', which really pushed me. So peaceful and down to earth. Everyone says, "Duke, you must be very nervous or scared." But I wasn't. I am not afraid because he is very humble and down to earth. When he talks to you, he is a humble person like you and me. At least that's what I told myself.
He kept cracking jokes and he has a great sense of humor, which I think helped me feel like I could take a joke, which isn't always the case. I completely forgot who he was until I walked out of the building and saw all these people, fans and photographers waiting for him to come out and I thought, “Damn.
Tar is a great stone for you. I wonder what you will do next?
Oh, me too. I also. I'm really looking forward to it. And this time is very exciting for me now. I'm really like, "Wow, what's next?" There are so many things, just so many… how should I put it?
Say it in German.
So many Eindrücke, die auf mich einprasseln.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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