There are lots of levels to fame and celebrity, including almost famous, kinda famous, famous famous and more. Any chart would have to include at its top “Mick Jagger famous.” For well over 50 years he has been the center of his own universe as frontman for the Rolling Stones, easily among the best-known people in the world.
Aside from his day job as a musician, Jagger has long had a hand in the movies as well. His early roles include a reclusive rock star in Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s “Performance” and the titular Australian outlaw in Tony Richardson’s “Ned Kelly.” As a producer he has been involved in such films as “Bent” and “Get On Up” and the HBO series “Vinyl.”
“The Burnt Orange Heresy,” which has returned to theaters after an abbreviated run earlier this year, marks Jagger’s first credited screen role since 2001’s “The Man From Elysian Fields.” The new film was directed by Giuseppe Capotondi and based on a novel by Charles Willeford from a screenplay by Scott B. Smith (an Oscar nominee for “A Simple Plan”) that resets the action from Florida to Italy.
In the film a down-on-his-luck art critic (Claes Bang) is existing on the margins of the art world when he meets a young American woman (Elizabeth Debicki) and invites her to join him on a trip to a wealthy art dealer’s luxurious villa on Lake Como. There the dealer, Joseph Cassidy (Jagger), wants the critic to procure a painting by an enigmatic artist (Donald Sutherland) living on the property. This sets in motion a complex scheme of lies, forgery and murder. In just a few scenes, Jagger brings an aristocratic ease, charm and underlying menace to the role of Cassidy.
As Capotondi said of meeting and working with Jagger, “I was very, very nervous. You can imagine just entering the room where Mick Jagger is sitting, waiting for you. It was quite unnerving, but he’s a simple kind of soul, very nice, very humble, very willing to help. And it was like that on set as well. He wasn’t the rock star, he was just like any other actor. He took it very seriously.”
The film was initially released in early March just as theaters were on the brink of being closed. Now it is back in release around the country, including L.A’s Vineland Drive-In.
Jagger got on the phone from France last week to talk about life during quarantine, his long relationship to movies and what song he would DJ at a political rally.
Q: What has lockdown life been like for you?
A: It’s not really locked down where I am now. Just people are very safe and keep distance. And they wear masks if they go shopping or out anywhere. If you go into a store, you have sanitizer at the door, then you go out another door, if there’s another door. It’s all very organized
Q: The release of “The Burnt Orange Heresy” was cut short and it’s now being rereleased, plus the Rolling Stones had to postpone a series of tour dates. I assume that your life usually is pretty well scheduled, so these last few months must have felt like a real change for you.
A: I’m just the same as everyone else. We’ve all had to change our lives in lots of ways. And even though things have kind of eased up in Europe a lot, opening up and stuff, it was a bit of a shock to the system. Talking about the movie, it was very disappointing that it never got to really come out because the lockdown was the week of release. And then we had to postpone the Stones tour, and so that’s a bit of an unknown factor as to what next year is going to bring — for all parts of the entertainment business, really.
I think films are being shot now in some places and it’s quite difficult to shoot, because there’s so many measures to keep everyone safe. Life on a film set is always a bit fraught anyway, quite often a tight space, tensions, that sort of a thing. And so I’m sure right now shooting is even more difficult, with all the restrictions involved.
But live shows are really something, concerts of every kind, rock, classical and theater, every kind of live show business, so to speak, is obviously going to be one of the last things, I think, that is going to come back to any normality. I mean, it’s just not financially possible to run an opera with 50 people in the theater. So I don’t know what the live show for rock ‘n’ roll or pop music is going to be next year. I don’t see much happening. Maybe this year in some places, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Q: “The Burnt Orange Heresy” is the first credited film role you’ve had since 2001. Was that break intentional? Why were you away from acting for so long?
A: I don’t really know. I never got really offered any decent parts, really. The story of most actors’ lives, I think. I’m glad I don’t have to live off my acting, otherwise I’d be in a one-room attic. I get offered these things but quite often they’re not very interesting or I’m on tour and I can’t do it anyway. When I read the script and I thought, though it wasn’t a very big part, there’s not very many characters in the film anyway. So, it was not a large part but it was a couple of decent scenes, so I thought I could make some sort of impact.
So it was fun. I enjoyed working with the director and everyone was good to work with. It was a good experience. Pretty easy, really. I mean, in terms of my involvement, it wasn’t traumatic or difficult for me. And I was a bit worried about it ’cause I hadn’t acted in so long, it was something like, “How does this work?” I forgot how it worked. “Oh yeah. I become someone else, right.”
But I worked quite hard on it. It was fun to do because it’s a different kind of discipline from performing on a stage in a rock show, still performing but it’s a different kind of performing. And it was quite a lot of words, it was chunks of dialogue to learn, but that’s the same thing as learning songs or doing acting. It’s all the same.
Q: I wanted to ask you about Cassidy’s accent in particular because he sounds very classy, but there are times when he’s being threatening, he really drops his accent and he sounds rougher.
A: Well, I did that deliberately because I got that he’s coming not from a very classy background but in my imagination he’s lived in this milieu, this quite classy milieu, so he’s taken on this persona of slightly more classier than where he comes from, which is what a lot of people do anyway. If you come from a poor place, that means you don’t have to be street-talking the whole time, but then when he becomes more threatening with Claes’ character, he kind of drops it a little bit and becomes a bit more of a kind of London villain — slightly, just for a second, he becomes a threatening London guy rather than how he was.
I did a couple of takes of that in different ways but used the one when I dropped the accent down a class-and-a-half. There’s an accent and his persona changes and this rather affable chap becomes non-affable because in that scene he’s using the carrot and the stick and he’s offering him this job. So he’s kind of enticing and threatening.
Q: Is that at all something you can relate to yourself?
A: It’s a movie, it’s a character in a movie. It’s not me. I’m not at all like any of those things, I’m not an art collector and I don’t live in Italy and I’m not gonna try and ruin someone’s life or steal someone’s picture.
Q: But the Mick Jagger stage persona that we all know, do you consider that a character? Is that itself a form of acting?
A: Yeah, that’s also a character, it’s a multifaceted character. If I’d had a bit more screen time, I could have made him a slightly more multifaceted character. But if I’m onstage, I can be different characters depending on the mood and the song or the emotion that you want to deliver. Obviously, if you’re out in front of 50,000 people, you’re kind of a larger-than-life character. So you’re not sitting talking to one person, like I was sitting talking to Claes in an armchair — you’re basically shouting at everyone.
I’m not like that all the time either, obviously, not this sort of super extrovert stage character. You don’t want to be like that all the time. Otherwise you’d drive everyone crazy around you, as well as drive yourself nuts.
Q: Going back to your role in “Performance” or all the concert documentaries, what is it about movies that you like, that draws you back?
A: When I was a kid, I wasn’t really a movie buff. Like you read about film directors that spend their life playing hooky and watching movies. When I think back on, I was a bit of a movie buff when I was at college and I was exposed to different kinds of films. I would go and see European films. I remember going to see “Knife in the Water,” for instance, when I was at college and that sort of like, “Oh, there’s other kinds of films than what I saw when I was a kid.” But then I got so drawn into music. Then when I was in music, people would start talking about, “Oh, you could do a role” in all these stupid movies, most of them, just things you didn’t want to do.
And then movies of the ’60s, they started to use music, pop music, in films a little bit more. And, to me, the mediums started to intertwine a bit more, when you start to meet people from films. … So I was always interested in it, but obviously it wasn’t my first interest. It was a sort of secondary interest, I suppose, that I enjoyed getting involved with. I don’t do too much acting but I’m always doing something involving films.
The problem with films is it’s very difficult. It’s a very hard medium because it takes so long — it’s very rare you get something that happens quickly. You can get maybe a documentary film up and running pretty quick, but doing a feature, getting the script together and all this, is kind of a long process, a lot of times, and it can be somewhat frustrating. But it is quite enjoyable to see the final thing.
Q: Do you have a favorite screen role that you’ve played, one you’re particularly fond of?
A: I haven’t done that many to have a favorite. I mean, they’re all kind of fun, slightly different. People still like the movie “Performance,” and I suppose that’s good, but that’s still quite a lot based on Mick the rock singer in a way. And even that is obviously not me, being a recluse, but let’s just say that movie has kind of stood up over the years. People still like that movie; whether they think I’m good in it or not is another matter. But the movie itself has stood up over the years. So that’s good.
Q: You recently put your name to a letter from the Artist Rights Alliance that seeks the artist’s consent for the music used by political campaigns. Why do you think there are some candidates, an obvious one being Donald Trump, who just insist on using music against the wishes of the artists who made it?
A: I dunno. I mean the question is do they choose the music anyway? Is there some DJ or PR person that does that? I don’t really know the answer to that. I mean, Angela Merkel used “Angie” a lot when she was campaigning. It’s just that people really do, believe it or not, even though you say, “Oh, I’m not really affiliated with this political campaign,” when they hear it on the TV, they think you really did want it to be there. So I think it’s good that people, if they want to use something like that in a political context, they should ask. I think that’s fair enough.
I think it would be a normal, common-sense thing. And people can say yes or no, rather than just being able to do it. It’s just rather an arcane U.S. law. You can’t do it in most countries. It’s just in the U.S. — it’s like if you’re playing music in a restaurant, it’s a similar thing. You can play anything you want, I can’t stop you playing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in your local diner, nor do I want to. It’s more or less the same law that applies to a stadium or an arena, and in other countries you can’t do that anyway. A lot of people, a lot of other artists got rather annoyed about it, ’cause it’s been going on for so long. And so hopefully that will play out the way we want.
Q: Every time Donald Trump uses “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” I wonder what he thinks it’s saying. It always seems like such an odd choice.
A: It does seem an odd choice to me, too. If I was the DJ, I wouldn’t be choosing that one. I might be doing “Start Me Up” or something as my playout music. I don’t know, it’s just weird. But that’s neither here nor there.
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