I AM Vox Lux
Corbet sat down with his cast at the Venice Film Festival this year, to discuss Vox Lux starring Natalie Portman as Celeste, a pop icon who goes from school-shooting victim to global super stardom.
I AM FILM created an edited transcript of their press commentary about the startling and ambitious fictional biopic tracing the tenuous relationship between personal and social trauma over a period of 18 years.
VOX LUX trailer - courtesy of Elevation Pictures
Brady, I see an immediate connection between this film and Childhood of a Leader. You connect the life of your protagonist to some major historic events. 1999 was Columbine, then we see the Twin Towers in 2001. Can you talk about how you interweave this in the personal narrative?
Brady Corbet, Writer & Director: I am a very big fan particularly of Robert Musil’s book The Man Without Qualities, which is about a character whose sort of on the periphery of major events, during the fall of the Astro-Hungarian empire. There’s an omniscient narrator that’s sort of sardonic and I decided to apply this Robert Musil-style and tone to something contemporary.
What was it like to play this character of Celeste and what experiences did you draw from?
Natalie Portman (as Celeste): I really loved the opportunity to get to play this character. It was so beautifully written and complicated. Of course, the chance to get play a pop star was a dream. I’ve been a fan of Sia’s for a long time. Of course, I’m not playing her, but to get to sing her music that she wrote was a great luxury.
It was really, really fun to get to do and relative to Vox Lux it was completely different experiences and different moments in my life, and also very different styles of characters and story-telling, of course. So, this was really just a joy.
Brady created a very free creative environment and I got to work with these incredible women and Jude, and Jennifer, all of them; just actors I admire and love, and it was fun every day.
Why was Sia a good musical choice, Brady?
Sia Music Video - Chandelier
Brady Corbet, Writer & Director: She’s incredibly, incredibly, prolific and I couldn’t have dreamed up a better collaborator for this particular project because the character is a sort of an amalgamation of characters—both real and fictitious—and the idea that she’s written for so many other pop stars and different styles of pop music, sort of allowed the music to match the character. So, yeah, it was great.
Do you think this film could be a statement or send an important message to the US about their gun control policies?
Natalie Portman (as Celeste): I think it’s not exactly a movie about having a message. It’s a piece of art that is really more of a portrait and more of a reflection of our society, the intersection of pop culture and violence, and the spectacle that we equate between the two. And I think that, you know, if anything, it’s really an incredible script to me, when I read it. It was such a reflection of the moment we live in. It gave me a feeling…the way that art does not sort of hammer a message over my head.
You’re an Oscar-winning actress, but you’re also a movie star. How different is that from a pop star? Do you see this as a portrait of someone who becomes a monster?
Natalie Portman (as Celeste): I think that there’s a difference in the sort of eco-system that comes, that grows around a pop star, as opposed to a film star. There’s, you know, you kind of have this work family and I think that that can become really corrupted when your real family, like when that relationship between Stacy and I, I think, becomes so corrupted because of that mix of love and commerce.
So, that’s something—when you’re travelling and you’re on the road and living together—is quite different from what we experience on films, which is more project-size. It’s not like you’re a year in a bus or on planes or whatever.
I don’t really see her as a monster. I don’t think you really can necessarily look at your character with judgement. You have to kind of live how they see themselves.
Brady Corbet, Writer & Director: And also, this character is suffering with PDST. She’s not really designed to be a monster at all. She’s as much a victim of the era as she is a leader of the era.
The film is very much about the fact that the 20th century was marked by the turn of the banality of people and the 21st century will be defined by the pageantry of people.
The film’s themes and the character are intrinsically linked, and so, I mean, she’s not a monster.
Natalie, your characters seems to undergo a loss of innocence, would you agree?
Natalie Portman (as Celeste): Well, I think that’s very astute. There is a theme of a loss of innocence and that was actually interesting. We didn’t do a lot of work together, trying to combine the character or anything because she’s a completely different person after those 15 years.
So, it was incredible for me to see that afterwards and see what Bradly did with the character and see that it was so different from where Celeste is when I picked up with her.
So, I don’t know, I get nervous about being in parallels.
Raffey Cassidy (as Young Celeste/Albertine): Yeah, I think that, if I’m right, on the day of incident, that was the day when all of her childhood was lost and everything changed for her. I think it’s kind of very different when Natalie does it, because, I think she has people still try to take that away from her, (like) the manager.
Natalie, did being Israeli have any impact on your involvement or interest in the film, because it’s dealing with terror?
Natalie Portman (as Celeste): I think that I’ve definitely been interested in the questions around the psychology of what violence does to individuals and to mass psychology, to group psychology; certainly because of being from a place where people have encountered it for so long.
But, unfortunately, it’s been a phenomenon now that, in the United States, we experience regularly with the school shootings, which are a type, as Brady has put it to me before; a type of civil war that we have in the US, and of terror in the US. And the psychological impact of what that means for every kid going to school every day, of every parent dropping their kid off every day, and how small acts of violence can create wide-spread psychological torment.
There’s a great moment in the film where she says, “Let’s make it we.” So, her trauma becomes a collective trauma. Can you expand on this?
Natalie Portman (as Celeste): I’ll do my best. The thing is that, it’s, I did my very, very best, to make a film, which was a chronicle of the moments that defined the 20th century—the last twenty years. We’re all been through a lot. But the truth is, it’s quite a difficult film to speak about because I really said almost everything that I had to say up until this moment in time and in terms of my evolution and development, in the movie itself.
And so, you know, it wasn’t an attempt to create anything which was too didactic. It was something that was supposed to be a sort of fable or a poetic rumination of what we’ve all been through for the last twenty years. We live in an age of anxiety. I mean, I feel like we’re having more sleepless nights than ever. The film is sort of born of that. It was designed to be where we could all come together and think about it together—collectively.
Did you see a connection with the Childhood of a Leader, with the protagonist as a child? She has leadership qualities and a relationship with evil.
Brady Corbet, Writer & Director: Yes, for sure this film definitely represents a more corporate brand of fascism. But yeah, I do see them as being linked in a way for structural reasons and the fact that they are both fables that are sort of defining moments of an era. One in the early part of the 20th century and this one in the early part of the 21st century.
Can you elaborate on your views about journalists in the film when the character says: “You’ve got nothing to be proud of”? It seems like you don’t have a great view of them.
Brady Corbet, Writer & Director: The character feels attacked. So, she lashes out at absolutely everybody. In the scene with her and Christopher Abbott who plays the journalist in the roundtable sequence, they both have extremely valid perspectives and points of view and she’s mostly in the wrong, in fact. And so, I think that in that moment, the most important thing is not when Stacey says to the journalist, “You’ve got nothing to be proud of.” I don’t share that sentiment remotely.
The most important thing is when she goes, “You’re right, you’re right,” and that’s the reason that moment appears in the film, because she’s consoling herself by basking in a lie, to try to comfort herself. The character of course has a few of those moments where she’s a bit ‘Trumpy’ and that’s one of them.
To the actors: How did you prepare for the role?
Natalie Portman (as Celeste): I watched a lot of the pop documentaries that are out there. I don’t necessarily want to call out a particular one. It’s not about a particular pop star or being inspired by a particular one.
And the script, of course, was enormously helpful. I also did dialect coaching and then also of course worked on the dancing. My husband choreographed the end performance, so, we got to do that at home, which was very nice and fun to do…and then of course the recording of the songs.
Raffey Cassidy (as Young Celeste/Albertine): I think it was for me the first stages speaking to Brady and seeing all his ideas about the two characters and the way he wanted it, such as the difference he wanted between characters. With the dialect especially, it was trying to get a connection with Natalie and Stacey, but very subtle so that was an important thing we prepped with and a lot of that was on set.
Brady, can you elaborate on your decision to shoot in 35mm?
Brady Corbet, Writer & Director:
I’ve always talked about the difference between watercolour and oil; one is not better than the other. I like Andrew Wyatt’s watercolours more than some of the oil paintings. But the idea that anybody would ever take oil away from a painter is absolutely a tragedy. And so, this film is about the digital revolution and it’s on film.
All of you have seen it projected on celluloid and hopefully it will continue to be shown the way it was meant to be shown, as often as possible.
How do you deal with music-drama in your films?
Brady Corbet, Writer & Director: I didn’t really approach it as a music movie. I just approached it like a drama, but of course, so much preparation goes into the pop songs.
We had to work on putting together the soundtrack for nearly a year before we could even begin to think about the production because so many things have to be prepared in advance; the choreography, for the lip-sync etc. In regards to music movies, I have no idea where this sits in the pantheon. But I really enjoyed making one and I’m thrilled that I’m not making another one.
Vox Lux premiered at this year’s Venice and Toronto film festivals and will have a limited release in cinemas later this year from December 7 by US distributor, Neon.
About the filmmaker
Actor, Writer, Director
American actor Brady James Monson Corbet was born on August 17, 1988, in Scottsdale, AZ. Brady made his film debut as Mason Freeland in 2003's Thirteen and later had roles as Brian Lackey in Mysterious Skin and as Alan Tracy in Thunderbirds. He also has guest starred on the television shows Greetings From Tucson, Oliver Beene and The King Of Queens, but he is most known for his role as Derek Huxley on the fifth season of 24. [Source: IMDb]