IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mark Ivanir Talks 'A Late Quartet'

Wednesday, 31 October 2012 22:07 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mark Ivanir Talks 'A Late Quartet'

In my humble opinion, the best film of the year so far is A Late Quartet, which opens in theaters in Los Angeles and New York on November 2nd. Christopher Walken at the very least deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor due to his moving performance as a respected cello player suffering from the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

The film, which is directed by documentary filmmaker Yaron Zilberman (Watermarks), revolves around a quartet of respected musicians and they are portrayed by a quartet of respected actors including Oscar-winners Walken (The Deer Hunter), and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), as well as Oscar-nominee Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) and Mark Ivanir (Big Miracle). Ivnair plays Daniel, the outsider violinist at odds with Hoffman and Keener’s married couple. After Peter (Walken) is forced to leave the group because of his illness, Robert (Hoffman) makes a power-play that jeopardizes their dynamic, which is further complicated when Daniel begins a relationship with Robert and Juliette’s (Keener) college-age daughter, Alexandra (Imogen Poots). 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with actor Mark Ivanir about his impressive work in A Late Quartet. The talented actor discussed the new movie, learning to play the violin, how it helped him understand his character, the incredible cast, their dynamic on set and how it reflected the roles they were playing, and working with director Yaron Zilberman.

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, you portray a concert violinist in the film and your violin playing is seamless. I assume that you weren’t a concert level violinist before making the movie, so how much training did you have prior to shooting to make that as believable as it is in the film?

Mark Ivanir: The closest I got to a violin before I started working on this movie was watching other people play from the audience. I never touched a violin before. I have to say that I had some advantage on the other guys because non-professionally I played the guitar a little bit. So anything to do with fingering wasn't so alien to me unlike Phillip, Catherine and Chris who didn't have any experience with playing anything that has strings on it. Otherwise, it was just starting anew for me. I remember I was shooting another project in Toronto when the offer came for the part and they sent me this teacher to just introduce me to the violin and it was really fun. It was very serious the way we studied for three hours a day, seven days a week, and an hour and a half before we started shooting each day. We had extremely dedicated teachers, who are young professional violinists that play in a quartet and they would be at our disposal whenever we needed them. So I would start each day with an hour and a half on the violin then go and shoot for eight to twelve hours and then come back to the hotel and have another hour and a half of practice, which was an incredible opportunity and excruciating all at once.

I would imagine that process not only makes you look more believable when you're playing your instrument in character on screen, but it also gives you the opportunity to understand your character’s mindset and the training that he had to go through for decades to become the master violinist he is when the film begins. Do you agree with that? 

Ivanir: Of course I do. It gives you some notion of how much these people worked to be who they are. However famous and amazing they are, they need that passion for what they do, which is incredible. After forty or fifty years they still practice on a daily basis for a few hours. It gives you just a taste of what they need to do to maintain their talents. 

The film is about a quartet of musicians but along with Catherine Keener, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Christopher Walken, you are really part of an incredible quartet of actors portraying these characters. Can you talk about the dynamic between the four of you as actors and as characters in this movie? 

Ivanir: Sure, well first of all I want to add that it's a quintet in a way because Imogen Poots has a great part and is a brilliant young actress. I don't need to praise her, she gets it anyways, but again it's a quintet in a way. Back to the guys, I have to say I'm extremely grateful to all three of them. I came into the project at the last moment because another actor was going to play the part and had to pull out last moment for personal reasons. They called me and asked whether I could do it, to which of course I said yes. I already told you that I was shooting something in Canada and they flew me in for a rehearsal after I got the offer. I have to say all three of them were extremely supportive. You have to understand that all three of them knew that they were going to be in the movie a long time ago, so they were practicing the instruments and thinking about of the parts and I had to just jump into this thing without any preparation. So it was extremely important to me that I got their support from all three of them. We shook hands and they complimented me for a part I had in The Good Shepherd, which is a great way of getting accepted into this group by them saying, “Hey, you're part of us and don't worry, we got your back.” 

Wow, what an amazing group of performers to have embraced you like that! As an actor were you thrilled to have that kind of acceptance from your peers?

Ivanir: Yeah, it was incredible. It was interesting because in a way we kind of mimicked the relationships in the movie are in a sense. You have Phil and Catherine as this married couple, people that have this unit. Phil and Catherine in life have made several movies together and are very good friends, so they had this type of togetherness. Chris and Phil worked in the theater together so they knew each other for a long time as well and then they had a friendship. Then Catherine and Christopher knew each other for a long time as well and they had a bond. I’m a performer who is detached in a way from the rest of the quartet. In the movie I come in as an outsider and while I did work on a movie with Catherine a few years ago, we didn't have scenes together. So kind of reflected the way it is in life as it is in the quartet in the movie, of course because we are playing together with many connections as well. So we have these contexts and differences at once and it was reflecting in a way, life and art was mimicking each other.

It's alluded to in the film that your character Daniel once had a relationship with Juliette (Keener) who is now married to Robert (Hoffman), and eventually Daniel falls in love with their daughter Alexandra (Poots). That is a very interesting dynamic to have in a film; can you talk a little bit about that?

Ivanir: Sure. I know that the director Yaron, when he was working on the script and he was writing it, he did a lot of research about quintets and apparently this is not a made up thing. When you live in this type of a family situation of a quartet because it is a family, these are the people you spend most of your time with. The family parody intrudes your life, so sometimes it's not only a quartet. There are quite a few couples that work together, and then studying so much together, then it gets you into sometimes a romantic involvement. So I think it was kind of a natural way of getting into this story with having the quartet’s lives and the family lives interact. When I read the script I was trying to break the code and I didn't have that much time to do that. I remember sitting with my lovely, smart wife and Skyping while I was shooting in Canada. I called her and I said, hey, in three days I need to fly to New York and start working on the film with the actors in rehearsals for four or five days before we start shooting. I said, I’m still not getting what really is in the script but I feel something is there and it has something to do with family. Then after three or four hours of trying to figure out the situation I think we got it in the sense that there are two sets of families here. There is the family that is the quartet. Catherine and Phillip, who are married and they have a daughter. Chris is sort of the surrogate father to Catherine in a way and there's a hint that maybe he is actually her real father. Then you have me, who is detached and doesn't have any family. They are his only family. So there's this set of real life familial connections and then there's the quartet, which is a different type of family where the rules of a family are different and the roles are different. Meaning that in the actual quartet family, Phil and Catherine are not a couple. Catherine and I are the couple. We are the parents of the quartet so to say. I am the husband and she is the wife. Phil would be some kind of a brother, a rogue brother. Then Chris I would say is the patriarch, but as it happens in families when the patriarch grows old, there is a reversal of roles and then he becomes more of a child and the head of the family becomes more of his parent. I think if I analyze how this works, for me this would be the situation. 

Finally, I was really impressed with the film’s director, Yaron Zilberman. What was it like for you working with him and can you talk a little about his process as a director?

Ivanir: I was extremely impressed with Yaron in the way that he didn't come from film. He comes from math and physics. He is an MIT guy who then after doing really well at MIT was working on Wall Street writing algorithms for investment companies. Then at a certain stage he said, “Screw that, I don't want to do that, I want to do art!” That is what was interesting for him. He just decided to do that and went from Wall Street to making this documentary that was very successful called Watermarks. It got a bunch of prizes, and was a really impressive movie. I think all four of us when we were approached to be in this movie looked at the documentary and could see that he knows something (about filmmaking). Then when I was working on the script trying to figure it out, as I told you to crack the code of the script, I realized the script in a way has a mathematical quality to it. It's very solid in the sense that everything is in it and everything corresponds to everything. Another thing about Yaron, I think his way of working is like a documentary creator. So basically from the get-go he told me we're going to be improvising. So the camera is there and the general direction is there, but more than the general direction, you are free to go and do whatever you feel and see. If you want to add anything, go for it and interact between yourselves, which was a wonderful thing because it makes everything so much more alive, especially when you have people like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine, Imogene and Chris. All four of them are excellent improvisers. So suddenly there's action and you just jump into something you're not sure the outcome of, which is dangerous and great at the same time. It's scary, but the results are something that has life in it.    

A Late Quartet opens in theaters in Los Angeles and New York on November 2nd.

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