Saffron Burrows Finds the Humanity in a Sex- and Drug-Filled 'Jungle'

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Ahead of its second season, which premiered on Amazon Prime
just before the New Year, Mozart in the Jungle landed two Golden Globe
nominations -- a surprise for both fans and the cast alike.

“There’s so much out there at the moment that’s really good,
so I’m just really thrilled,” Saffron Burrows, the actress and an ensemble star
of Mozart, tells ETonline. The nominations follow the success of Transparent,
Amazon’s first big splash into original programming, which garnered five Emmys
and two Golden Globes for its first season. “It’s a whole new world of

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Created by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and
Tony-nominated director Alex Timbers, Mozart is loosely based on oboist
Blair Tindall’s memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical
, which details her rise through the sex and drugs of New York’s
classic music scene. It lifts the veil on what many probably assumed was a
squeaky-clean world. Gael Garcia Bernal, who is nominated for a Golden Globe,
plays Rodrigo De Souza, a character based on real-life conductor Gustavo
Dudamel. (Fun fact: Dudamel makes a cameo opposite his on-screen persona as a
stage manager in season two.)

While real-life experiences serve as the basis for the show,
Burrows says it’s merely a starting point, not truly following the narrative of
the memoir or specific details of Dudamel’s life. “It’s quite free-floating,”
she says, adding a quote from executive producer Paul Weitz: “The specificity
is universality.”

“That’s the thing about this show and all of these
subcultures -- whether it’s Breaking Bad or Veep -- you’re
taking a look at something up close that reflects all of humanity and how we
behave with each other,” she continues.

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Burrows plays Cynthia Taylor, a veteran cellist who pays no
mind to servicing former conductor Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell) in the
back of a limo or sleeping with a labor lawyer played by Gretchen Mol while
serving as a mentor to a young musician played by Lola Kirke. “I can go
anywhere I please,” the actress says of her freewheeling character.

Cynthia, an amalgam of personalities from Tindall’s world,
spearheads the labor negotiation in season two. It’s a fight that Burrows says
may normally sound dry or dull, but is really about “the integrity of their
lives.” And in Mozart’s case, it gets a splash of sexual intrigue. 


The 43-year-old actress attributes Mozart’s strength and
unique appeal to its creators. It comes from the collaboration of Coppola, Schwartzman
and Timbers, who form an unusual combination of elements that balance out the
diverse cast. In season two, the show escapes the city limits of New York to
explore the Latin American culture of Mexico City.

For her part, Burrows is London-born, but enjoys a bohemian
life, splitting her time between the U.K., Los Angeles and New York City, where
Mozart is filmed. Openly bisexual, Burrows is married to her longtime
partner, Alison Balian, who is a writer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
The two have one son together.

As an added benefit for Burrows, the family all lives with
her while filming and her 3-year-old son gets to visit the set and join her for
cello practice at home. “I feel fortunate at the moment that I have a job where
some of it can overlap into my family life,” she says.

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Her film and TV career, which spans over 20 years, has seen
her star opposite Brad Pitt in Troy, survive shark attacks in Deep
Blue Sea
, and play a lawyer on Boston Legal. She’s even played a
cellist twice before. “It keeps turning up in my life and now I feel like I
probably should be getting better at it,” Burrows jokes, but it’s an instrument
that she says you can’t really pretend to play. “Sadly for me, that means a lot
of work.”

Yet, the commitment is worthwhile. “The feeling of it is
more important than anything else,” she says. “It should be in your body, and I
suppose that’s what I aspire to -- that feeling that’s in you when you come to
play it.”

That’s what the show is really about. “This is an
exploration of a group of people who love doing what they do,” Burrows says.