'Mozart in the Jungle' Stars Lola Kirke and Gael Garcia Bernal on Season 4's 'Radical' Love Story (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Mozart in the Jungle is expanding its classical music world by putting its lead characters in drastically different points in their personal and professional lives -- and it'll shake things up for the charmingly quirky, often surreal, dramedy series led by Gael Garcia Bernal and Lola Kirke.
In the 10-episode fourth season, Bernal's eccentric star conductor Rodrigo De Souza finds himself navigating a life change he's never dealt with before: a romantic relationship with Kirke's Hailey Rutledge, Rodrigo's ambitious mentee and oboist, who's now seriously pursuing conducting. A new youth orchestra, an artistic block for Rodrigo, a crucial trip to Japan and a long-overdue musical reinvention for Malcolm McDowell's Thomas Pembridge are just the tip of the iceberg for the characters on Mozart.
"Now we're much more in touch with music the same way the characters feel much closer to us and to our everyday likes. That's the nice thing of the evolution of a series, that you get a chance to experience different cycles of the characters and growing up with them in a way," Bernal, who won a Golden Globe for his performance in 2016, tells ET. "It's an expanding journey this season and it's going to be really interesting to hear what people think about it."
"It's been exciting to embark into the journey of conducting and getting mildly acquainted with that skill-set has been fascinating and something I never even thought about with classical music," Kirke tells ET of Hailey's new direction, adding that she did "quite a bit" of prep work with her conducting coach Eimear Noone. "When you think about it, it's such a bizarre thing, conducting, because it's abstract gesture that's informing the emotional content of the way the piece is played. I'm curious about conducting -- but not like I'm actually going to go out and do it in real life."
What's significant about Hailey's journey is the unsettling reality that women rarely become conductors in the classical music world, something Kirke hopes to shed light on through her character. She credited Noone for pushing her to depict the real-life struggles women face in breaking the glass ceiling; a later episode, set in an elite conductors competition, addresses that point head-on. "She was very invested in seeing a woman conductor represented as accurately as possible," the England-born, New York-raised actress says, "because there really aren't representations of women conductors by any media."
After three seasons of will-they-won't-they tension of a unique kind (and the occasional tryst), Bernal, 39, and Kirke, 27, warned that Rodrigo and Hailey's decision to become a mutually exclusive couple comes with its own baggage. Basically, don't expect wedding bells any time soon.
"They have very different upbringings and very different ways of understanding the concept of being with someone, and that leads to discussions and to points of encounter as well," Bernal says. "For Rodrigo, it's a radical act to say that he's her boyfriend. He really takes that on board, like he was doing something really revolutionary -- going out with someone. And for him and his world, yeah, it is. It gets a little bit complicated."
"It's a very natural progression for them," adds Kirke. "But because of his status in the world that she is trying to break into, there is an inherent conflict to their relationship. That just makes it really difficult for them to compartmentalize and be in a romantic connection with one another."
With 40 episodes under their belts, Bernal and Kirke opened up about what they've felt has been the most gratifying part about playing their respective characters and the sometimes bizarre situations they find themselves at the center of.
"Envying the freedom of what Rodrigo does. This season, there's going to be a lot of dance, for example," Bernal teases, chuckling at the absurdity of it all. (In what begins as a small plot point crescendos to a life-changing finale moment, Rodrigo starts working with an avant-grade choreographer to better connect with his relationships.) "The fact that he goes for it, wow. I envy that he does certain things that I cannot do in my real life or that I cannot get away with. I do chuckle a lot, but at the same time, Oh man, I love doing this. I wish I could live like that."
"Hailey has room to grow, but I think that her journey has been made in leaps and bounds," Kirke says of her character's growth from the pilot. "When you meet her in season one, there's a confidence and passion for music, but there's a deep shyness and an uncertainty about what her place is in this world. Now, she's still uncertain about where her place in the world, but that uncertainty doesn't hold her back as much as propel her forward with the curiosity she has about it."
In previous seasons, Mozart has ventured outside its usual sanctuary of Manhattan, New York, traveling to Venice, Italy, and filming a powerful episode at Rikers Island featuring that drew notice for its poignancy. As Bernal and Kirke tell it, this year's trip to Japan, which spans several episodes and features a real speaking robot with the ability to conduct, was a highlight for the cast, which includes Bernadette Peters, Saffron Burrows and Hannah Dunne.
"It was incredible being in Japan," Bernal remembers; visits to the Japanese temples and the northern city of Sapporo were experiences he says he'll never forget. "It's very different from everything that we feel or experience in our Western cultures, but at the same time, there are many things that you're always unveiling when you're there. Working there, we get to experience Japan in the way we wouldn't if we were tourists. In [Sapporo], we played Mozart's Requiem at the temple and it's one of those things I'll treasure forever."
"There's no comparison," Kirke says. "Tokyo was culturally just so different from where we are; their treatment of classical music is similarly different. Wandering around Japan alone were some of the best hours of my life."
As for what Mozart has meant to them and their careers, Bernal and Kirke expressed gratitude to be a part of a show that doesn't rely on explosive action sequences, life-and-death ultimatums and dystopian realities.
"Dealing with classical music, it puts the whole discussion on a very poetic level, so it's really nice that the series exists," Bernal says. "It's given me a chance to have a stable character, one that continues and continues. It's nice to develop that; I hadn't experienced that ever -- this expectation of what's going to happen next, what are we going to do next season is always really exciting."
"It's beautiful to play an empowered woman and to play an artist," Kirke echoes. "Someone's musical ability, when it comes to classical music or orchestral music, is quite plain to see: You either are able to do it or you're not. And then there's that spark, which suggests something deeper. There's something exciting playing a brilliant musician -- that's something I've always wanted to be, albeit in a different way. That's very exciting to me."