Few scenes in writer-director Todd Field’s provocative masterpiece Tár( are better than the first between On-screen duels are more likely to provoke discussion—and sometimes heated debates—in the audience. ) Cate Blanchett’s distinguished conductor Lydia Tal and her Juilliard Masterclass student Max. The ten-minute shot begins with a self-made shot, graceful enough to begin, with Lydia directing the space in her typical fashion, with a handful of impressionable music students adapting to her every word.
But then she starts paying attention to Max – the affable young student played by Zethphan Smith-Gneist – As it turns out, who doesn’t care about Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. “As a BIPOC pangender,” Max proposes, “it’s hard for me to connect with Bach—and isn’t he misogynistic?” And so a fierce generational confrontation begins. “If you want to dance in a mask,” growled Tarr, “you have to serve the composer. You have to elevate yourself. Your ego, yes, your identity.” By the end, Max burst out of the classroom in disgust, Any pedestals that Lydia once occupied fell to the ground.
Smith-Gneist, 21 was born in New York City but brought to Berlin after his parents separated, where he was He was raised by his mother, actress Aimee Gnest. She got him started by showing some of her favorite films. (He cites Gary Oldman in Léon: The Professional and Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
in the works) as his two favorites. )
Acting is a relatively new thing for Smith-Gneist — he only started doing it during the pandemic. Shortly after he turns 18, he takes on a regular role in Druck, a follower of a group of teenage friends The German show. Then there was news of an audition for a mysterious new film starring Cate Blanchett set in the world of classical music — and, the rest of his history wasn’t written yet. He hasn’t even seen Tár(. (It didn’t open in Germany until February.)
But that didn’t stop American audiences from sitting down and paying attention. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Smith-Gnest for the first time, in which he tells us about everything from learning to speak American to the challenges of nervous shaky legs, a few at a time Hours.
How did you first hear about Tár( auditioning?
I got this email from my agent: “This is an audition, a blockbuster, Cate Blanchett and Nina Horse.” That was the headline. “It’s about the music. Let me know if you’re interested, and send the demo tape as soon as possible.” Try not to get too excited when you get these messages. Oh, and it also said, “Really intense scene, great to play with Cate Blanchett.” Then I sent the first audition tape.
Did they send you the scene or the whole script?
I got the scene and that’s it. That’s it, everything I know about this movie so far. They really kept it a secret. I ran into Noémie Merlant [playing Francesca, Lydia Tár’s long-suffering assistant] on set one day, and we were talking about the movie, and she was talking about Tár, the role, and I was intrigued, and she said, “Wait a minute. Don’t you have a script? You don’t know anything about this movie?” I thought, “I don’t know what this is about.”
I don’t even know this movie The tone of the movie, which is actually really exciting because it helps me just see the scene as a scene without any context. In my head, it’s like a musical movie with a conductor, and that’s all I really know. It wasn’t until I watched 23 the first trailer that I was like, “Wow. What?!” I didn’t know it was. I still don’t know. I haven’t seen this movie yet because it came out in Germany in February 18 and I want to watch it with my friends and family.
The trailer makes you go, “Wow?”
The image is so intense. I keep thinking black swan , I don’t know. Someone on the set told me that the movie had a creepy vibe or that something psychological happened, but I somehow didn’t believe them. I was like, “Okay, that sounds weird. How can this work?” But when I saw the trailer, I was like, “Oh wow — this looks It’s special.”
How did you end up being cast as Max?
That was the longest and toughest audition I’ve ever been through. I ended up sending out so many tapes because Todd’s take on the character was so detailed and rich, it was unbelievable that I really had to get everything right. From the way Max speaks, speaks and moves, with the correct accent and uptalk? And the tone of that character and attitude. So when I get one thing right, another thing is missing. When my acting is right, a high note is not enough. He wants to talk more. This is so cool. So you feel very safe. When my agent called to tell me I got a role, I jumped out of bed and ran around the apartment in my underwear screaming, “Yes!” Satisfied.
Who read Lydia Tal on your audition tape? Is that your mother?
Yes, it’s my mother. Wow, she’s patient because of the workload and she has more to say in the scene than I do – that huge monologue. At one point, she was clear. It would be fun for her to watch scenes from the movies.
This is my first interview with someone in a movie and I can’t spoil what happened.
Yeah, that’s funny, right? Kind of weird.
As you can see from this scene, this is not an ordinary scene. It really sets up a confrontational climax. So let’s start shooting. What happened?
It didn’t look like a normal shooting day at all. I thought from the beginning that it was another matter. First, I hired a coaching coach – because Todd wanted everything to be as real as possible. So I had to learn how to command. Then we had two full days of rehearsals. That’s when I met Kate and Todd. The three of us rehearsed from morning to night, two days in a row, and then two days in a row, from morning to night. We shot this scene – this scene – over and over again two days in a row from morning to night. I’ve never had a scene like this before.
On the first day of rehearsal, Todd sat down and said, “Well, I think we have to do it all in one go.” This big-ass scene. There is actually a real reason and purpose behind this decision, and it is so effective.
What’s the reason for that? He wants it to build naturally, a confrontation between the two of you?
yes. But it also says a lot about the character. The scene should feel like Tár is actually directing the scene. She is deciding when to allow the camera to point elsewhere. Even if Max appears, it’s only when she points to Max and wants him to say something. She has great control. I heard this scene reappeared later in the movie, but there is a version [edited for the internet]. So it’s really important – as a viewer, you don’t miss anything that happened in the original scene. So you really know what happened and how it happened.
The amazing thing about this scene is that she’s a control freak, right? But she’s not ready to meet you. You are something else. You’re just slightly out of her reach. So this confrontation is fascinating. This confrontation is happening everywhere now. I guess that’s why this scene resonated so much.
And then in the end you just tell her, “You’re a fucking bitch .” It was like something she’d never heard in her life, I’m sure.
Yes, exactly. Yes, you’re right: these conversations do happen quite often, but most of the time it happens online or where it’s easy to do it. But I think that’s what makes the scene so intense. I think it’s a personal thing. Their argument for separating art from artist is more than that. At first, it was just this argument, and the two opinions clashed. But there is so much that makes it so intense.
But first, it’s very well written. This is the most detailed and beautiful scene I’ve ever read. Also, Todd said something – he was seeing a scene that was kind of like Tal talking to a 20 year old version of himself. There was a young student who was really, really, really trying to get Max to understand. But not Max.
At one point, she just attacked Max’s entire identity and beliefs, she nearly murdered Max in front of a live audience. She’s not just an ordinary person, and she’s not just some celebrities. She’s actually someone Max looks up to. She’s an icon and a hero, which makes it all the more destructive. The first time I read the scene, it was clear that the young student was angry because “you don’t know me, this is your generation, you don’t understand me, you’re stupid.” But then when I was working on the field , I find it so frustrating that Max really wants to make Tár their friend and make Tár like them.
So if I were to ask you – you as Zethphan – who do you sympathize with in that scene, Max or Tár?
I think what makes this scene so great is that it shows us these two people, these two perspectives, Two sides of a coin, the scene is just flipping the coin and everyone watching the scene will fall in a different way. So I really don’t want to interfere with this. I think Max really, really understands what Tár is talking about. Max knew Tár very well, but Max just built around these principles, beliefs and things that she just couldn’t accept as part of their identity. At some point, it just broke. It’s too much
I want to ask about your legs in the scene.
( laughed. ) Yes.
Where did that nervous trembling come from?
The knee was written on the paper – exactly when did the banging start, When did she hit the hardest and when did she stop.
Is it hard for you to do and say your lines and good words and everything else Todd Field asked for?
Yes, completely. I almost had to do this four days in a row. The hard part, I think, is keeping your rhythm consistent. I think the scene is over ten minutes long, but when you get into the scene for eight minutes, you can’t say, “Oh, I can’t do this anymore.” It’s great.
This is one time. So you have to keep the rhythm steady minutes.
What did Cate Blanchett say to you to help you feel comfortable enough to do this with her?
She told me I was doing well. She also told me that everyone in the room, in the room behind the monitor, was talking about “how good I am” and that really pushed me. She was just so calm and down to earth. Everyone was saying, “Man, you must be too nervous or scared.” But I wasn’t at all. I wasn’t intimidated because she was so humble and down to earth. She is that humble person when she talks to you, just like you and I are. At least that’s what I keep telling myself, but that’s not always the case. I totally forgot who she was until I walked out of the building and saw all these people, these fans and photographers waiting for her and I came out and was like, “Oh, damn. Right.”
Tár( is a great springboard for you. I want to know what you’re going to do next.
Oh, me too. Me too. I’m really looking forward to it. This time is so exciting for me right now. I was literally, “Wow, what’s going to happen next?” There’s a lot, just a lot, a lot…how to say?
So viele Eindrücke, die auf mich einprasseln.
Interview edited for length and clarity.