In Todd Field’s Tár, we meet Lydia Tár, a revered composer-conductor heading up the Berlin Philharmonic, played by Cate Blanchett. Nina Hoss, as Lydia’s wife Sharon, is concertmaster and first chair violin, and together they navigate the politics of their musical life while parenting their daughter Petra. But Lydia, who is at the top of her game, and readying for her career-pinnacle live recording, begins to self-destruct, forming an obsessive attachment to Olga, a young cellist, just as a troubling past entanglement comes to light. The target of criticism from her students and a New York Post article, Lydia’s staff and Olga desert her. Then Sharon takes flight with Petra, and Lydia finally slides into the demise of both her personal and professional life. In conversation with Antonia Blyth, Blanchett and Hoss discuss the absence of objective truth, how change is built on open-hearted discussion, and the emergence of art from the raw, painful edge of experience.
DEADLINE: You first met at a hotel when you were both by chance in Hungary working on separate projects. Did you talk about Tár then?
CATE BLANCHETT: It was just pure chance, wasn’t it? A little bit like the way this project came together. But I sort of felt like we’d already met, but I don’t know that we had. Maybe it’s just because we had so many people in common and so many experiences in common, so it sort of felt fated somehow.
NINA HOSS: Yeah, I had the same feeling, like we knew each other. I must admit, I did have this one moment, I told Cate already, that I thought, “I mean, does she know what I look like?” I had this moment. But then once that was over and we hugged each other, and it felt like we knew each other already. And I must say, that was like the process. It stayed like that. I had the feeling we feed off the same pot, so to speak. From the interest in theater, coming from theater, the interest in art of any sort, of also being interested in venturing out and working with different people and just expanding yourself in the way of how you want to collaborate. And I just felt it’s such a natural flow with each other that I never felt alien… It just felt like, “Yeah, let’s do good. Let’s find everything we can.” I don’t know, what do you think?
BLANCHETT: Yeah, I think so. I think it just felt really organic. Our frames of reference, the types of work that we had gravitated toward up until now, had been eclectic and varied and wide-ranging. And I think the thing that I’ve always loved about your work is you’ve got such an amazing sense of ensemble. You, in a deep way, understand what it means to be part of an ensemble and that even the extraordinary work you’ve done leading films, like Barbara and all the work you’ve done with Christian Petzold, which I’ve so deeply admired, you’re very clear about your function in the story, and I think that’s the same with your work on stage. And so that’s something I really gravitated toward. And over the course of my career too, it’s like it’s not the size of the role, it’s the being part of the conversation. And that’s why it’s so great to create a dialogue with you, it’s because you interrogate a story in a really fascinating way that makes me and everyone around you ask really fascinating questions. You look at your character in a way that opens up pockets of the story, or you shine lights on corners in the story that suddenly whole layers and textures and possibilities come to light.
DEADLINE: That is so true in Tár, because so much of what happens between Sharon and Lydia is behind Sharon’s eyes. How did you built that dynamic, and how much did Todd discuss it with you, versus giving you scope to figure out on your own?
BLANCHETT: Maybe it’s understanding the deeper time, rehearsal process that one goes through in the theater, that you have weeks and then the length of the run of the performance to continue to layer the dynamics between characters. Not just to work out how you’re going to deliver your performance or who your character is, but to layer the textures between people. And that’s what I love talking to you about it, Nina.
In answer to your question, did we start talking about the characters straight away? We sort of did, which enabled us to talk about life and the challenges that we were going through. I mean, that’s the fantastic thing about this story that Todd has woven and the film that he’s created out of it, is that it asks so many enormous questions that the characters are grappling with, but that we’re all grappling with, that we don’t necessarily have answers to. And I think that meant that we continued to interrogate and ask questions about their relationship and who they were, who they thought they were. How had their relationship evolved? How estranged were they from themselves and from each other? And so, it was a continual process of questioning, wasn’t it? Todd obviously facilitated and set the ball rolling simply by writing the script.
HOSS: Yeah, I think by us both having read the story before we met by accident, and then just having the chance to speak in private, we somehow, without really digging into the characters straight away, we talked around it. I told you a lot about Germany and sometimes my struggles with the hierarchical systems and the patriarchal systems that we all live in. But Germany has a very specific thing that I can tell you, from this culture, where this story is set. And then on top of it, the classical music world, which is on its own already a very hierarchical system or world. So, we talked about that.
But to find this dynamic between each other, I always felt, Cate was so… The moment she stepped on this podium, in a way, I was able, even during the rehearsals with the orchestra — and that’s how we started the whole film — I saw the whole character in front of me. I saw the beginning, the middle, and the end. And I could just watch this Lydia in front of me, and see, what does that evoke in Sharon? Having had all the conversations in Berlin beforehand. So, us meeting in Hungary, then having the rehearsals in Berlin, and Todd joined, and we really dug deep into also the background stories. What is the world all of these characters step out from? And what happened when they met? Why do they meet? Why are they fascinated by each other?
We were terrified, I think, Cate and myself, that we would start [the shoot] with the orchestra. And…
BLANCHETT: … And there we did.
HOSS: But at the end of the day, it was a blessing, I think, because we knew what the center was for both of our characters. It’s the work also, and the passion for the work. And in a way, it’s not so unlike our private selves. I think. I mean, for me, my job is my life also. And I felt the same while being around Cate. That it’s not just something we just do, we are just very passionate about it. We want to defend the characters, the story, the director who has a vision, the people, the ensemble. You’re just very much into it and you are willing to go quite far to get what you look for. And that’s why it felt very natural exploring this relationship with Cate.
BLANCHETT: And, I think too, because of the way that we met. It was in a moment of estrangement and crisis, and we were both sort of dislocated from our reality, and Todd wasn’t there. It was just happenstance, chance, that we were able to table our fears and concerns and ask, I think as the audience does, all the quote-unquote dumb questions. We realized very quickly that that’s not what the film’s about. And so, we were able to put that aside and go much deeper into it, I think.
It’s interesting you talk about the music, Nina, because I think that was for both of us an enormous, “Ah.” It was like it took our breath away how vast the challenge was. Even though it’s not a film about classical music, it’s so rooted in that world, and there’s a deep authenticity that Todd was writing about, where no one was able to hide either from the camera, or from each other, or certainly not from the audience and not from themselves. So, it was very exposing, and it was great to start with that layer of questioning immediately, I think. I don’t know about you, Nina, but I was so knocked off-center and startled by the questions, the big questions that the screenplay was grappling with. It was great to start with the minutiae and the seismic nature of it. It meant that the questions that we’re not only asking of the script, but the way that we were talking to one another, felt much more open, I think, than perhaps it would’ve been otherwise.
Of course, these characters, their life is music, it’s making sound. And they had been living in a silent world for almost two years, unable to do the thing that they love. And everyone had been in that place, and we were in that place. We were trying to make work and film our different projects in Budapest, but without any of the joy, or the structures, or the reason why we got into this business in the first place. The community and the connection, your relationship with all the people that you are working with. People were estranged from one another. So, I mean, you were an absolute life raft for me, Nina.
DEADLINE: It’s really interesting that Lydia says, “You have to sublimate your ego,” but, ironically, it’s Sharon who has actually done that, because she’s the concert master and the first violin and yet she is quiet and at the center of things. Lydia is the one that has, to me, not sublimated her ego. And it raises so many questions about how we project on others the things we know are problematic in ourselves. Lydia is almost a prisoner of her desires, of her ego and her status.
BLANCHETT: But is she doing it to herself? Sharon as the concert master is actually one of the most powerful people in the room. Sharon’s a kingmaker, or a queenmaker in this way, in many respects. And also, that we always think about power as being the most obvious outward expression of that power, the person on the metaphorical podium. But it’s not necessarily the case. I mean, Lydia’s life is run by the board, it’s supported by Sharon who asks the right questions and has the conversations that makes things possible. So, it’s a very symbiotic relationship. And I think that’s what I love about the relationship as a metaphor for how power actually functions and who benefits from power. It’s very, very subtle. And to that thing that you said, people often give advice to other people, the advice that they need to take themselves. You know?
DEADLINE: There’s also, where does this fit into a #MeToo narrative? The idea of what it means to be a predator. What do we expect that to look like? How do we expect it to appear to us?
BLANCHETT: I don’t know. I feel like it’s not … Once that word is said, it can’t be unsaid. Whereas, I think there’s a way of looking at this film where she’s also … You’re dealing with someone who has come to the end of a teaching cycle, who seems to be in an incredible position of power, that is at a high point in her career. And you realize that paradise, the paradise that she’s found herself in, the position of power that she’s found herself in, it’s not this unassailable, unexamined ivory tower that she thought it would be when she saw the men all around her achieving those positions. It’s not the place she thought it would be, and it’s not the place her partner thought it would be either.
So, in a way, I wonder… There’s a way of looking at the film — and I’m not saying this is the way I look at the film, I think there’s many angles on it — that she herself wants to break it apart. There’s something willful in her own demise and destruction. Because in the end, she’s a creative force as much as she is a terribly flawed human being. That she knows that the only way, when you surmount the peak, is down. In order to keep working, the only way is down. And that is to be the architect of your own demise. And because she’s coming to the end of something, she’s about to turn 50. What more is there to quote-unquote, achieve.
She sees this young cellist at the beginning of her career. It’s always a man with a woman when you talk about a muse. But what actually happens between them, I think what is interesting about what Todd has written, no one ever knows. But everyone talks about what happens [between them]. Do you know what I mean? And so, it’s left to the audience to decide. In a way, it’s what happens when a rumor starts on the internet. What actually happened? But we go to the end point before we’ve examined what those possibilities could have been. Because can you tell me what happened?
DEADLINE: I have no idea. You’re right.
BLANCHETT: But yet, we call her a predator because then that enables us to sit in a really comfortable dynamic and say who are the goodies and who are the baddies in the story. And what Todd has written is that no one is entirely guilty, and no one is entirely innocent.
DEADLINE: Yes, we need to black-and-white things all the time. Why do we need to do that?
BLANCHETT: Because I think we’re encouraged to have an opinion. We’re encouraged to say, “This is what we think,” to have a definitive place. And I think that has happened in times that require really nuanced discussions, because there are seismic changes that are happening, that must happen, to changes in the way that we operate. The societies, the fragile democracies that we live in, we have to examine them. We must tear them apart in order to put them back together in a much more inclusive and respectful way. But it doesn’t help us, I think, in these difficult, and challenging, and exposing times to have either-or narratives.
DEADLINE: What do you think Nina?
HOSS: What stuck with me, what you said, what I’m still thinking of, when you say that Lydia is not the one who obliterates her ego. And I think she is the one who understands that concept really well, and that’s what is so fascinating to someone like Sharon. Because that is what a real creative person, an artist, does. What Cate spoke about now, what Tár may be, because we don’t want to interpret anything, but maybe she pushes things towards that moment that her life might fall apart, because that’s where art happens. Even in her life, she creates a room that opens up possibilities again, even if you have to start at the bottom again. But it’s something where art happens in these moments where you put yourself at risk, where you forget what you know, where you are out there to risk and to discover.
She’s the head of an institution that asks things from her that are pretty rigid. And then it’s a question, whose advice do you listen to? And then maybe you make the wrong decision because you think you owe someone something. That’s also, for me, this film. Sharon is part of this institution more than Tár. Tár is much more of a guest. But Sharon sits in this institution, she made her way through the German classical music world, she knows it inside out. She knows all the politics and she can make it work. And the drama for this relationship is, I think, that Lydia, at a certain point, thinks Sharon can’t do anything for her, and she doesn’t let her in. It might have not been that kind of a scandal because Sharon’s the better politician. But then [Tár’s] ego takes over. And that, for me, was this moment where Sharon says, “Enough. You won’t ever listen to me. I have to protect our family and my career because your ego is now up there, not for a piece of work, not for art, not for a symphony, but for yourself. You forget about what I can do for you. It’s a team. And maybe you want to destroy it, for whatever reason, but I have to take responsibility in this moment.”
So that’s one interpretation. But, for me, Lydia is someone who knows exactly in the Juilliard scene what she’s talking about. That’s where she wants to be. And because of her role as the head of this world-renowned symphonic orchestra, she can’t quite get there anymore.
BLANCHETT: But I think that moment — and that was the first scene that Todd wrote — to me, it was as much a generational divide between her and the student. Once we reach a point of security, or success, or whatever you want to call it, in whatever field that you work in, you can forget the journey to that point or disregard it. You can gloss over it and think it was much easier than it was. And she does in that long interview at the beginning [of the film]. She doesn’t want to talk about gender, she doesn’t want to talk about hurdles, she just wants to talk about herself as a musician. And I also think it’s really, really, interesting, and hadn’t really heard that articulated, that Lydia doesn’t value politics. But Sharon is a brilliant politician. And so, you are watching this really successful symbiotic relationship that works because of what they’re good at. Their skills have been equally valued by each other. And the pandemic, and their age, co-parenting, different ambitions as musicians and creators, has pulled them apart, unbeknownst to them. And then this crisis brings out the best and the worst in them. They forget the best and it brings out the worst.
DEADLINE: What do you hope people might take away from seeing this film?
BLANCHETT: I think Nina said it just a minute ago, is that it’s one interpretation. The most wonderful compliment that I’ve received is that people who have thought, “Oh, I don’t know anything about this world,” have come out, not kicking and screaming, but they became curious. They want to go straight back in and see it again. And the second time that they’ve seen, they’ve had a completely different reaction to it. So, I think it’s very startling and confronting, the film, in ways that are quite unexpected. I hope that they will ask more questions than they will answer, because I think that that’s what the film encourages. I think open-hearted conversation is what we so desperately need. And I never want to tell an audience what to think. And I don’t think the film patronizes an audience, it’s not a message film.
DEADLINE: For me, the message is what you just said in this interview, which is, “Don’t invoke a definite. There is no definite, there’s no black-and-white,” and that’s important.
HOSS: Yeah, I can’t really add much to that because it’s beautifully said, but it’s a very nuanced film, in the very best way. It’s like a Chekhov play in a way. He asked questions. There is no judgment per se. You’re being thrown to this side, to the other side. You have to rethink your own judgments. You thought you think a certain way and then all of a sudden… So, you are being challenged in the best possible way. And like Cate said, when I listen to what people reflect or what they talk about when they leave the film, firstly, there’s the reaction that they want to see it again because they think you missed something. I can say it from my own experience also. And you watch it maybe three times, and every time I come out and I have another aspect, I see Lydia in a different way, I see the world we’re in in a different way. I take something else out of it. And so, I think if you watch this film, you’re being, in the most beautiful way, challenged in your own point of view and your judgements, but also you can dive into this world, which is also incredibly fascinating.
To spend some time in the process of this incredible music and why people dig into that so much and are so passionate about it. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of classical music. On the contrary, I would think you go in and you go, “Oh, I’m going to have a look into that. Well, who are all these people?” It’s invigorating also. So that’s what I hope to start. And mainly what Cate said, it’s that I hope it starts a conversation, and I think it does. And that is I think, what we all try to achieve.
BLANCHETT: The truth’s made up of many perspectives.