Few celebrities have been as secretive as Suffron Burrows. The English actress managed to hide her marriage — to longtime girlfriend Alison Balian, a writer for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” — from the press for over a year. And yet in person — standing a statuesque near six feet — she’s very friendly, talkative and prone to warm, inviting laughs. Before getting to her new show, “Mozart in the Jungle,” we spend a fair amount of time yammering about British filmmaker Ken Loach (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”). She’s “long admired him” and occasionally sees him at political rallies, which she’s been attending since a child. “I wrote him a letter of admiration about 20 years ago,” she says. “I’m still hoping he’ll cast me.”
But we’re not here to dish on longtime chroniclers of the working class. It’s this new show, which digs into a New York City orchestra undergoing massive changes: their conductor (Malcolm McDowell) is being replaced by a younger specimen — a fiery young guy played by Gael Garcia Bernal. Orchestras aren’t the only places where the old is being forced to make way for the new; the show is airing not on TV but on Amazon Prime, where all 10 episodes went up on December 23.
“It’s all topsy-turvy,” Burrows says of this brave, kind of scary new world, where no one is sure what formats will stick. “I don’t even know what to call this. It’s more like a long five-hour story with nine pauses.” Making matters more confusing, it premiered at the Lincoln Center. “A lot of independent films don’t get this great a launch. Most films I’ve done have not been seen on a screen this big.”
Burrows says she likes that “Mozart” doesn’t pick a side on the debate, and often stresses how much both the older guard — represented by McDowell as well as Bernadette Peters, as an exec — and the younger side, represented by post-collegiate Hailey (Lola Kirke), with her cellist, Cynthia, caught in the middle.
“It’s infused with the old man’s respect for the young man, and vice versa,” she says. “They’re basically on the same side. They both the orchestra to succeed, and they don’t want to be brought down by patrons who are philistines or audience members who only want to her one benign piece of classical music.”
Her character winds up advising young Hailey while at the same time continuing a relationship with McDowell’s fiery, angry Thomas. Acting with legends like McDowell — which whom she costarred in “Gangster No. 1” 14 years ago — and Peters was “just like a really long drive in a Mercedes,” she says. “They’re icons, but you have to get over who they are so you can have fun on set.” She was amazed by how prolific McDowell is. “We were all looking for a break when we wrapped, and he was off doing two more films.”
The knowing but vulnerable Cynthia is a fun role for Burrows, who has sometimes had to contend with thin roles for beautiful women. She now works in an environment more willing to have independent, complicated women. “The last 10 years have seen a flurry of strong writing for women,” she says, citing shows like “Nurse Jackie,” “The Good Wife,” “The Big C” and “Weeds.” “Just look at this poster,” she remarks about the show’s ads, which show her, Kirke, Peters, McDowell and Garcia Bernal. “It’s three women and two men. That’s a pretty good ratio. And there’s all these generations. It has all these fantastic roles to get our teeth into — women and men. I’m optimistic.”
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