Mark Ivanir stars with Catherine Keener in “A Late Quartet”
Mark Ivanir’s intelligent and intense looks may be familiar from his roles in Schindler’s List, The Good Shepard, Big Miracle and Terminal. But In “A Late Quartet,” which opens Nov. 16, Ivanir pulls at the heart strings while bowing violin strings. Along with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken, Ivanir is a member of the fictitious “Fugue” string quartet about to start its 25th year together. When its senior member Peter (played by Walken), gets a diagnosis that affects the future of the quartet, it brings out issues and actions that send the group into a tailspin. Classical music fans will enjoy the movie but it is certainly about a whole lot more than Beethoven and stringed instruments. It’s about family dynamics, egos, drama and sex. Did that get your attention? Watch for my review on November 16.
Meanwhile, when Ivanir was in Denver for the opening of the Starz Denver Film Festival, I had the opportunity sit down with him at the Four Seasons Denver to ask him about the movie, the role and violin lessons. At the end of the interview, find out how you can receive two tickets to see the advance screening of “A Late Quartet” on November 13 at Chez Artiste.
In Good Taste Denver: Why did you want to be involved in this particular movie?
Mark Ivanir: I had no choice! When they offered me the film, it was 10 days before principle shooting started. I had to make a decision in half a day and, to be honest, as soon as I heard who the cast I figured it can’t be too bad if it has Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken in it. Then I read the script and liked it so usually when it comes to that, I pick the part. I just had to believe it had to be good and pull it off.
IGTD: Were all of you actually playing the instruments?
MI: Oh yes, all of us learned to play the instruments. I already played some piano and guitar so I think it helped me with the experience of rhythm, timing and other musical aspects. On one hand it was very, very stressful but on the other hand the fact that it was stressful, the fact that we were in survival mode, helped the intensity.
IGTD: How much prep time did you have before shooting started?
MI: I was shooting something in Canada. I came for 6 hours for a table read of the script and then went back to Canada, where I would rehearse between takes and at night I’d get in at 11pm and work on violin and then at 1am start learning lines and then go to bed at 2:30. So my prep was very short and most of it was done while filming the other movie.
IGTD: Do you think you’ll continue to play the violin in your real life?
MI: No! I look at it this way: I kill people in my many of my movie parts but I don’t kill people in my real life.
Mark Ivanir plays around with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener in “A Late Quartet”
IGTD: In “A Late Quartet,” your character, Daniel, was very intense and brooding. What was his back-story?
MI: Interestingly enough, there was a scene that was cut that was the character’s background that talked about his childhood and how the father didn’t like him and was making fun of him especially because of the whole music thing and a mother who was very devoted to him. So the background story was written of someone who found a refuge in music. Often we have these situations when you run away to something from something. In the beginning he was running way from his father to play the violin. Then running away from himself into perfecting the violin.
IGTD: Are you much like Daniel?
MI: Yes and no. I think it’s an amplified facet of me. In all of the parts I do, I’m always trying to get one facet of myself to lean on to do it in true form. The seriousness of what you are doing is a Daniel thing. I don’t think I’m as screwed up emotionally as he is. I have my problems so I can relate.
IGTD: In the movie, one of your quartet members tells you to follow your passion, which you do in a rather shocking way. What are your passions and do you follow them?
MI: I’m an extremely lucky man because I get to act which is a very guarded, safe way of unleashing my passions because if I get to play bad guys, I unleash urges that might be laying inside me and I’m pretty good at playing bad guys. So maybe if I wasn’t acting out the urges, then I might be getting them out in a less safe way. So I guess my passion is my profession and it gives me an outlet for letting out things inside me good and bad and I can do things like killing versus playing violin. Then, I don’t have to do it in my personal life.
IGTD: In what ways is being a musician like acting to you?
MI: Well, you know in Russian, the word “play” is the same word as “acting” and in English as well. Shakespeare called actors “players.” I think it’s very similar. I have a lot of friends who are in music (producers and players) and we have conversations about what we do. And we find a lot of parallels because we are dealing with the same things – something written, with tempo, connection with emotion and text. How we connect as a musician to the song with a piece of music is how I connect emotionally to a play or screenplay. The substance is the same. We are actors. I use my body and emotions as instruments so I’m my own violin. It was very similar – I study my script, make notes – yes, it’s like music.
IGTD: You have a very interesting and varied history including having been born in the Ukraine, serving in the Israeli Army, and later performing with a travelling Parisian Circus! What would you like to be doing five years from now?
MI: I don’t know. First of all I like my life the way it is. I like the fact that the phone can ring or my email can, in any given moment, say “hey, there’s this project and tomorrow you’re going to be a bar-man in this one or a woman in another one.” And that’s the exciting thing about not knowing what’s going to happen. I feel that balance with family is overall the most important thing in my life. Career is very important, of course, but family is more important to me. So my wish for myself in five years, it would be more than anything else to keep my family life as it is now. To keep the balance between interesting projects and healthy family. (Ivanir is married with 7 and 11-year-old daughters.)
IGTD: The movie is structured around Beethoven’s “Opus 131 String Quartet in C-sharp minor.” Why was that piece chosen?
MI: 131 is not a regular piece. Usually there were 4 movements but this is 7 movements. It is a very, very long piece that is supposed to be played without stop. When you do that, at a certain point that long of playing without a stop, you get into danger of instruments getting out of tune. So you have to keep playing and it makes it more difficult to stay in tune with your comrades. It’s the same thing that is happening in the quartet. The Fugue goes 24 years nonstop and you start getting out of tune so how do you manage that while still keeping this whole thing going?
IGTD: Who do you feel is your audience for this movie?
MI: The audience isn’t musicians really but regular people who like to go to concerts who aren’t going to (pay too much attention to the way we are playing) because you can see that there are problems. Hopefully it’s not about playing the violin.