‘Annette’: Simon Helberg Tapped Into ‘Harmful, Attractive, and Horrific’

The actor lied about his citizenship, taught himself conduct, and bought cozy with a puppet for his flip within the Leos Carax musical. However as he tells IndieWire, that was the simple a part of a cinematic high-wire act.


[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “Annette.”]

There was nothing that would probably cease actor Simon Helberg from starring in Leos Carax’s daring film musical “Annette.” Citizenship points? Fixable. Doesn’t know conduct? He can be taught. Need to act alongside a puppet? Fantastic. Would possibly get drowned by Adam Driver throughout a pivotal scene? Carry it on. Not completely certain about his character’s emotional state? Simply consult with an image of Peter Lorre.

Even now, almost two years after wrapping manufacturing on the formidable function and 4 months after its divisive Cannes premiere, Helberg nonetheless slips into one thing of a fever when speaking concerning the movie, which sees him starring alongside Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as a lovestruck conductor merely often called “The Accompanist.”

What was it that so captivated him concerning the movie and the position? “Nicely, some form of demonic possession or a want to only torment and self-immolate,” he mentioned throughout a current interview with IndieWire. Lengthy earlier than Helberg nabbed the third lead within the movie, he had been monitoring the challenge, together with in its earliest levels when different producers and stars have been connected. However Carax couldn’t let it go, and neither may Helberg.

“Leos making a movie is an occasion,” Helberg defined. “I didn’t actually even learn a script for some time, as a result of it was beneath lock and key and every little thing about the entire challenge was very cryptic. In fact, as soon as I learn it, I used to be fully fascinated. It’s onerous to even actually draw any comparability between ‘Annette’ and different movies. I’m all about having an expertise, and this appeared like a fairly good one to threat my life and liberty for.”

Helberg finally bought maintain of the script and filmed an audition to be despatched to Carax. The tape got here with an extra sweetener: Helberg, figuring out that Carax was desirous to equipment out his manufacturing with a majority of European residents with the intention to safe EU funding, added a word that he was within the technique of turning into a French citizen. That was, principally, a lie. (Helberg’s spouse is a French citizen and their kids attend a French college, so whereas he’s not completely out of the French milieu, it was nonetheless a stretch.)

“I figured if I may win over Leos Carax, I might simply turn into an honorary French citizen,” Helberg mentioned. “In some methods, I feel it truly labored. I bought a response from this hermitic, enigmatic Frenchman who they thought would possibly reside in a cave with out electrical energy someplace. I didn’t even know if my audition tape may make it to him, however I knew I may at the least do my half and play that track and put it out into the ether. He truly bought again in a short time and he appreciated it. Nicely, put quotes round ‘like,’ however he responded.”



Helberg was overjoyed, even when he was getting a bit forward of himself. “I ran proper off to the consulate and I mentioned, ‘Make me a French citizen!’ And the French don’t have the most effective humorousness about that form of factor,” Helberg mentioned. “I simply form of labored and grinded and concurrently was attempting to get this passport whereas additionally attempting to get the position. I didn’t even have the half for months on finish.”

Finally, Helberg met with Carax in New York Metropolis — “He was stoic and comically unimpressed and unmoved by my presence” — after which, nicely, simply saved assembly with him. “He saved asking for extra though I didn’t really feel like he needed me to be within the movie,” Helberg mentioned. “I feel in the end, [he’d like if] he may make a movie with out actors, perhaps that’s why there’s a puppet within the film.”

Carax, he mentioned, supplied him with scant materials past the script itself. One merchandise that did stand out: an image of the long-lasting actor Peter Lorre with the phrase “melancholy” written on it. Helberg, a self-professed “obsessive,” threw himself into preparation, gathering his personal supplies and notes and experiences to spherical out the considerably enigmatic position. He bought his personal conductor’s baton from Amazon (it’s the identical one he makes use of within the movie), and as his dedication to the half grew, the “Annette” crew supplied him extra help, together with hooking him up with quite a lot of real-life conductors.

“I went to a costume rehearsal for ‘La Boheme’ and began studying about conducting approach and watching countless hours of various conductors and attempting to soak up totally different kinds,” he mentioned. “I went into this form of rabbit gap of the approach, the model, the aesthetic, and form of the psychology of conductors. Within the script, you simply get lyrics and ‘He conducts’ because the stage course. There’s not any indication about emotion or different motion. ‘He conducts.’ Which may be very straightforward to write down and really onerous to do.”

By the point manufacturing of the movie started in Belgium in fall 2019, Helberg had steeped himself sufficient on the planet of conducting that he felt considerably assured in his two large conducting sequences. Carax, in fact, had a number of extra tips up his sleeve, together with asking Helberg to conduct an precise orchestra in an “monumental three-tiered live performance corridor.” Oh, and that first sequence? He’d prefer it to be accomplished in a single take.

“I knew at that second that each one that tireless, grueling work of drilling these items of music and attempting to get my thoughts wrapped round conducting was actually going to in the end serve me,” Helberg mentioned. “You need to have it someplace in your again pocket, as a result of by the point you’re on set, the quantity that’s being requested of you is in the end not going to go away room for attempting to determine entry some form of approach or keep in mind new abilities that you just’ve acquired. You actually should have it baked into your DNA by that time.”

And but, even when Helberg displays on the expertise, it’s with awe and reverence. Sure, it sounds onerous, it was onerous, however that’s additionally why it felt so rattling good.



“I really feel like that high quality existed all through your complete shoot, the place it was these sequence of calls for that we have been being requested to perform, and so they have been subsequent to not possible at occasions,” Helberg mentioned. “Due to that, there was at all times an actual vulnerability. You see that onscreen. You see that we’re strolling this excessive wire and it’s an extended approach to fall. You find yourself being very uncooked. That could be a high quality that may be very compelling to look at and in addition very thrilling to be part of.”

The inclusion of a puppet within the movie — the eponymous Annette, a being that Helberg’s character wanted to intensely bond with — was one of many few surprises the actor felt snug with from the beginning. She was within the very first script, he mentioned, together with showing in quite a lot of photos. That, Helberg thought, he may deal with.

“Once more, form of a harmful, dangerous alternative, however simply, yeah, go for it,” he mentioned. “And so by the point I bought to Brussels, there have been some preliminary conferences, form of determining hair and wardrobe after which there was, ‘Oh, the puppet wish to meet you.’ So I went into this darkish nook room that was within the studio, and I met Annette and I truly was actually surprisingly moved the primary time.”

There have been different surprises, too: Helberg was going to should function her throughout a number of key scenes, and her French-speaking puppeteers (Romuald Collinet and Estelle Charlier) have been keen to show him do it. “There was one thing very placing and haunting and emotional about them handing her off to me, and not likely having the ability to talk with them in any language that I do know and taking their child and giving life to it and being considerably answerable for it,” he mentioned. “The tenderness and the precariousness of that was an unimaginable parallel for the dynamic and the connection that I had with Annette within the film.”

Whereas The Accompanist is initially in (secret) love with Cotillard’s fascinating opera star Ann Desfranoux, when tragedy strikes, a lot of his affection is transferred to the infant she’s left behind. Their bond places him in direct opposition with Ann’s mercurial husband and Annette’s father, the outlandish standup comic Henry McHenry (Driver). As Annette turns into a worldwide star, The Accompanist fights to protect her innocence, whereas an more and more unhinged Henry turns into additional divorced from actuality.

Finally, the pair face off in a surprising bodily altercation, a single-take tour de drive of choreography, motion, and even singing (“Annette” is, in any case, a musical). As with lots of Carax’s different large calls for, Helberg mentioned the sequence was the product of formidable dreaming, an skilled crew, and a beneficiant quantity of derring-do.


Behind the scenes on “Annette” with director Leos Carax

Courtesy Amazon Studios

“It was all, once more, only a shock a minute,” Helberg mentioned, reeling off the expectations for the sequence. “We have been going to shoot it in a single shot. There was a stunt man there who was handing me totally different pads for various elements of my physique. We seemed in all places for an earwig that may go underwater. Nicely, we couldn’t discover any that go underwater, which I can inform you why, it’s as a result of no person can sing underwater. This isn’t attainable from a human standpoint. However they actually needed me to have the ability to sing underwater or at the least hear the music. And so then it grew to become, ‘Nicely, are you able to get the earwig out of your ear in the course of proper earlier than Adam throws you within the pool whereas we’re capturing a scene in a single shot?’”

The outcomes converse for themselves, and Helberg once more solely recollects the expertise with exhilaration. What else is “Annette” however this sort of well-regulated insanity?

“I feel by that time, I had simply come to anticipate and really form of welcome it, as a result of it was very exhilarating and it turns into this amazingly primal form of dance,” he mentioned. “I felt the phobia that I feel was applicable for that scene, though I felt very protected, as a result of Adam may be very skilled. When he pushes me or when he picks me up, it’s like he smothers me, virtually like the best way a boa constrictor would smother a rabbit or one thing. It had that electrical energy and it had that form of concern and it had that sense of the unknown and it additionally had an actual morbid playfulness to it, too. There’s one thing harmful and horny and horrific about the entire thing.”

That appears to be what will get Helberg going lately, and after greater than a decade spent on the smash hit CBS sitcom “The Large Bang Idea” — which ended its run in 2019, after catapulting all of its stars into a number of the highest pay grades in tv sequence historical past — he’s completely trying to hold stretching his appearing muscle mass.

“If ‘The Large Bang Idea’ gave me something that I actually cherish, other than the great relationships and experiences all through, it truly is freedom, artistically and creatively,” he mentioned. “I wouldn’t commerce any of the time I spent on that present for something. However for me, among the finest advantages is attending to spend months knocking on the door on the French consulate, attempting to get within the subsequent Leos Carax film. The issues I’ve gotten to do outdoors the present have all been, stylistically and creatively, the kinds of initiatives that I simply gravitate in direction of extra in my very own, simply in my very own style.”

“Annette” photocall at Cannes 2021

Cannes Movie Pageant

Funnily sufficient, Helberg mentioned, a few of his most beloved large display screen gigs got here from administrators — together with the Coen brothers, Stephen Frears, and Carax — who had by no means even seen the sequence (Helberg suspects Carax had by no means even heard of it). “There isn’t even a touch of some form of preconceived concept of who I’m,” he mentioned. “What’s lucky about attending to then work with them and do these sorts of movies is that afterwards, I feel extra folks additionally would possibly begin to go, ‘Oh! Oh, yeah, he’s an actor who performs totally different characters.’”

So, what’s subsequent? Helberg professes to have a tender spot for biopics, something with a task he can actually slip within. And whereas he admitted it might be “onerous to high” the wild freedom of “Annette,” he thinks there will be extra of that in his future.

“It’s thrilling filmmakers, uncommon tales, these are issues that basically enchantment to me,” he mentioned. “I’m serious about attempting to point out and entry totally different elements of me that I haven’t been capable of, that I haven’t had the chance to do but. It’s actually thrilling to chew off one thing that you just’re not likely certain in the event you’re going to in the end be capable to succeed at, which is the best way I’ve actually felt, very a lot so, with the final couple films, partially as a result of I lied to get within the door. I didn’t know if I used to be truly going to have the ability to play the ten items of opera and classical music for ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ and I didn’t know if I used to be going to have the ability to get a French passport for ‘Annette.’”

He paused for a second, after which added with a chuckle, “And so perhaps I ought to hold mendacity. I feel ‘at all times lie’ is the message.”

“Annette” is at present streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2021/11/annette-simon-helberg-interview-1234678334/ | ‘Annette’: Simon Helberg Tapped Into ‘Harmful, Attractive, and Horrific’

Aila Slisco

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