Interview: Director Robert Budreau on Born To Be Blue
Born To Be Blue (2015) is a critically acclaimed film that stars Ethan Hawke as celebrated jazz musician Chet Baker. Described as an 'anti-biopic,' Born To Be Blue mixes fact with fiction as it explores the life, drug addiction and music of Chet Baker. Kyle Eagle had the chance to interview director Robert Budreau on the film, jazz, and being true to the spirit of Chet Baker.
More Q Than A: This film started out as project created by Richard Linklater and Hawke years ago, how much of what they started made into the film?
Robert Bedreau: Not true. The Linklater project was entirely different, and a day-in-the-life of Chet Baker that Ethan was hoping to make nearly 15 years ago. My project started several years ago and Ethan’s past knowledge of Chet Baker helped for sure.
How did Hawke come into this project?
RB: We made Ethan a traditional offer in the spring of 2014 once we had financing in place. He happened to be in Toronto shooting another movie called Regression and he responded well upon reading my script. It turns out that he and Linklater had tried to do their own Chet Baker movie in the past, about a twenty-something Chet. When I met Ethan he was excited to have the opportunity to use his knowledge and ideas about Chet for a story dealing with him in his 40s. We hit it off, and were able to meet up over the summer in Toronto while he worked on this other film. He became a real partner and collaborator throughout the process from script to casting.
Is this a movie about love or addiction? With the inclusion of the female lead, Carmen Ejogo, the plot overall seems to be a love triangle between a man, his trumpet and his addiction. Thoughts or disagreements?
RB: This is a movie about both love and addiction and the choices artists have to make between the two. The love story was critical because it helps set up the central choice of the film at the end. Everything we did in the film sets up those last 15 minutes, so I spent a lot of time with Ethan and Carmen talking about how to best put the pieces in place to give us the most powerful and emotional ending, which of course highlights the themes of the film. It was important to find a bittersweet ending, a professional triumph matched with a personal tragedy, since this is true not only to life but to Chet Baker’s real story. The film doesn’t purport to have clear answers and the best drama is about posing and exploring questions for audiences. We don’t have the answers for the mysteries of addictive behaviour, but hopefully we provide some insights. Carmen was critical in the equation as the foil to Chet, and together with his manager Dick Bock (played by Callum Keith Rennie), they form a character triangle with Chet. The one film that inspired Ethan and I the most for this was Raging Bull, which has a similar character triangle of hero (De Niro), wife (Moriarty), and manager-brother (Pesci).
What does making a "reimaging" of somebody's life free the director up for?
RB: The reimaging is simply a way to remain true to the spirit of jazz and escape of clichés of music biopics and the fallacy of achieving truth through purported facts. Although it might free you up in terms of worrying about specific facts, it sets the bar higher in terms of hitting the right tone and spirit with original invention and it also puts more pressure on the music since that becomes a critical force.
Where there any insights added to Chet's life story by making these changes?
RB: The reimaging approach allows a more universal meaning and a jazzier film. Chet’s real life is what it was. The ‘Chet Baker’ in our story is obviously just one version and is invested with elements of Ethan Hawke and other creations. There’s a great book about jazz by Geoff Dyer called But Beautiful that riffs off famous jazz characters and uses their mythology to create new meanings. In the same way, we tried to use Chet Baker as a conduit to tell a larger story that’s universal about artists. I think additional insights gained from a reimagined approach speak to those larger themes and less to specifics of Chet’s life.
This interview originally appeared on The Gallery at Avalon Island's Facebook for More Q Than A, a biweekly film series in Orlando, Florida.