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Star Trek's Dominic Keating Remains An "Unbelievable" Actor Even During This Pandemic

In the Star Trek universe, British actor Dominic Keating established himself as a significant player once he joined the Star Trek: Enterprise — cast as  Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, one of its core members. As the Enterprise’s armory officer, he was in the senior command and appeared in 96 episodes where his presence was felt in this benchmark franchise. And even though it’s nearly 20 years later, his role asa 22nd century Starfleet officer serving on board Enterprise NX-01 under Captain Jonathan Archer’s (Scott Bakula) command — the first Warp 5 star ship — is as memorable as ever.

Recently, as one of those incredible alumni opportunities of being part of the greatest franchise in history is that actors from the original Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise found themselves working with Snoop Dogg in the parody/comedy “Unbelievable!!!!!.” When it made its first appearance it featured 40+ actors who have been in some version of Star Trek — and it was created by the husband and wife team of director Steven Fawcette and producer/co-star Angelique Fawcette .

The film has been screened several times on the convention circuit and recently enjoyed day long virtual premiere/Star Trek con on Agust 1st, 2020. For more info go to Archangel Films’ website.

A long time veteran of film and television, Reed first made his name in England starring in Desmond’s, a hit Brit series. Born in Leicester, to an Irish father; his grandfather, a brigadier, was awarded an OBE. From primary school, he started acting; to obtain his Equity card, Keating worked in a drag act called Feeling Mutual. He went on from “Desmond’s” to a role in Inspector Morse, as well as other guest-starring roles.

Once he moved to the States, he became the demonic warrior Mallos on the short-lived 2000 series The Immortal. He also made guest appearances on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, G vs E and Special Unit 2 as well as on several other series prior to his role on Star Trek: Enterprise. Since then he had guest roles on other series such as the hit show Heroes for its second season playing an Irish mobster in a four episode arc. He also did three episodes on the Fox TV series Prison Break. In 2010 Keating guest starred in the FX original series Sons of Anarchy. But this list is eclipsed but his four year stint from 2001-2005, in Enterprise — a tough experience to replicate but certainly life changing and  full of insight.

Q: Doing a weirdo parody like this gave you an opportunity to play more with humor.  When you were doing “Enterprise,” you enjoyed doing a little bit with humor there as well. Was this fun, to get an opportunity to exploit your humorous side?

DK: Yeah, God bless. My first big job was a sitcom in England.  I did five years in a show called “Desmond’s” which was a huge hit there in the end. It was set in a West Indian barber shop. I played one of the “pokin' honkies.”  

Q: That must have been fun. 

DK: It was a lot of fun.  It was the time of my life, actually, and that show was the first of what was called a “black show”.  It crossed over into just the general lexicon of British TV viewing.  I was just as likely to have two white lads in a white van screaming out the window at me “Hoy, Tony!” -- which was my character's name on the show, as I would a group of black kids [doing the same].

The day after that show aired, I was in Brixton at the time.  I used to go swim at the Brixton reck every morning after being on TV the night before. I went down to the pool, took a swim and was in the shower when a bunch of school kids, mostly black -- and in Brixton they were in the showers. They all turned to me and went, “You were on last night!” 

Q: So you racked up some props even before hitting the ST universe. But that provided you a platform to work from. 

DK: Yeah, no kidding. The power of TV. I'm quite a funny fellow, so I let that come through quite quickly. 

Luckily, I recognized that playing Malcolm Reed to the three-line characterization in the bio that they gave you was going to get pretty dull quite quickly. So I think it was by the end of the second episode of the pilot, I thought, you know what, I should let a lot of Dominic come through into Malcolm -- you know, within reason, because obviously I'm not him. And I did, and you know what, it worked out.  

I think the writers saw that quickly; they loved the conflict and the contradiction that he was this buttoned-down, stiff-upper-lip Brit, but he had a right sense of humor in the end. They started writing for that and they loved it. So they gave me a lot of leeway. It was fortunate for me as a British actor on an American TV show that I could ring up the writers and go “A British guy would never say that.”  They gave me quite a lot of free rein to just be Malcolm. I actually  rewrote quite a lot of my sections.  Yeah, I wrote quite a few of my little speeches myself, and they were very cool about that. 

They weren't so cool with some of the others. {one guy] didn't get any leeway. They wrote what they wrote and he had to say it. 

Malcolm Reed 2154Q: There was some good interplay between you and Tripp, Commander Charles Tucker (Connor Trinneer), for example. 

DK: Yes, we got on straightaway. We're still very dear friends.  We hang out a lot together -- some 20 years -- I can't believe it. It will be twenty years next year that the show opened.  We started in 2001. Imagine that.  

Q: It's been a pretty amazing turn. Scott Bakula has a charm -- he has helped some shows take off in some way. 

DK: Yeah, I can't say enough about him.  He's a charming, lovely, generous -- we couldn't have hoped for a nicer [person].  Hollywood sets cannot always be -- how should we say -- friendly places to hang around. They're like armies, you know: a lot of it comes from the leader.  If the leader, the No. 1 on the call sheet, is twitchy or egocentric -- or an asshole [laughs], that all trickles down through the ranks. 

I've worked on many a set where I cannot wait to get in the car and drive home. But luckily, thank God, he made those years at Paramount -- and being at Paramount for that time, you know, when they were still very much a “studio”, the last of its kind, really -- they were joyous years.  They really were.  I am so lucky and fortunate to have that experience here in Hollywood.  I just watched that show “Hollywood” on Netflix -- I don't know if you've seen it...

Q: No, but I've been meaning to see it. 

DK: Oh, it's delightful.  It's an absolute joy. They show a lot of Paramount, so it was doubly joyful to see that place so beautifully portrayed on screen. I recommend it. It's one of the best things I've seen on TV in, frankly, years. There's “The Crown,” there was “The Night Of,” which was that wonderful thing that John Turturro did with Riz Ahmed.  But I'm very picky about my viewing pleasures. I recommend “Hollywood” wholeheartedly, it's a treat.  It really is.  

Q: I've been watching a channel — Heroes & Icons — that has all the different Star Trek series. When you start to watch them consistently, you understand what they've done to create this ultimate universe.  It's a complete universe.  

DK: Oh yeah, I've heard of that. CBS has now got their own streaming channel, they've let these episodes go. Do you see the Next Gen episodes?

Q: I have. It's fascinating because you see how these producers and show runners had to conceptualize this thing so it all makes sense and fits together. You have to remember certain histories. With the JJ Abrams’ produced movies, it's in an alternate universe so it doesn't have to be subject to those things. But all the TV series somehow fit together in various ways.  

DK: Yes, God bless Brannon [Braga] and Rick Berman, but particularly Brannon. Rick was the overlord, as it were.  But Brannon was very much the day to day -- writing, show running, the harpy for that show, really, for seventeen years. I think he began there as an intern. It's a feat in televisual history which I don't think will ever be repeated. Quite a remarkable thing they had; four hit shows, back to back.  

Yeah, it's a shame we didn't go the full seven [seasons]. Perhaps they'd gone so well one too many times.  It's hard to say.  There was a desperation, bad blood started to creep in between Viacom and CBS when the UPN, the network, looked like it was changing, and it was.  We were still a flagship show, but then Viacom put Les Moonves in charge to get UPN up and that's when the rot set in, when Rick started getting notes from Dawn Ostroff at UPN via Les Moonves, who had no interest in our show. He didn't commission it, he didn't watch it, he wasn't a Star Trek fan.

We started getting some pretty dumb notes, apparently. That's when the pissing match started. Behind the scenes, I guess Les just dismantled UPN and came up with the CW and there was no room for us on that network.  So where were we to go? A shame -- we definitely had at least another two or three years in us. We were just really finding our stride. 

No disrespect to Brannon, but they let Manny Coto come on as staff writer in mid-season three and I remember reading his first script and I thought “That's good”. I rang up the writers' office and “Can I speak to Manny Coto?”  Of course his career has catapulted into the stratosphere since then.  What a great job he did running the show in the fourth season, and we were really finding our stride and… It's just too bad. 

Q: Well, that's the nature of TV.  But the good thing is for you, you created an iconic character, you end up now -- you're in history.  You can do any comic con…

DK: I know.  I have to say, I pinch myself often.  I introduce face pistols into the whole damn story. I have the immortal line “I have two settings, Captain: stun and kill.  It would be best not to confuse them.” That's pretty iconic stuff, yeah. 

I say to Conor from time to time, “We had years on that show, and we've had our careers. I had a career before Star Trek.  But those years were definitely the cherry on the bloody cake, you know? They still color my whole experience of having come to Los Angeles and frankly, yeah, getting a piece of the pie -- with the cherry on top. 

Q: So now, “Unbelievable”.  Crazy idea, 40 different Star Trek actors, did you get to meet people you never met before? Did you hang out with any of them?

DK:  Not really. We've all met each other. I was the first out the gate on our cast to go do the conventions.  I had seen that documentary “Trekkies” and went “Oh, yeah. There's another financial appendage to this job.” I drove my Porsche onto the lot with “Paid for with Cash”. Get in line.  

We're all one big family. We've been hanging out at these conventions for twenty years, pretty much. So no, there really wasn't anyone that I hadn't met. Obviously I had acted with Max Grodénchik (Rom from “Deep Space Nine”) before. But it was a real treat. It was like a convention, frankly, but on a film set. It was just lovely hanging out. 

Q: And how was Snoop Dogg? 

DK: I never met him, unfortunately, because they shot him after. We had Gilbert Gottfried.

Q: Gilbert Gottfried, he's a character. 

DK: They recast him. Apparently he didn't test well, or something. Somehow they got Snoop to do this. I take my hat off to Angelique [the co-producer]. She is a powerhouse. This film could easily have gotten left behind, and she has never given up on it. And here it is. So I doff my cap to her. 

I would love to have met Snoop.  What a treat that would have been. 

Q: Do you know what county your family is from? 

DK: Oh absolutely, yeah.

Q: Have you been there?  Did your parents tell you stories?

DK: Yeah, but they are both gone now. My dad was full Irish, and grew up mostly on Valencia Island.  My grandfather was a lighthouse keeper -- quite a renowned one, back in the day.  He and one other guy looked after the lighthouse on Skillick. You know little Skillick, that looks like Cruella De Ville should live there, those islands off the Kerry coastline?

Q: I know of it but I've never been to Kerry. 

DK: Well, it's very beautiful down there, you can see them on a clear day. There was a monastery there in 1120 or something. Anyway, they looked after the light there, and depending on the weather, they would be there for three to six months, God bless.  And the family all lived in the lighthouse keeper's dwellings on Valentia Island, which is where the first telegraph wire came in from the States to Europe. That's one of the famous pieces of Valencia.  

So I've been down there, I've seen the dwelling, the cottage that my dad lived in as a kid. He had a very rural background, he didn't wear shoes until he was about fifteen, God bless.

And my mother's family, funnily enough, right across the Causeway is a town called Cahersiveen.  The Keatings, which is my mother's [name] -- my real name is Power, my father's name was Lawrence Power.  There was another Dominic Power in Equity, in the union, when I became an actor, some thirty years ago. So I had to change my name, and I took my mother's maiden name, Keating. So when the Keatings, oddly enough, left Bletchly, you can throw a stale crusty bread roll across the Causeway from Cahersiveen to Valentia Island. 

My mum and dad met in Leicester after the war, which is where I was born and grew up.  My mum and her mother were kind of dumped by her father. My mother's -- the other side of her family are very quite posh and well-to-do. My grandfather on her side was a brigadier, OBE, fought in two world wars. and after the [2nd World] war, buggered off to Kenya to go and live with an heiress in Nairobi. 

My mother was in Leicester and my father had arrived in England to find his fortune, as it were, and good Catholic lad, went to the church there, Holy Cross, every Sunday and eyed my mother for many a service.  Eventually, he plucked up the courage, and here I am, forty, fifty years later.

Q: So you played an Irish gangster at one point in one of the TV shows…

DK: “Heroes” that’s right.

Q: Are there things that you want to do? Produce, write, direct, based on any of this background…?

DK: You are the first person that has said to me, Wow, what a story that would make.  Yeah, I have thought about sitting down to write it. I'm not a writer.  I do think writers are born, and it would be a task for me.  Nothing would frighten me more than siting in front of a blank screen, going “Well what's the first scene? What does the first person say?”  I don't know, maybe I'll get to it.  

I have to say that the more days the coronavirus leaks on, the longer I am sitting here twiddling my thumbs, trying to be productive and staying fit and reading books and eating well, and meditating. But unless we get back to work soon, I've got to start thinking of doing something other than sitting around. 

Cultural Icon/Singer/Actor/Writer Jane Birkin Present A One-Time Concert — Gainsbourg The Symphonic

Interview and polaroids by Brad Balfour

Jane Birkin & Guests —Iggy Pop and Charlotte Gainsbourg
Gainsbourg The Symphonic Live
the Beacon Theatre
New York, NY
Friday, March 6

In the mid-’70s, a French song, “Je t’aime moi non plus,” came out that stirred both controversy and accolades as well as becoming an international pop hit — even getting considerable American airplay in the very uptight 1970s  USA. As sung by Jane Birkin, with her hushed, breathy, half-whispered vocals, it prompted explicit sexual fantasies — just as Serge Gainsbourg, its creator, and her lover, intended.

The late Jewish singer, songwriter, pianist, film composer, poet, painter, screenwriter, writer, actor and director has been regarded as modern France’s  most important pop music figure, renowned for often provocative and scandalous releases which caused uproar everywhere, often dividing public opinion. His diverse output — he wrote over 550 songs, many of which have been covered more than 1,000 times — range from jazz, chanson, and yé-yé to  efforts in rock, funk, reggae, and electronica. Though his varied but individualistic compositions made him hard to categorize, his legacy has been enshrined and he’s become one of the world’s most influential musicians. His lyrics incorporated wordplay, with humorous, bizarre, provocative, sexual, satirical or subversive overtones, prompting critics to regard Gainsbourg and a French literary treasure.

In ’69, the 20 year old met the 40-something Gainsbourg while co-starring with him in Slogan, which marked the beginning of years-long working and personal relationship. The duo released their debut Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg in 1969, and Birkin also appeared in the controversial film Je t’aime moi non plus (1976) under Gainsbourg’s direction.

char1Their story was little bit romantic, a little bit tragic. It contained lots of drama and emotion — and it made a huge impact on both their lives.Though they parted ways –she separated from Gainsbourg in 1980 — Birkin continued working as both actress, singer, and writer, appearing in indie films and recording numerous solo albums. But her time with Serge was always present in her life.

Since his surprising death from a second heart attack in 1991, Gainsbourg’s attained legendary status, and is regarded as one of France’s greatest musician and an endeared national figure. He has also gained a cult following in the English-speaking world with chart success throughout the United Kingdom and the USA (something no other Francophone artist has managed) with “Je t’aime… moi non plus” and “Bonnie and Clyde” respectively.

The 70-something Birkin now comes to New York’s Beacon Theatre to pay tribute to her late husband with “Birkin Gainsbourg The Symphonic” on Friday, March 6th at 8 pm. Birkin will be joined by rock legend  Iggy Pop and actress/daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Arranged by Emmy Award-winner Nobuyuki Nakajima with by Philippe Lerichomme’ artistic direction, the concert offers symphonic versions of classic Gainsbourg songs ranging from his career beginnings in the ’50s to those written especially for Birkin, such as “Jane B” and “Baby Alone in Babylone” — penned after the legendary couple’s separation.

I’m glad that I, at least, got a chance to spend two days with him. I had gone to Paris and started working for Metal Hurlant. I was sent to interview Serge. When I came to the house, he showed me everything there and then we went out to his studio.  He took me to Le Palace to see Ingrid Cavan perform and then to Elysee Matinot for a late dinner with a film producer, fashion designer and actress. When I came back I visited him a second time. I wish I had written more about him, but I’m hoping through this conversation I’ll be able to do so.

Born December 14th, 1946, Jane Mallory Birkin, OBE achieved international fame in part due to her decade-long musical and romantic partnership with Serge Gainsbourg. She also had a prolific career as an actress in British and French cinema. This London native first achieved notoriety thanks to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 thriller “Blowup” where Birkin has a minor but surprising scene in which she plays a model who romps topless with photographer Terence Stamp. Birkin would establish acting credits in Antonioni’s Kaleidoscope, as well as Agatha Christie’s films "Death on the Nile" (1978), and "Evil Under the Sun" (1982).

In 1991, she appeared in the Red Fox miniseries and in an American drama, "A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries", in 1998. After she starred in  2016’s Oscar-nominated short La femme et le TGV, she said, at the time, it would be her final film.

Birkin has lived mainly in France since the ’70s, raising her children; she’s been mother to late photographer Kate Barry (d. 2013), with her first husband John Barry; actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, with Serge; and model Lou Doillon, with Jacques Doillon. Additionally, she lent her name to the popular Hermès Birkin bag. shortly before making it to NYC for this show, Birkin spoke about her life and Serge.

char2Q: On the internet, people are always posting your photos. Do you think of yourself as an icon?

Jane Birkin: No, of course not. It’s quite funny. I’m going to a show tonight with Celine and she looks exactly like I looked when I was 20, so it’s pretty sweet. I never think of myself that way. And then seeing some of them, what I see every day, it’s very sweet of people to think of you at all.

Q: How do you manage these personae?

JB: Well, I’m not sure. I’m doing a film in May, June and July. And I’ve got a new record coming out with it; I wrote the lyrics and music. I’ve done the Philharmonic ones in nearly three years and we go to Moscow and then I’ll finish it off with my daughter Lou. I will have done nearly three years with the Philharmonic. I’ve been lucky to have ideas because I’ve found Nobuyuki Nakajima– the orchestrator who’s Japanese. When I went to Japan, they had the tsunami, and I wanted to go there and do a kick-off to cheer people up. I met him and he was a composer and I thought, “Well, if I do it in a Philharmonic way with an orchestra — He writes movie music; I’ve always rather loved movie music — then I knew it wouldn’t be boring and he’d find a place for my voice somewhere. And he did. It’s a magical thing that he’s managed to do.

Q: Is there a thread running through them that’s very Jane Birkin? How would you describe that?

JB: I brought out my diary and some people are surprised because they’re very honest. If I was frightened of anything, it was that people would be disappointed in me and that I wasn’t the courageous or good person that I wanted to be. In the diary it shows, but those diaries are coming out in Russian, Spanish and in Italian and German. Really, who would have thought  that this little girl turned into somebody who kept going for so long? And so in Quebec, I’ll be reading the diaries and then I’ll come over to New York and [present] the Philharmonic and just hope.

Q: Why do you think it works so well?

JB: It’s probably emotional because I’m really singing Serge’s point of view, his pain, his distress, all the beautiful things that he moved in me when I left him. It’s another part of the history, really, a new way of presenting things, of doing his songs. The one concert you saw, which was with Jamil and the North African group, and funny, because they were very particular, they seem to travel very well. So I had a good year for knowing the best people to work with. I think that’s probably my good luck.

Q: Do you find yourself relating first to the lyrics and then the music or the other way around?

JB: I know them all for so long now — these songs I’ve been singing, some of them for over 50 years, but, with this new way of doing it, this is the best way I’ve ever done them. I think you can understand the words when you listen to them even though it’s sort of a Philharmonic orchestra, but sometimes I can’t get over the the beauty of the songs he wrote and just find it so odd that they were never in English and others did versions of them because he’s probably just the greatest writer. People have come to miss him an awful lot because of the extravagance of his personality and, realizing not too late, but even so quite late, the immaculate writer he was. I was just lucky to have him from when I was 20 years old until the day he died.

Q: Some people think of Serge and Leonard Cohen as having a similar emotional connection. Who do you feel Serge was most connected to? Some others think of him as the French Bob Dylan. What do you think of that association; he really has shaped a lot of other people?

JB: He’s influenced the French way of writing since he started. He was a different way of writing, was a different way in rhyming so for the French, he did all that. The ideas of melody, the notes and the ideas that no one ever had done before, doing a whole album on a story that had a beginning and the dramatic end. He’s as great a writer as Dylan and Cohen. Of course, he has the same melancholia that you can feel with them as well. He was such a funny mixture of being Russian, Jewish, terribly dramatic, and funny, always longing to tell the latest Jewish joke or the latest Belgian joke that he had written down in the pocket book, always longing to play a tune on the piano that would move you. Then he would start crying. And yet he was just the funniest man.

I don’t know if it the other two people you mentioned were quite as surprising in real life but [Serge] was the most amazingly charming, funny, and kind man, so I don’t know whether there are many artists who you can say that about. As to his genius side, he was always ahead of his time. It was just lucky that people realized how great he was in time. He was only 63 when he died, but I think he knew that he was about the most popular man in France and he had a complicated beginning with his looks and everything. But at the end, I think he realized that he was the most loved man in France.Thank God. He had just enough time for that.

Q: What’s it like working with your daughter — you did a film together, right?

JB: She was inJane VandKung-Fu Masterwith me. My other daughter, Lou, who was about four, is in it as well. She sang once with me in a concert that I did. So it was fun to be with her and Iggy Pop, who is really very sweet, I can’t wait to be with them.

char3Q: Is this the first gig you’re doing with Iggy and Charlotte together or you’ve done it with Charlotte but not [with Iggy]?

JB: No, no. It’s the only time.

Q: I can’t wait to see it. I’ve saw you do your music at New York’s Alliance Francaisa few years ago. And you did that show before,Arabesque, with the Middle Eastern/Arabic stuff. You cover this sort of global expanse of sound — do you feel that each style touches on different aspects of you?

JB: I don’t really know that. I realized at the end of this concert that says I had given myself a comedy/music gallery for one person and there were funny songs and sad songs and ones with the scope that nobody  could make. We  often have the sound from the piano before the whole 60-piece orchestra comes in. It’s just a fabulous feeling like flying and you have to be pretty careful about not tripping yourself up. If you make a mistake with the 60 people, they aren’t going to follow me, I’ve got to follow them. So, it’s a journey I did slowly, you always think, “It’s good to be the last time you do it.”

Q: There’s that other side of you, the visual side. Your scene inBlow Up, it was a very unconscious, natural thing. Then you developed a fashion identity, the Birkin bag and the modeling — you become a fashion icon. Were you conscious or unconscious of it? Did you realize that you had such a visual presence; did it affect you in giving you another medium to play in?

JB: I had absolutely no idea. The only thing I probably didn’t have was this sort of arrogance of coming into this in the 60s and therefore wearing short skirts and my basket and sort of thinking that whatever we did was right, ’cause I mean that’s the way we wanted to do it. So that was by the fact of being English, and a little bit more daring than the French were. Especially at 20 years old and when all the fashion is in England. Everything was happening in England, the fashion and the music. I mean, when I popped over from England, we were in a fairly good place there. So probably that had something to do with it, just wearing the things that I wanted. And if I didn’t think they would put it the right way around, then I turned the wrong way. In all this I was egged on by Serge’s gospel who thought it was all great.

In those days we weren’t icons of any kind. But I didn’t get anything free from anybody. It was just great fun. We picked up things that we thought were fun and I found things that I thought Sarge would look great in and I found his body pumps so he didn’t have to wear uncomfortable shoes and jewelry around his neck and his blazer and jeans and that. And suddenly it’s become everybody’s fashion to look like that. But it was, he who started it,

Q: How did you meet Iggy Pop — another pop culture icon? How did you become friends with Iggy?

JB: I wasn’t friends with Iggy, but he just seemed to be the most fantastic performer that I could possibly ask for. And when I did ask if he’d be free then, I was astonished that he knew Serge’s work so terribly well and was so modest and sweet and willing to come on this adventure with me. But I didn’t know him at all. Anyone who’s worked with him said that he was such a lovely person to work with, so I mean, he’s got the reputation of being a sweetheart and very loved by the people that I love. I’m sure it’ll be fun to meet him.

Q: When will Charlotte’s documentary be done?

JB: I’m just doing it little by little frankly. We did a couple of days in New York and we did a couple of days in Tokyo and so it’s probably take years, I hope so. And then it’s worth looking up someone who is, when I started writing my own record just now, I remember to close on the person who was absolutely wonderful and worth looking up is, is my brother’s son calledAnno Birkinand he was in a group called Kicks Joy Darkness and they all got killed in Milan in 2001. But his words, which you can find on the internet, are just wonderful. Perhaps the most beautiful modern poetry that I know.

Q: This is the one show you’re going to do of this. And then you’re going to come back and you’ve got your album to finish.

JB: I finished all the words and all the singing, but we’ve got to do the quotes in Abbey Road and then do the rest next week and then it’ll be the Children’s Chorale and things like that. But it’ll be finished by May. Then I start the film May, June, July, and then the record comes out in September. So I have my work cut out [for me]. It’ll be quite nice.

Q: And in the middle of all this, Charlotte’s shooting the documentary?

JB: She’s just doing a couple of days in New York.

Q: Oh, I see. Any books from you as well? Or is it’s pretty much the recording?

JB: Well, the last two books I’ve just brought out and the first volume is coming out in England at the end of September, and in France both volumes have come out, so I’ve been wandering around promoting that and doing readings and things.

Director Dexter Fletcher Taps into Elton John’s Life To Make Rocketman a Real-Life Musical Fantasy & Nabs Oscar Nom

Dexter Fletcher, photo by Brad Balfour

Thanks to director Dexter Fletcher, Elton John's successes and travails are transformed into the mega-pop star's redemption song through the film 'Rocketman.' Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25th 1947, he went from being a shy child prodigy to outrageous stardom and survived.

This English singer/songwriter/pianist/composer collaborated with lyricist Bernie Taupin on more than 30 albums making him one of the world's best-selling musicians. He has had more than 50 Top 40 hits, seven consecutive number-one albums in the United States, 58 Billboard Top 40 singles, 27 Top 10 singles —four of which reached number two and nine reached number one. Through it all, Sir Elton Hercules John CBE consumed copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, had an numerous sex partners — especially once he fully came out — and spent millions as one of the world’s greatest shop-aholics. But as one of his songs proclaimed, The Bitch Is Back and John straightened himself out, found his life partner David Furnish, with whom he is raising two children and has conducted his long extended farewell tour. 

Fletcher’s biographical fantasy renders Elton's life into a fabulous “song & dance ” quasi-biopic, stringing together his tunes in such a way as to tell a narrative with a full emotional arc that presents his life story, albeit in a speedy, truncated, surreal way. Written by Lee Hall, it stars Taron Egerton as John (who sounds uncannily like the original) with Jamie Bell as Taupin. Titled after 'Rocket Man,' John's 1972 hit, this biopic had been in development for almost two decades, going through studios such as Walt Disney and Focus Features, has had many directors and actors on board including Tom Hardy and Justin Timberlake. After creative differences halted an initial production in 2014, John took the project to Paramount Pictures, with Egerton and Fletcher signing on in 2018

Premiering at this year's Cannes Film Festival, it has received generally positive reviews.At the 73rd British Academy Film Awards it earned four nominations, including Outstanding British Film. The film also won both Best Original Song at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, Best Song at the 25th Critics' Choice Awards and is nominated for Best Original Song at the 92nd Academy Awards for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again.” Egerton also got noms, and won the Golden Globe’s Best ActorMotion Picture Musical or Comedy Award

Sometimes actor Fletcher appeared in Guy Ritchie's 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,' as well as many television roles as well as being a child actor in the film Bugsy Malone. He made his directorial debut with 2011's 'Wild Bill' (2011) and won acclaim for such indie fare as 2013's 'Sunshine On Leith' and 2016's ‘Eddie the Eagle.' Fletcher replaced director Bryan Singer to finish the tail end of the Queen biopic, 'Bohemian Rhapsody,’ but due to DGA rules, he only received executive producer credit.

At a press event held at the Dolby Soho pop-up space (which had a celebration of the film installed at the time) earlier in 2019, the 53-year-old Englishman conducted this Q&A with a few journalists.

Q: Who’s responsible for opening that window into Elton's heart, mind and soul?

DF: Well, I suppose, I am. We all are; our connection to Elton is profound. To do the man a service you have to love him, but to do that you have to love him in a very real way and not pull your punches. If we tried to sugarcoat it or make it self-serving then we're not giving what the real story is. What we're trying to do is look at the emotional content of what it is. What was happening to him as a person? What was he going through? Can you put the music and the drama together and does it stand up? If we don't have that then it would just be a left turn that doesn’t ring true.

The challenge is keeping things on the rails. People ask what was Bernie going through at the time and I can't deal with that. I made a film called 'Rocketman' that’s about Elton John. Of course, Bernie is a key part of that and his lyric writing is responsible for his relationship with Elton. But the Bernie Taupin movie is different from the Elton John movie and you have to get into the heart and mind of that. So it was about being true to that and not losing sight. That's the challenge of any filmmaker, to keep it on the rails. So as ridiculous as I tried to make it sound, I did do it, it's my job to keep it on track and in the editing process everyone else brings it together.

Q: The ‘Rocket Man' song sequence in the movie encapsulates everything by taking a song we know in real life and launching it into the word of fantasy. How did you come up with the imagery in that scene?

DF: That's a contribution of screenwriter Lee Hall. The image of him in the pool that's In the script I read; what makes 'Rocket Man' particularly interesting is that it's one of the few songs that crosses over from the fantasy element of this life that are out of control and these out-of-body experiences into the reality of the performance and then back again into something quite crazy and imaginative.

It's the very backbone of the film in that he flies high, he burns bright, and that comes at a cost. It's one of the great moments when you see him take that step behind that stage and you realize the story behind the curtain is about someone who has hit rock bottom. When he flies through the door and everything gets suspended in time, there [he is] sinking into the depths. But 'Rocket Man' becomes the musical spine of the film because of how it crosses from fantasy into reality, and back to fantasy.

Q: There's a great sense of stagecraft in going from him falling from into the pool to the hospital.

DF: I have a great love of silhouettes as well. We went to that space for something else and I saw that huge glass window. I knew that at the right time of day I was going to get some beautiful silhouettes. The idea originally was that behind a lot of hospital screens, but once I saw that window with the sun behind it, it gave me the idea to create that balletic moment.

Q: That's an example of something you can't plan ahead for.

DF: That's very much how I work. There are storyboards of course, but often times I'll go somewhere and get taken up by an idea for a location and use that as a framing device. It's important for me to find my locations as soon as possible and figure out what's going to happen.

Q: Was there a point at which you worried about getting too fantastical?

DF: I worried about going too normal. Once those fantasy sequences started happening, I thought, 'this is really exciting, this is really amazing, let's make a whole film like this!' But you've got to have a balance. And then you have a sequence which is fantasy and music together but in a very pedestrian or suburban setting. I just wanted to keep a connective tissue between them.

Q: How did you come up with that sequence spotlighting 'Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting' which felt like a 1940s musical number?

DF: It said in the script that Reggie is running down the street and people are fighting when they sing and dance. That's what I had to go on. I also wanted it to be about a young man breaking free from the bonds of his parents and family life and seeing the outside world. [It's a] colorful and imaginative world full of cultural and musical influences. So the fairgrounds seemed like a good place to do that. It's full of lights and color and magic. That gave me a backdrop to work with these interesting and diverse people that caused Elton to see it's a wide world [out there]. You can't deny the energy [to] something like 'On the Town' when you've got [Gene] Kelly and [Frank] Sinatra doing literally one of the first on-location musicals where they hit New York and they're bouncing around. The excitement of that is something I've always loved so I tried to create this continuous storytelling that's about him coming of age.

Q: In your collaboration with Taron Egerton, you have to be in simpatico to make this movie to work. What was your first meeting like?

DF: He and I first worked together on 'Eddie the Eagle,' which was a really good collaborative experience. Great actors search for truth in the moment and Taron and I talked about that a lot on 'Eddie.' So when 'Rocketman' came along, [producer] Matt Vaughn called me and said 'Taron as Elton.' I already knew from that sentence alone that there was something exciting about that. Taron fell into the groove on that. We just hit the ground running because we knew each other and wanted to work together. I knew he had this incredible [timbre] to his voice. There was work to do on that because he said he was more of a ballad singer and I had to nudge him towards more this rock kind of vocalization. Elton set the ball running. He said 'don't do an imitation of me, do your take on my songs.'

He was very clear about that with the songs and said, 'Do what you got to do.' We were doing a musical set to Elton John's music but, in theory, it could be about anybody. It's about Elton and his journey but I'd like to think there's a universality to the story that means it's not specific to Elton and that's why it's not a biopic. It's Elton's recollections and memories of how he felt at the time and what that song meant to him. 'I Want Love' wasn't written until [much later (2001)] but I used it in a scene set in 1956 because it fit the story.

Q: What about the first meeting between you, Taron, and Elton?

DF: The first time I was in a room with Taron and Elton at the same time was during the rehearsal period. We had been in rehearsal for about six or eight weeks and Elton came along to hear the opening number. So when he came in, there was this incredible buzz and excitement for everyone involved. We were getting absorbed in all things Elton. He had no idea we were getting obsessed with him. Where did he grow up? What toys did he have? What kind of piano did he have? Where did he go to school? Who were his neighbors? Every department had to do that. And he was just saying, 'Oh yeah, I remember that.'

There was a bit of childish excitement on Elton's first day with us. The next time I really remember being in a room with him was at Cannes. Everything happened so fast. I was crying, he was crying, Taron was crying. My wife was just shaking her head in dismay. Elton generously let us go do it, and we're not always free to do things the way we want or need. He understood that it had to become its own thing and it needed the freedom it had. You need the freedom to go to darker places and not worry [about] what would Elton think. He was actually fine with it, he said, 'It's a masterpiece, I love it!' You can't get better than that.

Q: Elton lived through this period, you were younger, and Taron wasn't alive. How did your memories fuse with Elton's and transfer to Taron?

DF: It's about giving things historical context, helping Taron understand things that today we take as a given. What life might be like if you scrapped those things. There's a fantastic documentary from 1971 when Elton first got back from America and he's in his flat sitting by the piano talking about how they write songs. 'Yeah, Bernie gave me these lyrics for this thing he's called 'Tiny Dancer.'' Elton goes to the piano and reads the first lines and plans how it's going to be and says he wants to do it as a ballad. It's basically 1971 footage of Elton John writing 'Tiny Dancer.' It's an incredible moment. That's what I try to capture when Elton writes 'Your Song.' He's in his dressing gown and complaining that there's egg on a piece of paper, but then writes one of the greatest pop standards of all time.

It's about giving talent context. You can look at the material, but even if you talk about Elton's mom, for example she wanted to leave Elton's father and be an independent woman in 1958, but she couldn't get a mortgage, couldn't have a credit card, things that we take for granted. iIn that kind of scenario, how does that impact you as a person if you're a woman trying to get out of a loveless marriage? That gives you some historical context for why people were the way they were in that period. It's part of mining the historical realities. Being gay in the UK at that time¦ It was de-criminalized in 1969, that's only 50 years ago. You have to get into the mindset of being a criminal for nothing more than how you feel. It's not like, 'Oh no, there are no mobile phones then.' It's something more meaningful that you can have a discussion about.

Q: Was this ever conceptualized as a play? how you think about it; ow would it change it?

DF: I think that would be amazing if it could be re-imagined as something as glorious as a Broadway show. That would be extremely exciting. Who wouldn't want to see that? But it wasn't conceived for that. I conceived it for the screen, it's very much a big palette. I know I can get on a crane and go really high to show 50 dancers jumping around a fairground. I like to use the cinematic elements. It would need to be re-conceived.

Q: How much did Taron or the screenwriter discuss the script with Elton; there's a lot of stuff about his feelings that only Elton would know?

DF: Lee Hall, who did the original draft of the screenplay, is an old friend of Elton's. They worked on the musical 'Billy Elliot.' A lot of the old draft is Lee sitting down with Elton and recording his thoughts. It's a biopic, it's about unpacking memories to understand who a person is. Then Taron and Elton became good friends on the set of 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle [Kingsman 2]' [which Elton was in]. Elton was wowed by this guy. Things just aligned and when we started the film, Elton spent time at Taron's house and gave Taron a small heart-shaped diamond and said, 'This was the first diamond I ever bought.' It must have been a really personal item. No matter how rich you are, it's the first thing you bought when you made it that was really expensive. And Taron wears it throughout the rehab sequence.

So immediately there was this strong personal connection that plays into Taron's commitment to the role. It was a great thing sitting down with Elton the first time who said, 'Ask me anything, what do you want to know?' And we danced around a few questions. We asked about what it was like at the Troubadour and we got into the nitty gritty about one night with John Lennon. That's for the sequel.

Q: Costume designer Julian Day did great work with Elton.

DF: The beauty of what we're doing is that it's about memory, not a biopic, and memory is fallible. If I try to remember what this jacket is like in 10 years time it would look very different when I describe it because the memory plays tricks. I talked to Julian about doing it as Elton remembers it. We know the chicken man suit, but our version is larger and heightened because it's his recollection. So that's what got Julian excited, we didn't have to be slavish. It's so hard with a biopic because you relentlessly try to get every detail right and someone goes, 'Yeah, wrong shoes.'

So I said let's create a reality of his memory. The other thing I was proud of was I made a vow to say no to everything for the first week. So everybody is mad and then they come back with something really extraordinary. Which works until people want to kill me. Julian Day is phenomenal and said, 'If I could make a costume that even Elton John wish he wore, then I'll have achieved what I was trying to do.' The one Elton saw was the orange devil thing and he said 'I wish I had worn that.'

Q: How much of Elton's technical sound did you research for the movie?

DF: The beauty is that we can use this modern technology to'€¦ Some of what Taron is doing is sung live, some of 'Crocodile Rock,' Your Song' etc. But the beauty is in what you can do with sound mixing, the music and instrumentation when you have Giles Martin just say he's going to pop over to Abbey Road and re-record that. You can layer it and build it and extract a bigger palette so you can play with it.

The wonder of the musical is that the projected image with music is as old as the cinema itself. The music is what brings it together. When 'Your Song' happens, it's really simple. There's a guy off-camera playing piano and Taron's singing. Then you bring in the strings and you feel the tingle on the back of your neck. The audience feels how unifying music is when the right note is hit at the right time. It's hard to resist or deny. It's the wonder of where technology is moving that you get the gift of wonderful sound design.

Q: What Elton John song did you wish was in the movie for a more fantastical view?

DF: 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' is a great, great track and there was a time when it was going to be in there. It was around a sequence that was a suicide attempt. There were two suicide attempts in Elton's life and the scene was written as more comical and I didn't feel that was right because I thought it was quite a serious subject at the end of the day. 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' was Taron's favorite song [but it didn't make it into the film].

It's an embarrassment of riches, there are so many great songs and the hits keep coming. There are over 20 songs in the film and maybe I put one too many. I even love 'Nikita,' but I'm weird like that.

Irish-tinged Singer-Songwriter Rebecca Hart & The Wrong Band Do The Right Thing This Season At Rockwood

Rebecca Hart & The Wrong Band
Rockwood Music Hall
stage 3
196 Allen Street
December 13th, 2019

Last year, as the Christmas season was kicking in, Rebecca Hart with band in tow, and a variety of special guests, did an intimate but remarkable version of a holiday show — or at least her idea of one. Laden with a few blasphemous references and a bow or two to Hanukkah (or Chanukah depending on where you look), this millennial proved to be knowledgable beyond her generation drawing on a solid set of references from country to Irish ballads, to perform quite a bunch of originals and cover all in her own special style. Once again, she does her version of this show at Rockwood Music Hall’s stage 3 on December 13th, at 8:30 pm.

This NYC-based actor, songwriter, theatrical writer/composer once accidentally won a comedy contest in a bar in Dublin, Ireland, while appearing as musical guest. She’s racked up acting credits in the national tour of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat with the Public Theatre Mobile Unit; The Civilians’ Rimbaud in BAM, perfomed in Midsummer, a play with songs at Hartford Theaterworks (CT Critics Circle Best Actress Nomination); done a workshop of The Pogues musical ‘Fairytale of NY’ at the Public, and five shows at the Actors Theatre of Louisville including lead roles at the 35th/36th Humana Festivals. She can also be seen playing guitar in Young Adult, a film starring Charlize Theron.

As a composer and/or lyricist, her work has appeared in productions with The Civilians, Target Margin Theatre, the Spkrbox Festival in Oslo Norway, and Branden Jacobs-JenkinsGLORIA at Woolly Mammoth. Internationally, she has performed at the National Theatre of Oslo (Sprkbox), the Yarmouk Cultural Centre in Kuwait, and the Town Hall Studio in Galway, Ireland (original solo musical produced by the Druid). She has toured extensively in Ireland (though it’s been a while) at venues like Whelans, the Project Arts Centre, the Roisin Dubh, and Cyprus Avenue. Her original solo show ‘Jazz Desert: The Life & Death of an American Band’ was presented by the Druid at the Town Hall Studio in Galway. “The Magician’s Daughter,” her recent album, was produced by acclaimed cellist/songwriter Ben Sollee in Louisville KY and by Ben Arons (also her band’s drummer) in NYC.

Q: How is this year’s set different from last year’s?

RH: There will be some similarities for sure; I like tradition. NYC burlesque legend Jonny Porkpie and I will do our annual holiday comedy song. We’ll be doing material from The Magician’s Daughter for sure. But this band has been playing together a lot since then and I’ve written a bunch of new material. Also, there’s some cross-pollination happening such as a song written by Matt Gelfer, and one from a rock musical that David Kornfeld and I wrote for The Civilians Theatre Company R&D Group.

Q: This looks a little like a different band …

RH: Same band but we finally named ourselves — Rebecca Hart & The Wrong Band — after the Tori Amos song. They are great. Right now it’s a five piece: myself on guitar/lead vocals/primary songwriting, Kornfeld (keyboards, laptop, melodica and vocals), Gelfer (fiddle, mandolin, guitar and vocals), Chris Nattrass (upright bass), and Ben Arons (drums). We are joined occasionally by Nick Stephens on trumpet and our ‘unofficial’ bandmate Mr. Jonny Porkpie, the Band Disruptor or sometimes Court Jester. It’s a fun mix of people varying widely in age and influences (David and I share a background in theater and in ‘70s rock; Matt and I share a love of twangy Americana; Ben and I had a great time emphasizing the electronica elements of the album and looking for ways to bring it out more from different parts of my life…

unnamed 4Nick, David, and I met in grad school at NYU studying writing for musical theatre; Ben and Chris and I play in The Dirty Waltz Band, a folk cover group, and I know Matt from his wonderful ‘folkgrass’ band The New Students, with whom I used to gig a lot.

We talk a lot about how this group came together seemingly effortlessly and we can’t quite remember how but it works. All I know is I made ‘The Magician’s Daughter’ and needed some people to perform it with me and suddenly there they were. It was very much ‘if you build it they will come’.

Q: Will this be a special Christmas show or representative of your general set?

RH: We’re calling this the “annual holiday show” because the theater artist in me loves a theme (light in the dark time of the year)… And, we’ll be doing a nod or two to the season. Also, most of the band is at least half-Jewish so it would never be solely a ‘Christmas’ show. Otherwise, it’s a regular gig…

Q: Of the songs that you’ve composed, which ones best represent who you are and your music’s direction?

RH: I’m enjoying the range of influences from the various artistic things I do, the people onstage and the freedom I feel within that to explore. We are definitely a folk band — with an upright bass, fiddle, etc. — but I don’t always write folk songs. Our sound includes crunchy synthesizers and vocal effects and (upcoming) electric guitar. I like writing one thing by myself and having it come out like something else once the guys are playing it. There’s room for everything, which is why it makes sense to play a whimsical folk duet (“Waltz Home”) and then a haunting epic-ish rock song (“Perfume”)… and then have a burlesque comedian run onstage for a parody song at the end of which he takes off his pants. It’s all part of what I do.

In particular, “The Kestrel Strand” is a song that people seem to really respond to; we always joke about how it’s our most-video’d song… People seem to take out their phones as soon as it starts. It’s a folk tune about being in a bar in Ireland and observing a couple in love. When I wrote it, I remember making a conscious decision to keep it simple musically and emotionally. It’s a waltz with a fiddle solo; I’m usually a lot more smoke and mirrors and imagery. Particularly, I forced myself to just be truthful and vulnerable and not allow myself irony, wordplay or abstraction. On the album there are two versions; one with the Dirty Waltz Band backing it up and one that’s recorded live on producer Ben Sollee’s porch, with just my guitar and him playing tenor banjo. You can hear the crickets.

On the other hand, a song like “Perfume” — about ‘crossing over’ after death and the unfinished business we leave behind — is not straightforward or literal at all. It’s more like a hallucination and the music — electronic samples, digital percussion and slightly otherworldly layered vocals — reflects this.

Now, with the current band, I’m excited about the way different voices are actively shaping the songs. In rehearsal, there’s lots of ideas flowing and the set includes one or two things not composed by me.

There’s also starting to be variations in instrumentation which is fun. We’re working on a new tune now where I play piano (!) and Matt plays electric guitar (though that may not be ready by 12/13). One of the new tunes is definitely just foot-stomping country rock which I’m not mad at. Come hear it!

Q: As to your activities over the last year…

RH: Band-wise: We’ve played some really great shows including regular nights at the Rockwood Music Hall (including our “P’Easter” gig in the spring); have done first time appearances at The Cutting Room and the Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn, the SoFar Sounds Series NY and DC; and various house concerts in Brooklyn and upstate. I played solo sets at SoFar, Hartford Theaterworks in CT, and the NY Songwriters Circle at the Bitter End. We also very memorably played the world famous Kripalu Yoga Center in The Berkshires this November and have been invited back for the Spring.

Q: And as to other non-Band news…

unnamed 5RH: It’s been a big year. My graduate thesis musical “Iron John: an American Ghost Story” (lyrics/book by me, music/ book by my collaborator Jacinth Greywoode), was being produced at NYU’s New Studio on Broadway (Tisch Drama) literally during last year’s holiday show (I had to miss that performance ). Since then, we’ve been honored to have the show presented at the Tony-Award winning Theatreworks’ Silicon Valley New Works Festival. Developed at the O’Neill Center, it showcased at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival at NYC’s New World Stages where it was one of eight shows chosen blind from 219 submissions to be presented to industry from across the country. We are now represented by Abrams Artists Agency and are talking to a few regional theaters about production.

As mentioned, bandmate David Kornfeld and I were accepted into The Civilians Theatre Company’s R&D Group where we spent a year developing a rock/theatre piece about the human brain, culminating in a presentation at The Lark Playwrights’ Center featuring David and I in the cast and bandmate Ben Arons on drums. (Book/lyrics by me, music by David)

I was co-nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for Best Sound Design for a song I was commissioned to write & record for the Woolly Mammoth Theatre production of “Gloria.” Nick Stephens produced and played on the recording.

I played the role of Olympe des Gouges in “The Revolutionists” at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford CT; the cast then won the CT Critics Circle Award for ‘Outstanding Ensemble’ and we are up for a number of Broadwayworld awards as well. I think that’s it.

Q: Okay, so who are your favorite artists and why — and who have you met?

RH: I haven’t met any of my music heroes actually! I met James Taylor once and that was exciting but we didn’t talk about music and he isn’t on The Big List.

As to The Big List, it’s the usual list of those who were really formative and influential: Suzanne Vega, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Sting/The Police, Steely Dan, Paul Simon, and Jethro Tull with the usual caveat that I don’t necessarily’sound like my influences (except Suzanne Vega probably). There are plenty of other modern/recent bands I love, but these are the Formative Ones.

Looking at them all together I guess the “why” always had to do with the intelligent adventurousness of the songwriting… both in the lyrics which were full of imagery and the fantastical/theatrical and the sometimes funny and often weird while still being often super personal and true… I do not get bored listening to these songs.

I also deeply love Irish traditional music and I know that pops up in my work all over the place. ‘The Magician’s Daughter’, an album largely ‘about’ and in the wake of my father’s death is heavily influenced by Sufjan Stevens’ album ‘Carrie and Lowell’ which he wrote about his mother’s death and which I was listening to obsessively at the time.

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