Updated: December 10, 2012 6:03AM
Catherine Keener’s new film, “A Late Quartet,” is about a world-renowned string quartet’s 25th anniversary.
The group’s beloved cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) is diagnosed with the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and announces that this season is his last, leaving a violinist (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and violist Juliette (Keener) grappling with their futures.
Keener talked about the film during her morning dog walk through Los Angeles.
Q. How hard was it to look like a master on the viola?
A. We all tried really hard on this film because we were committed to the process of becoming this quartet. Let me tell you that it isn’t easy at this age to learn an instrument. It took me a couple of months just to learn how to hold the bow. At one point, I thought, “I will never get this.” But my teacher kept saying, “Don’t worry. One day, you will get it.”
Did you ever think that you nailed the viola part?
A. No, but that’s just me. I always think I can do better. And there is never enough time to learn it all, especially if you’re trying to learn something quickly. I did feel more comfortable playing. The interesting thing is that Philip learned to play for real. I could play some notes. He learned an entire piece. One of my favorite things to do is work with Philip because he’s just the greatest.
What was it like to work with the always-fascinating Christopher Walken?
A. Honestly, I loved working with him. Everyone did. He’s Christopher Walken, a legend. As an actor, he’s a dream, and he’s like no one else. I just looked at the credibility of his career. As an actor, it just comes out of him. It just flows, and it’s beautiful to watch. Chris is also a really good individual. He made me laugh my head off. I’m an easy laugh, but he’s genuinely hilarious.
You play a woman who is at a life’s crossroads. Did you identify?
A. What happens to her happens to a lot of women at this age. Women in midlife are trying to wrestle with and access life. It’s a time when you stop f---ing around and just get on with it. I think the woman I play has been fearful for such a long time. It’s time to reckon with her fears and step out of them. She’s going through what so many face: life-altering events that force you out of yourself.
You’ve done so many indie films along the way. Do you play favorites?
A. I can tell you one of my favorite experiences doing the publicity for one of them. I was at Sundance once, the entire cast of a movie was in a van in the middle of a blizzard. Our driver was a 19-year-old volunteer. The streets were super slippery, and we were skidding everywhere. The driver said, “Buckle up. I’m going to try something.” All of us died laughing. It was so funny because … really? What are you going to try? That’s the thing about life. Sometimes you just have to surrender to the moment.
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