A man of wealth and taste

Re­turn­ing to act­ing, Mick Jag­ger plays a dev­il­ish art col­lec­tor up to no good

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BOOKS - By Jake Coyle

NEW YORK — It’s been nearly 20 years since Mick Jag­ger last acted, but as the new film “The Burnt Or­ange Heresy” shows, his chops have gath­ered no moss.

In the film, Jag­ger co-stars along­side Claes Bang and El­iz­a­beth De­bicki as a dev­il­ish art col­lec­tor who cun­ningly con­vinces an art jour­nal­ist (Bang) to use a rare in­ter­view with a reclu­sive artist (Don­ald Suther­land) as an op­por­tu­nity to steal one of his paint­ings. It’s Jag­ger’s first film since 2001’s “The Man From Elysian Fields.” And, he says, it might be his last.

“I wish I had done a lot more act­ing. I’ve just done bits and pieces here and there when­ever I’ve been able to,” Jag­ger said in a phone in­ter­view. Then he chuck­led. “You know, I have an­other job. I have sev­eral other jobs, re­ally.”

When the 76-year-old hasn’t been per­form­ing with the Rolling Stones, Jag­ger has carved out a peri­patetic but ad­ven­tur­ous ca­reer in movies. He’s fa­vored more ex­per­i­men­tal film­mak­ers, work­ing with Jean-Luc Go­dard, Nico­las Roeg and Werner Her­zog. Act­ing a lit­tle less than David Bowie but more than Bob Dy­lan, Jag­ger’s film ca­reer has been con­sis­tently in­trepid. He’s a very good ac­tor, even if his bigscreen per­for­mances will al­ways be dwarfed by the gy­rat­ing spec­ta­cle of his ki­netic stage per­sona.

“I al­ways liked the idea of it,” Jag­ger said. “I en­joy the change of pace and the change of fo­cus of your per­for­mance. When I’m per­form­ing th­ese days, it’s mostly in very large places in front of lots of peo­ple, whereas when you’re on a small set, you’re per­form­ing much more sub­tly and not such elab­o­rate ges­tures. You have to re­ally tone it down.”

Some­times, fate (and tour sched­ul­ing) has in­ter­vened. Jag­ger’s per­for­mance in Her­zog’s fa­mously deliri­ous “Fitz­car­raldo” (1982) was cut be­cause the orig­i­nal lead, Ja­son Ro­bards, got sick. When shoot­ing restarted in the Peru­vian jungle, Jag­ger had a con­flict­ing Stones tour. His part was cut and Klaus Kin­ski took over for Ro­bards. Her­zog has called Jag­ger’s de­par­ture “one of the big­gest losses I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced as a di­rec­tor.” (Bits of Jag­ger’s per­for­mance be seen in doc­u­men­taries like “Bur­den of Dreams” and “My Best Friend.”)

“It was a pity about that. That was a shame,” Jag­ger said. “So Klaus Kin­ski did the job on that and did it bet­ter than I. Nev­er­the­less, it was an ex­pe­ri­ence.”

But the tim­ing and the script lined up for “The Burnt Or­ange Heresy.” It’s di­rected by Ital­ian film­maker Giuseppe Capo­tondi, whose twisty 2009 de­but film “The Dou­ble Hour” proved his tal­ent for con­jur­ing a noirish at­mos­phere of in­trigue and mys­tery. “The Burnt Or­ange Heresy,” based on Charles B. Wille­ford’s 1971 novel, is an ele­gant, stylish kind of film sel­dom made any­more, with glamorous ac­tors in a glamorous set­ting (Italy’s Lake Como).

When Capo­tondi first met Jag­ger in Lon­don to dis­cuss the part, he was struck by the rock star’s hu­mil­ity. “He said, ‘Look, I haven’t done this in 20 years. I might be rusty,’” re­called Capo­tondi.

Jag­ger found ways to shape the char­ac­ter, giv­ing him slicked-backed hair and a slightly men­ac­ing Chelsea ac­cent from the 1960s. In the film, Jag­ger’s art dealer presents Bang’s writer with a kind of Faus­tian bar­gain, and things get darker from there. Capo­tondi con­sid­ers the char­ac­ter a ver­sion of the devil.

“To play the devil is some­thing that can ap­peal to most ac­tors. It’s such a ser­pen­tine char­ac­ter,” Capo­tondi said. “Given the Rolling Stones discog­ra­phy, I think it’s quite fit­ting.”

Jag­ger is less sure about the con­nec­tions be­tween “The Burnt Or­ange Heresy” and the band’s classic 1968 sin­gle “Sym­pa­thy for the Devil,” which was par­tially in­spired by Mikhail Bul­gakov’s beloved Rus­sian novel about Beelze­bub in 1930s Moscow, “The Mas­ter and Mar­garita,” and a Baude­laire poem. But Jag­ger’s art dealer is, for sure, “a man of wealth and taste,” and one that play­fully trades on Jag­ger’s de­monic charisma.

“It was in my grasp to do this char­ac­ter. I thought it would be fun to do,” Jag­ger said. “He ba­si­cally charms and threat­ens him to do what he wants. It’s not a lot of screen time but he’s the one who sets off the ac­tion.”

One of Jag­ger’s first films re­mains one of his most cel­e­brated: Roeg’s hal­lu­ci­na­tory 1970 film “Per­for­mance,” in which he played a drug-ad­dled, gen­der-bend­ing rock star. Crit­i­cally slammed upon re­lease, it’s steadily grown a cult fol­low­ing with Jag­ger’s per­for­mance of­ten rank­ing among the best by a mu­si­cian in a film.

He played the ti­tle char­ac­ter in Tony Richard­son’s “Ned Kelly,” the “bone­jacker” in Victor Va­cen­dak’s cy­ber­punk “Free­jack (1992), and a drag queen in “Bent.” He was an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on the short-lived HBO se­ries “Vinyl,” and pro­duced the James Brown biopic “Get on Up.” And then there are the many doc­u­men­taries that have in­deli­bly cap­tured the Stones, in­clud­ing “Gimme Shel­ter,” about the tragic 1969 Al­ta­mont con­cert; Mar­tin Scors­ese’s “Shine a Light,” Brett Mor­gan’s “Cross­fire Hur­ri­cane” and Go­dard’s in­ti­mate but chaotic doc, “Sym­pa­thy for the Devil.”

“I used to say to Jean-Luc, ‘What’s the rest of the movie like? Can you ex­plain to me what the rest of the movie is like?’ And he re­ally couldn’t. I don’t think he re­ally knew. It was like: What a ge­nius,” Jag­ger said.

“When I was re­ally young, I used to watch a lot of for­eign cin­ema,” he added. “I watched early Ro­man Polan­ski movies when I was a stu­dent and we used to think our­selves great in­tel­lec­tu­als and just watch for­eign films and New Wave. We were very into that.”

Jag­ger, who last year had heart surgery, is cur­rently prep­ping the North Amer­i­can leg of the Rolling Stones’ “No Filter” tour this sum­mer. His day job, again, calls.

Jag­ger, of course, is cer­tain to re­main a regular sound­track to cin­ema. The Stones’ re­main an ir­re­sistible nee­dle drop to count­less film­mak­ers. (Most re­cently, “Sweet Vir­ginia” lent a lu­mi­nous lilt to the fi­nale of “Knives Out.”) But Jag­ger ac­knowl­edged “The Burnt Or­ange Heresy” could be his big-screen swan song.

“If I don’t get of­fered an­other de­cent role, it might be,“he said. Then he laughed. “It’s not planned. If some­one of­fered me some­thing to do in the au­tumn, I’m sure I’d do it if it was a good part.”

JOSE HARO/SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS

Mick Jag­ger, who says “I wish I had done a lot more act­ing,” plays an art col­lec­tor in “The Burnt Or­ange Heresy.”

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