Lola Kirke: Mozart In The Puzzle Lola Kirke talks about "fake playing" the oboe on 'Mozart in the Jungle,' and portraying one of the only woman conductors on television. Then we challenge her to a game about real and fake operas.
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Lola Kirke: Mozart In The Puzzle

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Lola Kirke: Mozart In The Puzzle

Lola Kirke: Mozart In The Puzzle

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton here with puzzle guru Art Chung. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. It is time to welcome our special guest. She stars as Hailey Rutledge in the Golden Globe-winning Amazon series "Mozart In The Jungle." Please welcome Lola Lola Kirke.




KIRKE: Thank you.

EISENBERG: I'm so glad you're here. So "Mozart In The Jungle" is based on a 2005 memoir of an oboist exposing the dark underbelly of the classical music world, specifically the fictional New York Symphony and its charismatic conductor.


EISENBERG: Did you know much about classical music before this?

KIRKE: No, I knew nothing about classical music except that I have this dentist who likes to listen to it really loud while he's drilling and then talk to me about classical music while he has tools in my mouth. And then I can't respond. So that was my association.

EISENBERG: He must be very excited that you are in this series.

KIRKE: He is, loves it.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Now he's really talking to you about classical music.

KIRKE: Oh, yeah.

EISENBERG: Now are you getting into classical music?

KIRKE: Yes, I am. I mean, I think that it's like a whole other vocabulary. And I feel like it's like another language. And I know like four sentences in it, which are like Stravinsky. That's a sentence. Shostakovich, Ravel.


KIRKE: I don't know.

EISENBERG: You're getting impressive.

KIRKE: Thanks. I don't mean to namedrop or anything.

EISENBERG: So your character, Hailey, plays the oboe. So you had to learn a bit of oboe.

KIRKE: Yeah. Well, I didn't really like learn how to play the oboe. I just learned how to look like I was playing the oboe. But a lot of oboists think that I play the oboe.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah?

KIRKE: Yeah. I guess I'm like a really good actress or something.

EISENBERG: That's great (laughter). Have you played notes on it? I mean, how hard is it?

KIRKE: I can play three bars of Mahler's 8th. And that is one note that stops after - there's a rest for three bars of the four bars. So, yeah, I can play one note.

EISENBERG: OK. So how challenging is it to learn how to fictionally play an instrument?

KIRKE: Oh, God. I mean, it's pretty challenging. I think the most challenging part is the high self-esteem that you have to develop to look like you're playing the oboe because it is not pretty. It is not a pretty thing, especially when you're not making a pretty sound. It's like red and puffy. It's not like a cello, which is like, it oozes sex - this does not.

EISENBERG: Oboe is not a sexy instrument?

KIRKE: I mean, if you can play really well, sure.

EISENBERG: Sure, of course, everything done very well. But right, it doesn't - it has a little tiny reed at the top that is very finicky.

KIRKE: It's a double reed, yeah.

EISENBERG: A double reed, thank you. OK. So you have coaches that are helping you and people that are professional oboe players?

KIRKE: Yes. And they've been amazing and very devoted because, you know, as you said earlier, there really are not many oboists represented. My boyfriend still thinks I play the clarinet on TV. But now this season, I started - now I'm a conductor.


KIRKE: Which is much prettier when you remember to close your mouth because otherwise you look like you're on drugs.

EISENBERG: Oh, right because you were just standing there waving your arms around with your mouth open, right, it looks - so this is kind of a big deal because there has not been a female representation of a conductor on the silver screen.

KIRKE: No, never. And my conducting coach, Eimear Noone - she is Irish - and she was like almost in tears when she was like training me how to be a conductor. And she was amazing. It's a very beautiful thing to, like, pretend that you're telling a room of like 150 people what to do and that they're all listening to you, like, pretending that they all are doing exactly what you want them to do. That's amazing.

EISENBERG: That you are the ultimate authority in this, like, very beautiful thing?

KIRKE: Exactly.

EISENBERG: OK. So what have you learned about oboe players as people?

KIRKE: Well, apparently, oboists might - well, one was like oboists are the best kissers. And I was like that is so - I would never make that connection because you - I guess you can't see it on the radio, but, like, you literally go like that.

EISENBERG: Like you turn your lips inside almost, right?

KIRKE: I've never kissed anyone like that.


KIRKE: And then you like blow out your cheeks. So apparently, they're great kissers and also a little crazy. But I think that all people in an orchestra would say that like they're crazy because you kind of have to be. I mean, it's like Olympic-athlete level of commitment to that instrument. You start when you're like 3, and then you practice for at least five hours every day until you make it. And then you might not make it.

EISENBERG: Have you had letters or feedback - positive and maybe even pointing things out from classical music fans?

KIRKE: Yeah. I mean, they're just like excited, which is so nice because if you're going to represent, like, another culture, you would hope that they'd like it and not be like mad at you for your bad job at it. So I'm just happy that they dig it.

EISENBERG: So they're excited. No one's been like, by the way, when you hold the oboe or...

KIRKE: One person said that my pinky like double joints when I play. And then I'm like, you're not watching the show correctly.


EISENBERG: Right. If that's what you're getting out of it, like, you're not even enjoying any of the dialogue or the relationships, just the pinky. Interesting. Well, of course, that's what they're focused on. And what have you learned about conductors as people?

KIRKE: Oh, my God. Well, I mean, I've learned this crazy statistic, which is that of the world's 150 major orchestras, only four of them are led by women. So it's like many major industries - dominated by men, mostly white men. And it's very difficult to kind of take power in those worlds.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So you are the embodiment of that in this fictional series. So hopefully, that will inspire people.

KIRKE: Yes, that would be so cool.

EISENBERG: So, you know, before "Mozart In The Jungle," your breakout role was in Noah Baumbach's film "Mistress America." You played Tracy, who has an interesting relationship with Greta Gerwig's character Brooke - sort of part mentor, part infatuation, part big sister-little sister. Did you draw any inspiration as an actor being in real life the youngest sibling of four?

KIRKE: Yeah. And I feel like I oddly find myself in roles where I'm, like, subordinate to some, like, powerful person. I don't know what that is because I feel kind of powerful in my life. But I guess no one else sees me that way.

EISENBERG: (Laughter). Were - as the youngest of four - I'm the youngest - were you teased?

KIRKE: I can tell.

EISENBERG: Yeah, you could tell.

KIRKE: Yeah.

EISENBERG: It's like that thing where you're, like, not quite sure of yourself all the time, yeah?

KIRKE: You talk a lot, and you say funny stuff.


EISENBERG: Were you teased by your older siblings? Do you have that relationship?

KIRKE: Yeah...


KIRKE: ...Majorly.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.

KIRKE: Majorly. Older siblings have this unique experience of having spent, like, many years of their life being wretched to somebody. Like, as a younger child, like, you don't have that experience. Like, you're very nice.



KIRKE: That's weird.

EISENBERG: It is weird.

KIRKE: Yeah.

EISENBERG: And they're just confidently fine...

KIRKE: Yeah.

EISENBERG: ...With the fact that they have been like that.

KIRKE: I wish - I'd like to play a person like that. That'd be fun.

EISENBERG: Well, kind of a conductor might be a little bit like that.

KIRKE: Right. But so far, my character's approach to conducting is, like, by being very nice, but that's going to change because that doesn't work. But you should watch...

EISENBERG: Right, that...

KIRKE: ...The show.

EISENBERG: Well, that doesn't sustain a season, right? - this story arc of you're nice all the time.

KIRKE: Yeah, that's not very interesting.

EISENBERG: OK. In addition to all this, you're a musician.


EISENBERG: OK. And you're a singer-songwriter-type thing, but what is the style of music? How would you describe it?

KIRKE: I guess it's like rock 'n' roll but also country stuff.


KIRKE: I mean, I don't know why I connect to that kind of music. I guess because, like, as my dad said, which I think is a quote from someone else - but it was like, it's three chords and the truth.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Right.

KIRKE: And I was like, that sounds doable.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

KIRKE: Sounds like a good entry point. I like that honesty in music.

EISENBERG: And on your tour - you know, tours usually bring out some interesting moments. Any good tour stories?

KIRKE: There were amazing moments. In El Paso, we played a show for, like, four people, and a weatherman hypnotized me.


KIRKE: And he didn't actually hypnotize me. I just felt bad, so I went along with it, which entailed me, like, falling face forward into the palm of his hand...

EISENBERG: Are you kidding?

KIRKE: ...Off of a bar stool. But I was - I was safe.

EISENBERG: (Laughter). I like how game you are about everything. You're totally game.

KIRKE: I appreciate that.

EISENBERG: OK. Good. Well, then this is going to be perfect. Are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

KIRKE: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Lola Kirke, everybody.


EISENBERG: Lola, one of the big moments of Season 3 of "Mozart In The Jungle" involves the performance of an aria based on the true story of Amy Fisher, who, as a high school student in 1992, shot the wife of her 36-year-old lover Joey Buttafuoco. But amazingly, your show actually commissioned the aria just for that episode. So this inspired us to do a deep dive into the world of unbelievably strange operas.

KIRKE: Great.

EISENBERG: Good, yes?


EISENBERG: So I'm going to give you the title and a description of an opera. You just have to guess if it's real or something we made up.

KIRKE: OK, cool.

EISENBERG: So - and if you do well enough, Brian Kulam (ph) from Hyattsville, Md., is going to win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube.


KIRKE: OK. All right, Brian. I got you.

EISENBERG: All right. Here's your first one. "Scalia/Ginsburg" - a man in a toga locks the two Supreme Court justices in a room and won't free them until they agree on the Constitution. Real opera or fake opera?

KIRKE: I wish that were real. I don't think it is.

EISENBERG: Guess what? Wishes come true. It's real.

KIRKE: (Shrieking).

EISENBERG: So you're wrong, but it's real.


KIRKE: OK. Great.

EISENBERG: And Scalia and Ginsburg both saw it, and they said they loved it.

KIRKE: That's beautiful.

EISENBERG: I don't know why there's a man in a toga. Perhaps it takes place in a fraternity in 1950. I don't really get it.

"Paul Bunyan" - an operetta by modern classical composer Benjamin Britten. It features a chorus of lumberjacks, a chorus of wild geese and a chorus of Swedes. But the character of Paul Bunyan never appears onstage. Real or fake?

KIRKE: Fake.


KIRKE: I don't know. Benjamin Britten's kind of weird.


KIRKE: I'm going to say fake, though.

EISENBERG: You're going to say fake.

KIRKE: Yeah.

EISENBERG: This one's real.

KIRKE: Oh, my God.

EISENBERG: This one's real. Yeah.

Medulla La Land - loosely inspired by the 2016 film "La La Land," this opera recasts Emma Stone's role as a doula/brain surgeon to the stars.

KIRKE: Fake.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) That is fake. Yeah, that is fake.


EISENBERG: Here's your next one. "Licht," a 29-hour German opera cycle where, at one point, the musicians leave the theater and board four actual helicopters. The helicopters take off, and the musicians continue to play music which is livestreamed back to the theater. Real or fake?

KIRKE: Real.

EISENBERG: Totally real.


EISENBERG: That is totally real. What musician doesn't want that job?

KIRKE: I don't like helicopters, so I don't know...

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

KIRKE: ...If that would be exciting to me. But yeah, that sounds great.

EISENBERG: I can't even - like, the budget for that. Come on.

OK. Here is your last clue - "u," the first opera written entirely in Klingon. At the end of the first act, the main character forges a sword out of his own hair with the help of a volcano. Real or fake?

KIRKE: Real.

EISENBERG: Totally real.


EISENBERG: Just a little note - at the end of the second act, the two leads make - I quote - make violent love in the blood of their enemies.


KIRKE: I feel like these operas follow, like, "Family Guy" standards...


KIRKE: ...Of, like, what makes a story.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) That's right. It's like anything goes - rough. It's pretty rough out there.


EISENBERG: Puzzle guru Art Chung, how did our special guest Lola do?

ART CHUNG: Congratulations, Lola. You and listener Brian Kulom (ph) both won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.


KIRKE: Yay, Brian.

EISENBERG: "Mozart In The Jungle" Season 4 is available now on Amazon. Give it up for Lola Kirke, everybody.


KIRKE: Thank you.

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