The Night I Kissed Halle Berry - Hello Stage Blog opus 3.

Who is the better pianist? Tom Cruise or Adrien Brody?

Well, obviously Adrien Brody, because he won the Oscar for playing The Pianist. But can Adrien Brody actually play the piano? Well yes, but not classical piano, and he trained damn hard to play the opening bars of Chopin’s C# minor nocturne and opening bars of Chopin’s Ballade no.1 for the movie. The first time I heard his name was when I was asked if I would consider teaching an actor how to play the piano. Although I didn’t get the chance to take this job, I met him a few months after he finished filming The Pianist, and one of the first things he wanted to show me was how he could play those opening bars of Chopin’s nocturne. I remember thinking this is pretty good for an actor, and upon hearing that he had just trained for a few months, was even more impressed.

There are actors out there who actually can play the piano. And really well, such as Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Christopher Plummer, Paul Reiser, David Hyde Pierce, to name but a few.

Not Tom Cruise though.

Here's a scene from Interview with the Vampire:

Now, for a dead guy, he plays pretty well. Although plenty of dead pianists could hammerklavier the crap out of Count Lestat, Tom Cruise’s vampire character. This scene is typical of the most common mistakes made by actors and directors when filming someone playing the piano resulting in something that doesn’t feel authentic. Here are some of the usual inaccuracies:

- Pianists in movies are always having a lively conversation while playing some difficult Rachmaninov and blabbing about the weather. But musicians can’t talk and play at the same time! It’s one of the hardest things to do and very few can do it naturally, without losing the quality and timing in the playing.

- It never makes sense that the music being played is a lot softer than the speaking voices, especially when it’s loud dramatic music. It would be more realistic if actors shouted their lines over the music.

- Pianists don’t move like puppets controlled by a drunken puppeteer, gyrating with convulsions as if they’re vomiting or stuck inside a waterbed.

- Most classical pianists can’t take their eyes off the keys, and so staring seductively at someone while playing virtuosic music is cringe worthy.

- Don’t get me started on Russel Crowe or Emanuelle Beart playing the violin!

Tom Cruise does a decent job as a blood-sucking pianist, at least with well-timed choreography of hands-crossing in correlation to the music. I can’t make up my mind whether he’s a good actor or not, though I always enjoy watching him on screen. After all, I did watch the first Mission Impossible movie eight times in a row, within 23 hours.


Yes, eight times in twenty-three hours.

Why is probably your next question. Well, it was a promotional offer for the release of Mission Impossible whereby if you could watch the movie eight times in a row without falling asleep, you would win a movie pass for you and any guest, valid for six months, to watch as many movies as you wanted at several movie theaters. It was a mission too good for any student and film lover to refuse, and I would have never completed it without my friend Luis Cobo- we took turns to keep each other up- and just the other day, he sent me a snapshot of the eight ticket stubs. Around the fourth screening, which was at 4am, the only people in the movie theater were the hundred or so freaks on this sleepless mission, and we took over that cinema and occupied it! We all sang the theme tune while dancing the Conga around the theater. We screamed out lines and things before they happened, usually random things like “The Chair, the chair!” and pointing out all the bloopers in the movie. It was wild pandemonium and it was “impossible” to even hear anything of the movie.

But it’s not Tom Cruise’s fault he can’t play the piano! My question to Hollywood and the movie industry is, why get actors who can’t play an instrument to play musicians? Or an even better question, why not cast real musicians who can act? Perhaps not in the leading role for the box-office draw but at least playing some of the other roles? Why was “Ray” so good? Because Jamie Foxx can actually play the piano. You can ride around driving a taxi for six weeks to emulate a taxi driver, but you can’t learn to play the piano in six weeks. Just to fake it well, it takes six months, as in the case of Tim Roth, playing the pianist in 1900- Legend of the Ocean Pianist. Why have there not been more roles given to those actors who really can play? I once asked Paul Reiser to play the piano for me so I could hear what it sounded like in the hall, and he played Beethoven, marvelously. I could have easily imagined Reiser being an excellent Mozart, (although Tom Hulce’s performance in Amadeus is timeless).

Dear Hollywood, please ask real musicians to play musicians. I saw an episode of Mozart in the Jungle where a young flutist was performing for a crowd of people. The girl playing her was pretty to watch, but you could tell she couldn’t play the flute at all. The scene, which was supposed to be one where she entrances the conductor, lost all its credibility and power by not having a real flutist play. The role didn’t demand any major acting skills, so I’m pretty sure the series’ producers could have found dozens of young screen-genic flutists instead.
And why the hell did Roman Polanski not ask me to play The Pianist? I am a Joo!

OK- so I didn’t get to kiss Halle Berry upon receiving an Oscar for playing a pianist every day of my life, but Brody totally deserved it, (the Oscar and the kiss).

In the end, and I hope you’ll all agree, the best actors playing the piano, in my animated humble opinion, are Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry. Just take a close look and you’ll see that they’re not faking it. Till the next blog- “That’s All Folks!”

Hyung-ki Joo is a composer, pianist, conductor, actor, creator of shows combing music with humour, and the world’s fastest tooth-brusher. His website launches in a few weeks and till then you can follow him on: www.facebook.com/HyungkiJoo
Author: Hyung-ki Joo
Comments [2]
Cecilia Pillado - 2015-06-01 11:08
Dear Hyung-Ki, Hollywood will ask ME to play the role of a female pianist soon. Title is in development and production will start this year. As a proffessional Actress and Pianist I'll say YES!
Heather Wallick - 2015-06-04 15:33 edited
My sentiments exactly.My client, who is a professional drummer and I discussed "Whiplash" in this very context. With deference to this particular actor's chops (i forget his name at the moment), why not search out musicians who can act?
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