Chet Baker’s meteoric rise to fame in the early 1950s is the stuff that musicians’ dreams are made of, but his subsequent disappearance from the spotlight for much of the 1960s is the focus of director Robert Budreau’s latest film Born to be Blue. The film’s unusual context, coupled with Ethan Hawke’s buzzworthy performance as the enigmatic trumpet player, gives the film a fresh edge. Ahead of the film’s New York City premiere at IFC Center, we sat down with Budreau to chat about jazz, film, and the legend that is Chet Baker. Watch Born to be Blue now on DIRECTV CINEMA®.
What drew you to the project? Were you familiar with Baker’s full story and were you a fan of his music?
I’ve always been a big fan of jazz, so music was the initial draw. It wasn’t until I found out more details around Chet’s story— particularly his amazing comeback in the late 60s—that I really got sucked into his world, and learned that he was a fascinating character of contradictions.
Born to be Blue delves into some areas of Baker’s life that have often been glossed over or overlooked entirely (his struggle with addiction, the complicated relationships he had with others and himself). The film makes it a point to address these darker areas. What are you hoping to get across to viewers by addressing this darkness head on?
Our goal in this re-imagining was to remain true to the spirit of Chet Baker and jazz. This means going to dark places and not being judgmental in portraying drug addiction. People are tired of music biopic clichés and want something fresh and truthful, because these issues are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s.
Are you nervous at all to hear feedback from Baker fans and jazz enthusiasts? What do you think devotees will think of Ethan Hawke’s performance?
Whenever you’re portraying a legend, you’re always concerned about how fans will embrace the approach which was intentionally non-hagiographic. The response so far from fans and jazz lovers has been very strong, so I feel we’ve hit the right notes. I think devotees will love Ethan’s performance because in the true spirit of jazz, he doesn’t try to mimic Chet Baker, but instead reinterprets and riffs off Chet’s unique style in a deeply personal way.
What are you hoping that those who aren’t familiar with Baker or his music will come away from the film with?
Our hope is that people enjoy the universal themes explored in the movie—issues of race, addiction, love and the difficult choices artists make. Non-jazz fans will enjoy the songs which are American songbook classics, romantic tunes like ‘Over The Rainbow,’ ‘My Funny Valentine,’ and ‘Summertime.’ Everyone loves a good comeback story, and Chet’s ranks as one of the most inspiring in all of modern music history.
What was the most rewarding part of bringing Baker’s story to life?
It was very rewarding to work with a great artist like Ethan Hawke who brought a wealth of wisdom and experience to the role. Seeing him earn rave reviews for his stunning performance is the most rewarding aspect of the process for me.