Ethan Hawke and Robert Budreau join forces on Chet Baker biopic “Born to Be Blue”

Legendary jazz musician Chet Baker has had his life realized in the new film Born to Be Blue starring Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo and Callum Keith Rennie and directed by Canada’s own Robert Budreau.

Choosing the perfect actor to portray the “James Dean of jazz” was an important task and Budreau shared with The Gracie Note that working with Hawke on this project during this specific point in his career was “perfect.”

“Ethan was great because creatively he was perfect,” he said. “I was able to catch him at a time in his career where he was enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Coming off his [Richard] Linklater movies the Sunrise trilogy, which they had just completed, and then Boyhood. He was hitting his stride on all kinds of fronts and I caught him at that moment in time so it was really great.”

Budreau filmed a large portion of Born to Be Blue in Sudbury, Ont., in 2014 and said that even scenes featuring the movie’s beautiful recording studio were shot in Canada.

“We did a couple days in Los Angeles, of course, in Malibu and Santa Monica, but it was entirely shot in Sudbury,” the director revealed.

He also said, “[The receding studio] was basically a community hall that my amazing production designer Aidan Leroux designed. It was based on the design of Olympic Studios in Barnes, London. There’s a famous film that [Jean-Luc] Godard made, Sympathy for the Devil for the Rolling Stones when they recorded their record (of the same name) there, and it has the same colour palette in terms of those backdrops.”

Baker’s life may have seemed glamorous from the outside, however, there was a hidden struggle going on underneath his enchanting bravado that came in the form of addiction and rehabilitation after his teeth were knocked out during a beating in 1968.

Born to Be Blue features Hawk as Baker during his recovery from surgery and presents a vulnerable man desperately trying to reclaim his talent while sitting in his bathtub covered in his own blood and learning to play the trumpet with dentures.

“It’s funny because for whatever reason, up until that point there had been a lot of fairly light-hearted scenes and Ethan was constantly trying to find humour and lightness,” Budreau said. “I remember talking to Carmen [Ejogo] on the day that we did the bathtub scene and I think that she was really shocked at the depth of the darkness that he had to go to for that.”

He continued, “It was the first time in the shoot, it was about the midway point, that we really dug into more of a rock bottom time in Chet’s life … Some of the stuff in the bathtub, what we always wanted to do was capture different layers and sides of Chet Baker. This was certainly almost a whiplash moment in that it really showed the determination, struggle and pain that’s involved in trying to claw back. At the end of the day, it’s all just about trying to get the actor in the moment being as honest as he can and then just trying to capture that.”

For tickets to Born to Be Blue (released on March 11) in Toronto, head here.

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