When pop diva Madonna decided to make her directorial debut with the indie Filth and Wisdom, she turned to another recording artist for inspiration, that being Ukrainian punk band Gogol Bordello and Eugene Hutz, the band’s wild and charismatic philosophizing lead singer. Gogol Bordello had spent almost ten years playing in their homebase of New York City and all over the world, but the movie took Eugene to London where he played A.K., a character not too far removed from his own lifestyle, but with a few additions that could only have come from the mind of Madonna, such as his day job as an S&M worker.
Eugene is an enigmatic character as is, which may be why there have been documentaries made about him and even movie characters based on him (like the one in Wristercutters: A Love Story), but as an actor, he’s only appeared in Liev Schreiber’s Everything is Illuminated, playing a character not as close to himself.
When ComingSoon.net caught up with Eugene in New York, he had already spent the day doing interviews and by the end of the day, he was obviously thinking very carefully and being very deliberate with his answers. Besides talking about his role in Madonna’s movie, he mentioned to us how he was hoping Gogol Bordello would be making their next record with a well-known alliterative rock producer
ComingSoon.net: I guess the first question is whether you knew Madonna before this whole thing started? Had you met her or had she been a fan of your music?
Eugene Hutz: I think she found out about me through the band, through liking the music and eventually realizing that I’m also the same person, and “Everything is Illuminated” which was directed by our common friend Liev Schreiber.
CS: But in that movie, you were playing a very different character, you weren’t really playing yourself. It seems like she wrote this script to be a very specific person that very much mirrors yourself at least in terms of being the singer in a band that plays Ukraine punk.
Hutz: Yeah, it’s pretty (much) a one-of-a-kind type of character.
CS: So was she just a fan of the music and liked what you were saying in the songs and wanted to try to write something around that?
Hutz: I think it’s a part of it for sure, no, I mean it is the fact that’s how it was done. I even got difficult and said I didn’t want to change my look, so that also had to outline pretty much what it is.
CS: She must have approached you fairly early in the process because if she writes this movie with these characters she must think that she must get Eugene early or otherwise…
Hutz: Actually, it was three weeks before we started shooting.
CS: Had she already spent a lot of time writing before you met with her?
Hutz: I think not… I mean I don’t know. Maybe there were blocks that were ready to go, but obviously, because I’m the narrator and the centerpiece of the story, obviously that could not be done before those three weeks. I think we had a lot of fun in making it up and we enjoyed the flow of it.
CS: Once you decided to do it, did you guys spend a lot of time workshopping and deciding who and what AK was going to be?
Hutz: Well, it was easy to sculpt because we were working off my biographical stuff.
CS: Besides knowing the band and your music, you must have spent time with her before you started shooting working that out and figuring out what parts of your life and philosophy were going to be included in the character.
Hutz: I think that we just used whatever seemed to be fun and usable in the moment.
CS: When you’re making a movie, especially your first one, there’s a lot of preparation and Liev must have spent months and months…
Hutz: Yes, well that was a lot more intricate work.
CS: So was it just a matter of having the camera and locations and working stuff out before you started shooting, is it really that simple?
Hutz: I’d say that the pre-production was pretty concise. There was some of it, but pretty concise… Pretty concise gonzo beatnik kind of production. I must say that in both with working with Madonna and Liev, which were my only feature films, I was both welcomed with a special warmth and a certain trust in what I’m going to do, whatever the f*ck it was, they had a certain trust about it.
CS: I was surprised because “Everything is Illuminated,” I would think you’d be doing more acting, but was it just a matter of balancing that with the music?
Hutz: Maybe if I got on top of it and started hustling everybody in L.A., but I am glad that I’m not in a position to hustle, because I think that there is a couple more good things waiting for me in the future, and all with the understanding that music is my passion of my life, so I am pretty in peace with the speed of movie flow. I think once in two or three years is pretty good for me.
CS: I’d think that dealing with Hollywood and the studios wouldn’t be your thing having done two movies where you didn’t have to deal with a lot of that, being independent, which is the same for your music. Are you nervous about getting involved in the corporate aspect of being an actor and all that stuff?
Hutz: No, I’m not nervous about it. I just prefer musicians’ lifestyle much better than actors’ lifestyle, I’ll put it as simple as that.
CS: Some people might say that they’re similar…
Hutz: They’re so not similar.
CS: It’s often said that every actor wants to be a musician and vice versa, so you don’t think that’s true?
Hutz: Maybe first part is true.
CS: Really? I’d think that musicians who are the main frontmen of a band do have to have some acting in their blood to perform.
Hutz: Yeah, but I think that a lot of actors really do want to be musicians, and I think that a lot of musicians want to have acting as a hobby. One is not more advanced than the other or anything like that, but I don’t think of acting as a hobby. I think of it as a pretty brutal discipline and a worthy thing, and not for the sake of seeing myself on the screen, but for sake of bringing out colors out of life that I want to share, and for igniting those frequencies and being able to… I know I can do it with my music, and I also learned that I can do it with my acting.
CS: But with movies, you’re always depending on the director to keep the things you like and not use things don’t, so you’re kind of at their mercy.
Hutz: Of course, you’re in absolute mercy of the director, but what gives me encouragement is that I had very good conversations with people that I actually truly admire, but not someone that could give me exposure, people that I truly admire that really liked my work, and people that were inspired by that actually and thought of writing something specifically for me. I’m never idling, so I will be ready any time they are, and I will be ready to rock it to no belief. I want it to be very worthy and special things. I want it to be one-of-a-kind things, maybe because I truly paid all my dues and all the hustles that were ever to pay with my music. I am not so eager to add any more hustles from the acting, you know what I mean?
CS: Absolutely… now people who hear about this movie will really think of it as a Madonna movie but considering how much of you and the band is in it, it’s almost like the closest one might get to a Gogol Bordello movie… it uses your songs and the band. You said yourself that you decide what parts you want to share, so do you see this as a Gogol Bordello movie in some ways or is there another movie out there about the band that might still be made?
Hutz: No, I think this is really a Madonna movie where me and my band walk our walk and talk our talk, we do our own thing, and maximum respect for her for letting us do that. Maybe with some other actors in the film, she was much more scrupulous and they experienced some actual directing.
CS: Did you two talk about what songs to use in the movie?
Hutz: We screened a lot through our music, first chose this then chose that and then she settled for that. I mean, of course, I have a lot of say in my music because I chose what to show already, but I think she made some really good picks that illustrates what needs to be illustrated. Our music was always highly illustrative.
CS: I thought “Wonderlust King,” which is one of our signature songs, was used really well in the movie almost to the point you could use that as a video for the song.
Hutz: I think in that sense it does for sure work.
CS: What about the S&M aspect of your character? That must have come more from her vision of the character, since she’s played with those images before.
Hutz: Yeah, we just thought it was funny pretty much. That’s something that I’ve never taken seriously in my life, so it was only so much seriously I could take it.
CS: The fact that it explores the worlds of stripping & S&M in London, surely being a musician, you must have met people in that business while in New York. Did you feel the adult industry is very different in London?
Hutz: No, actually I think people who experience both London and New York, they know that the myth of New York is more fulfilled by London, and vice versa, because they hard-edged difficult town full of characters that New York is rumored to be, to get here is not that f*cking hard, they’re not so hard-edged…
CS: Not now, but 20 years ago…
Hutz: Okay, maybe that’s how times change, but when you get to London, you’re actually experiencing that this is the hard town that’s completely unfriendly at first and that’s where all the characters are, not that New York doesn’t have them but it’s more brutal.
CS: Sure, but New York has changed a lot and been softened. How long had you been in New York?
Hutz: Since 1998, ten years, well I moved now, but I was here for nine years.
CS: Had you spent a lot of time in London either before or after making this movie?
Hutz: Only touring, but yeah, that was my longest stay in London basically, making the movie for three weeks, almost a month.
CS: As far as your two acting experiences, were you more comfortable in this where you’re bringing some of yourself into the character or do you prefer escaping into someone else? If you talk to actors, you get the idea that many of them want to play characters as different from themselves as possible. Do you have a preference?
Hutz: I don’t necessarily long to get away from myself. I am at peace with myself and what I do, so there is no brutal motivation like that behind it. I know what you’re talking about. Of course, I’ve experienced that and I heard that theory, but both ways, you still carve things out of stone.
CS: Even though you’re happy with how you are, do you like to escape from time to time?
Hutz: I don’t suffer from a motivation like that that I just need to get away from myself. I think I can do it, yeah, I’ve done it, but in that sense, even if you full-on take on a role and become somebody, your energy is still behind you and energy is the most translatable thing that goes beyond everything. It doesn’t matter what you say and what make-up you’re wearing and what costume, that illusive thing that people call personal energy is what is going to speak at the end, so in a way, it doesn’t matter if you take on a role or you don’t take on a role or you play yourself or not. It’s that thing that’s going to do the working, and I am not afraid of getting that work done one way or another. That’s what I believe about it.
CS: But is one more of a job than another?
Hutz: No, I don’t feel like it’s more or less straining. It still takes time, it still takes 20 takes.
CS: What’s going on with the music? Gogol Bordello’s album came out last year, and I know you just did this huge show in L.A. with Mars Volta.
Hutz: It was a funny festival full of funny reviewers. Like the things that actually happened, were not included, like people would be like, “I saw Gogol Bordello’s set and it was amazing but why didn’t they do the drum-riding thing where they try to ride on a drum through the crowd?” It was like, “What the f*ck are you talking about?” Actually, it was going on for longer than it ever was, like we did a huge jump off the stage where I was afraid for Pam’s life. F*cking F*ck!!! It’s like people take liberties to claim sh*t they cannot. There should be some journalistic ethics behind it. You have a full raving crowd and they’d be like, “Gogol Bordello, as awesome as it was, but the crowd seemed to be cold.” I was like, “What the f*ck are you talking about? The crowd was going bananas!” I was a bit cold because I was f*cking trashed, I was spent.
CS: Well, it’s always different depending where you are in the audience.
Hutz: No, well basically the guy was out of it, not the f*cking crowd, not me. I don’t know what he had last night, but he’s writing about the degree of his hangover basically. He’s not writing about the show.
CS: But what’s going on with the music in terms of your next album?
Hutz: Yeah, yeah, we’re going to be making a record with Rick Rubin… maybe that’s not ready to be mentioned. (Oops, we just did.)
CS: Are you generally out in L.A. all the time now?
Hutz: No, no, no, I’m not. I kind of relocate everywhere. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Brazil, in Rio.
CS: Just exploring new musical things?
Hutz: New musical things and some lifestyle things. I have a place in Ipanema.
A Gogol Bordello album with Rick Rubin and potential Brazilian influences? That would certainly be interesting. In the meantime, you can see Eugene and his band in Madonna’s Filth and Wisdom, which opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday, October 17, then expands to select cities on October 24, and then L.A. can catch it at the Landmark there on October 31.