Gael García Bernal is perhaps still best known for his film work (Y Tu Mamá También, Motorcycle Diaries), but his first foray into television with Amazon’s comedy Mozart in the Jungle has certainly garnered him plenty of acclaim, since he won a Globe this year for his portrayal of Rodrigo, conductor of the New York Symphony. For the role, Bernal had to learn to convincingly fake expert violin performances and to conduct in venues as intimidating as The Hollywood Bowl. Now gearing up for its third season, Bernal calls the show, “A longer, extended version of a film,” explaining, “It’s called television but it’s not television really. It’s for Amazon. It’s a whole different approach.” The actor is still hard at work in the film genre however, with Neruda at Cannes, for which he reunited with No director Pablo Larrain, playing a detective searching for the subversive poet Pablo Neruda. Also upcoming is a futuristic reboot of Zorro, called Z, directed by Jonás Cuarón.

With a great career in film, what was it about this particular TV show that grabbed you?

The TV we grew up with—people who were born in the ‘70s and ‘80s—now we understand something very different about television than someone born in the 2000s. It’s a whole different thing. Taking that into consideration, it’s not that there was a huge difference between doing films and doing this. We started doing this show two, three years ago, and a lot of things have changed since then too in terms of what television is. When I was offered this it was working with great people in a very free new world and in a fantastic concept—classical music—something that attracted me completely. So in a way it manifested my desire of why I want to be an actor, to do some stuff that feels free, that can go in any direction and at the same time, doing something very entertaining.

When you won the Globe earlier this year, you seemed incredibly shocked—why?

I was doing this thing without any expectations, so when it comes, it’s quite fantastic, it’s incredible, it’s marvelous. When they said my name, I didn’t feel it rationally as such; I felt it more energetically throughout my body. I mean, the next day I was making pancakes, no problem, for my kids. But it is a huge deal for the life of the series Mozart in the Jungle. Nothing changes, but at the same time everything changes. It changes in terms of Rodrigo gets more life, so I just felt really grateful and proud of Rodrigo my character and the life they’re going to get and the journey that we’re going to have, and also for all the people that participated in the series. We’re really deeply sentimental about this show because it deals with music. Again, let’s not forget that. Music is like doing something out of dreams, you know? It’s about a personal interpretation, something very human, something that makes life in this universe worthwhile in a way and gives it some significance. I love participating in this. It’s a job but it’s my holiday as well.

Bernal as maestro Rodrigo in Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle.
Bernal conducting as maestro Rodrigo in Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle.

How hard is it to convincingly fake playing violin and conducting?

I have a few friends that are in the classical music world so they helped me a lot with it fortunately. I had some intense sessions. At the same time, obviously I had some great teachers that the show put together and that was incredible. They’re really helpful and they’re really good at letting us amateurs know how to fake it, or feel it, rather. Because at the end of the day it’s about understanding a little bit of them and including the character in it, doing what the character would do.

Anyone that’s studied music can tell that we’re doing something that’s fake of course. People study this since they are three, four years old, so it’s very evident in a way, but for the untrained eye we don’t realize. We can think, ‘whoa it looks really good.’ But obviously with every piece we have to practice and prepare it.

How was shooting in your home town of Mexico City in Season 2?

It was great. Taking them all there and taking them out, they saw the city. We had a lot of fun. I worked with a lot of people from crews that I’ve known before so it was lovely, it was amazing to show them around. I felt very proud, and they all had a huge curiosity and they were bitten by this interesting bug that happens in Mexico, which makes you completely obsessed with Mexico. It’s such a fascinating city.

Gael Garcia Bernal - Mozart in the Jungle.jpeg
(L to R) An unidentified guest, Gael Garcia Bernal, world-renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel—who cameoed last season—and EP/director Paul Weitz on set
Amazon Studios

How about that scene conducting at the Hollywood Bowl?

I mean it was one of the most nervous moments of my life. It was incredible. It was one of the most wonderful moments I’ve ever had in my life actually. It’s like one of those comedies where somebody’s escaping and they end up in the operating room and people ask, ‘OK, what shall we do?’ and he says, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do the heart operation!’ It was one of those situations where I had to just come up with something. But everybody was into it and everybody was very supportive and everything went well, so again we just trusted the magic of theater.

You just had Neruda at Cannes. How was working with Pablo Larrain again and why were you keen to do this?

I’m very, very happy to work again with Pablo Larrain. He’s one of the best filmmakers around, he’s just incredible. He goes for this feeling where you feel completely at ease and free to experiment and play with things. I’m really proud. It’s a fantastic film, very complicated. Poetry in film is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges to do because ultimately film is poetry in a sense. But something fantastic came out. I’m very happy. And the group of actors and everybody is great. The reviews in Cannes were incredible. It was really nice. So yeah, it’s going to have a big life.

What about Z—the remake of Zorro? What can you say at this stage?

I’m going to work with Jonás [Cuarón] and that’s great because we just did a film together, Desierto, so it’s working with family again. It’s going to be set in the future; it’s going to be weird.