When we first heard Saffron Burrows would be appearing in the latest round of Speakeasy with Russell Peters, we were stoked. After all, we’ve been smitten with the British beauty ever since we spotted her as a sexy scientist in Deep Blue Sea.
Then we did some research and realized she’s a real Renaissance woman, capable of a whole lot more than looking good in her skivvies. Beginning as a teenager, she’s made her mark as a model, multi-linguist, political activist, musician, stage and screen actress and more.
These days, you can catch her as cellist Cynthia on the Mozart in the Jungle, which just won the Golden Globe for Best TV Comedy or Musical. With Season 2 of the series now streaming on Amazon, we hit her up for a little advice…
“There’s mass movements now for all these issues of social justice and climate change and tackling homophobia, racism, police violence, misogyny… and I do feel that the best of social media is harnessing people in that way and making people feel less isolated. Obviously there are detractors as well who are very outspoken online, but I just ignore those people.”
Researching you, I was pretty blown away by all the shit you’ve done. So this interview is going to be focused on your advice based on your many experiences from the various phases of your career.
Wow, blimey, OK, cool.
So, first off you started as a model. What’s your number one tip for looking better in photos?
Oh, well, I’m the worst person to ask because I really didn’t like still photos at all. I find them very unnatural and awkward. The only thing I discovered recently was last weekend I did some photos with a photographer and I thought, well, I’ll just have a little bit of whiskey and I’ll ask for a massage and then it went much more smoothly, the whole thing.
You speak English obviously, also French. And then I read that you learned Spanish basically in like three weeks for The Galindez Files. So, do you have any language learning tips?
I found a teacher who is excellent in Fulham in London and I went to her house every day for three weeks and she never once spoke a word of English to me. From the moment we met she opened the door and said, Hola, me llamo… We only did about five or six hours a day for three weeks, and then every time I spoke French or Italian, because I speak a bit of Italian, she would throw a fit. So… Find somebody strict to teach you who is not going to let you get away with your native languages.
From what I’ve read, you’ve always been like pretty politically active. I’m curious if you have any advice for being more socially conscious, and why it’s important to be aware of a world beyond just like your immediate surroundings.
Well, now I think it’s much more common to be socially conscious. I mean, these things happen in waves obviously. When I was at school, I was once on the cover of the newspaper because I was in a demonstration against police brutality, and these kids at school are like, “Saff, Saff, that looks like you” and I go, “God, she looks a lot like me, that girl.” It was very unusual to want to engage in things and people thought it was a little [weird].
Well, especially at that age, yeah.
But now it’s very different. The younger generation, they’re much more active without fear of reprisal or embarrassment. The best of social media is allowing that to flourish. Organizations like Change.org, Activist.org, I mean, if you want to be active in stuff that’s sort of global, there’s obviously really interesting websites to follow where you find out about stuff on a daily basis that you didn’t know was occurring. The Greenpeace stuff is amazing that they’re doing, and I watch that stuff with my son and he’s really into it. He just turned three. He doesn’t watch films, but we watch some Greenpeace stuff. So there are mass movements now for all these issues of social justice and climate change and tackling homophobia, racism, police violence, misogyny… and I do feel that the best of social media is harnessing people in that way and making people feel less isolated. Obviously there are detractors, as well, who are very outspoken online, but I just ignore those people.
OK, I’m pretty sure you’re the only person ever to have appeared in a shark movie with LL Cool J [Deep Blue Sea], a Neil LaBute play with David Schwimmer [Some Girl(s)] and a streaming series directed by an American Pie auteur [Mozart in the Jungle]. What enables you to move amongst those different environments?
That sounds really good when you put it like that. I think I’m just like most people, just interested in interesting roles and groups of people who are going to be exciting to work with as a collective. So the combination of Paul Weitz and Gael Garcia Bernal and Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, Alex Timbers. When I joined Mozart those people were all in place and also the subject matter like, Oh, I’ve never seen that before. Just exploring classical music with humor and with some joy and some sexuality and some fun, that’s something I would watch, you know? And in the same way with the shark thing, I was like, Samuel Jackson is doing a shark movie?
Yeah, I should’ve mentioned, Samuel Jackson’s also in the movie, folks.
And Stellan Skarsgård. When I was a kid, LL Cool J was a big hero, and it’s funny because LL is not that much older than me but he was famous so young that we all had his picture on our wall. Then I’m in Mexico with LL Cool J and when he would come for supper I would say, OK, you can have supper if you’ll write a rap at the table, and he’d sit at the table and write a rap. [It was] wild.
You were in a movie called The Guitar, where you play the guitar. And now you’re playing the cello in Mozart in the Jungle. So I’m curious, do you have any instrument-learning tips?
Immerse yourself. Fall in love with it. Make it your friend. That’s so naff. No, I was told that Jimi Hendrix used to sleep with his guitar and his girlfriend would think, What the hell? because he’d cuddle with his guitar and not with her.
So you’ve been sleeping with the cello, is what you’re telling me?
I should probably sleep with the cello, but it’s quite big. That wouldn’t be very comfortable. You’d get stuck with the bow or something.