Annette Interview: Simon Helberg on Showing His Dramatic Side & Acting With a Puppet

By | August 18, 2021

The musical Annette arrives on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, August 20. Directed by Leos Carax and co-written by Ron & Russell Mael of the band Sparks, the film stars Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg.

“Los Angeles, today. Henry (Adam Driver) is a stand-up comedian with a fierce sense of humor who falls in love with Ann (Marion Cotillard), a world-renowned opera singer,” explains the official synopsis. “Under the spotlight, they form a passionate and glamorous couple. With the birth of their first child, Annette, a mysterious little girl with an exceptional destiny, their lives are turned upside down.”

RELATED: Annette Review – Adam Driver’s Best Performance So Far

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Annette star Simon Helberg about getting physical with Adam Driver, working with Sparks, and doing dramatic scenes with a puppet. Check out the video below or read the full transcript.

Tyler Treese: Simon, as a musician yourself, how exciting was it getting to work with a legendary duo like Sparks?

Simon Helberg: First of all, what a coincidence, your backdrop. I don’t know if you know this, but I’m in that movie [laughs]. That’s awesome. I like that.

So what was it like? Oh my gosh. Well, yeah, they’re legends and they’re also just the sweetest brothers I’ve ever come across. It was a true honor. There’s a little intimidation that comes along with that. Then you meet them and it kind of all washes away. They take such big swings and they wrote a rock opera in the 2000s, and here we are. It was made into a movie. That doesn’t happen often. So I love being a part of some kind of esoteric wild vision. That to me is the most exhilarating thing. So yeah, I love Sparks. I love the documentary that Edgar Wright made. I hope everyone gets a chance to see that. So it was a thrill.

Yeah, it’s fantastic. You’ve had such a wide-ranging career, started off on Mad TV. You’ve done so many comedies as an actor. How exciting was it to get to show your dramatic side here and also get to sing?

Well, it’s always very appealing to me to get to play different types of people and to show different sides of myself. This offered that. I didn’t know how much it would exactly. When I read it, I knew it was obviously a character I’d never played. It was a project like I had never done before, but until you’re there, like the conducting scene with the cameras going around me, I didn’t imagine it that way. Otherwise, I would be the genius that Leos is. So I understood what the story was and the sort of profoundness of that. But then when you see it, it’s kind of astonishing what he was able to do there. For me, I’m always looking to dig deeper. It’s true, I’ve done a lot of comedy and I think that people who tend to do comedy always want to try to show different sides of themselves. It usually comes from a place of darkness or despair. So sometimes it is nice to just wallow in that a little bit. Yeah, this was a good opportunity to wallow.

You get tossed around a bit by Adam Driver in the film. How was it like filming these physical scenes? He’s such a large man.

Yeah. He definitely had an easy time picking me up. Too easy. I think at first I was like, wait, don’t, don’t let go. I’m going to end up on the roof.For me, he’s just a real hero of mine as an actor and has been for a long time and I’ve never gotten to meet him or work with him. He’s very focused and very poised and professional and caring. Then in the scenes, when we’re rolling, he comes alive and the scene comes to life in always an unexpected and exciting and kind of dangerous way. So we got to really play actually in that scene. A lot of it was choreographed, but a lot of it was sort of bullet points. So, you fall into the table, but then between those moments, and when you’re working with someone like him, you’re really able to play and to try different things. Great actors tend to elevate the people around them. So I hope I elevated him, and he definitely elevated me literally and I think creatively as well.

Working with the puppet, how was that like to work off such a strange object?

You know, there’s, I think the suspension of disbelief is important, not just for audiences, but for actors too. We took it very seriously, so there was not… Well, in French puppet is “la poupée,” which made it a little hard sometimes to be serious but the nature of it has kind of a silliness around it, a puppet. But then when you’re there, the stakes are so high in those scenes and they’re so emotional that I actually found it added an extra layer of what you bring to a moment as an audience or as an actor, you do project a lot onto that face or on to just a blank slate. We bring our own experience.

So I found it to be incredible and then having to operate the puppet sometimes. There was like a tenderness because I actually had to try to take over operating the puppet from these puppeteers. It was like it was their baby that they handed to me and I had to kind of take it on and do the work that they had done their whole lives to create this creature. So there was something kind of parallel to like caring for a being or breathing life into a being. I found it to be kind of magical. I never was like, I can’t work with this puppet. I was kind of swept away.