Vox Lux has been heralded as the darker, murkier reversal of A Star is Born, crafting a portrait of fame that isn’t burgeoning with Grammy Awards and grand stage performances, but a life riddled with substance abuse, sordid press interviews, and grappling with the pressures of being thrust into the limelight. And although Vox Lux touches on all of that and more, it’s the first 20 minutes of the film that feels at once disturbingly visceral and especially pertinent to today’s political climate. A school shooting in a sleepy suburban town leaves teenager Celeste Montgomery (Raffey Cassidy) with a spinal disability for the rest of her life, while her older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) struggles with the immense guilt she feels for not having been there for Celeste. The film, split into two parts, careens into Celeste’s path to stardom, as she grows up from plucky child singer to international pop star (Natalie Portman) dealing with alcoholism and struggling to connect with a teenage daughter of her very own (also played by Cassidy.)
Unlike Portman and Cassidy who both portray Celeste, Martin played Eleanor throughout all of the different phases of her life, serving as an anchor for the film in the process. By the film’s second half, the relationship between Celeste and Eleanor has greatly soured, marred by years of resentment off-screen that the audience isn’t privy to first-hand. Instead, Eleanor has forged a better friendship with Celeste’s daughter, which serves as another point of tension between the two sisters.
Here, CR caught up with Martin about how she depicted the trauma and aftermath of a mass shooting, working with Portman, and what it was like to sing for the film.
How would you describe Eleanor?
“She’s someone who is pretty selfless and she’s a typical teenager. She goes through extremely big trauma which defines the rest of her life and makes a decision to never leave her sister and to take care of her, and in a way it informs who she becomes as a woman. She doesn’t really have friends, she’s quite a lonely human being, but her sacrifices and commitment are so big that there is nothing else for her. It’s all about making sure she keeps her promise, and thats quite heartbreaking when you see people who have refused to have any kind of enjoyment in the second part, whereas in the first part its all about having fun and being surprised. The second part of the film she’s a lot more stoic.”
There are two shooting scenes in the movie, which really stuck with me given our climate today. What was it like getting in-character for someone dealing with that trauma?
“It’s something I’ve luckily never experienced but very prominent in our culture today.
When the French attacks happened in November, I had a very strong desire to be in Paris and to be with people and that force and willingness and unity is something I kept with me. I think if you’re about to lose someone and you’re lucky not to, that bond intensifies because the notion of that is never gonna go away. It’s almost like she was so scared for her sister that she actually experiences the guilt and the grief of not being the big sister, even though theres nothing she could’ve done. I think a lot of that sadness comes from the inability of saving her, so for me it was really about relating to losing someone and how upsetting and frustrating those events can be because nothing can preempt that. We’re humans and we can’t control life and that’s very scary.”
What was it like playing the same character throughout the film?
“We ended up shooting pretty much in order, so my relationship built up and by the time we started the second part and Natalie arrived, I felt like there was already a lot of history instilled. The relationship isn’t that different from the one Eleanor has with young Celeste and it was really nice to sort of feel the similarities. Then with Natalie, what’s so great is that you don’t see exactly why the relationship has changed and there are a lot of things. The switch in time is so big, but theres not necessarily an explanation of how they got there and what exactly happened. Her energy kind of informs a lot of it and that was really good to experience.”
What do you think happened between Celeste and Eleanor?
“Eleanor’s also put up with so much and fought so hard to make everything work. In a way nothing can beat her down, even though she doesn’t seem to have the energy to fight anymore. There’s something underlying the sisterhood. You can love and hate someone so much but that relationship is gonna stay the same. I think Eleanor and Celeste are like Yin and Yang in the second part, and they balance each other out. I don’t think Celeste would’ve been as manic if Eleanor had been more subdued, for example. They’ve definitely egged each other on. Eleanor finds a comfort in her relationship with Albertine because it reminds her of her relationship with Celeste and keeps them connected.”
How does it show the dark side of fame?
“It shows fame where it’s a construction and a moment in time where nothing really matters. It’s that moment where you can switch off and forget everything, but it comes at such a big cost. The dynasty around Celeste is great and really reflects our culture. We find a new artist and suddenly they become a product, and thats the dark side of fame and your identity becomes a lot of other things that impacts on young kids and relationships.”
Sia wrote original songs for the film and you sang with Cassidy on one of them. What was that experience like?
“I used to have a fear of singing. It was something I never really liked very much. Though I knew it was a very short snippet, I started taking singing lessons very early on in preparation. I wanted to get over that and do it for the film. It was a lot of getting over your phobia, just learning the song. It was quite a big thing for me even though its quite short. Eleanor has this inner curiosity about singing and writing but it’s never at the forefront. As much as I wanted to sing and be the kind of person to sit down at a piano and sing a really great Elton John song, I never really dared to, so that matched really well.”
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