When you hear the name Norah Jones, you think Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter. You don’t necessarily think actress or Asian American. Norah Jones is Hapa, or part Asian (Bengali). Her father is Indian Classical musician Ravi Shanka, the founder of Hindustani classical music. When you hear the name Norah Jones, you think Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter. You don’t necessarily think actress or Asian American. Norah Jones is Hapa, or part Asian (Bengali). Her father is Indian Classical musician Ravi Shanka, the founder of Hindustani classical music.
Jones was born in Brooklyn, New York then spent most of her life in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas playing the piano and listening to music by her idol, Willie Nelson.
In 2003, Norah Jones won over the world with her signature style and her debut album “Come Away With Me” on Blue Note Records, selling over 20 million copies worldwide and garnering eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Record of the Year for her single, “Don’t Know Why”.
Her second album, “Feels like Home”, released in 2004, topped sales charts and was nominated for 4 Grammys.
In 2005, she shared a Grammy with the late Ray Charles for the duet “Here We Go Again.” In 2006, she released an album as part of her band The Blue Willies. Her third album “Not Too Late” was released in January 2007 by Blue Note to critical acclaim and worldwide success, topping the charts on five continents.
Now, Norah Jones is making her acting debut in legendary Director Wong Kar Wai’s first English film My Blueberry Nights… … Not bad for a feature film debut.
We were able to speak with Norah in the midst of settling back in New York while getting ready to take a year long hiatus.
ASIANCE: What did you know about Wong Kar Wai?
Norah: I knew nothing about him. I watched some of his films to see if he was someone I wanted to meet with, you know? And I loved them! I thought they were so amazing and unique and cool! So I was excited to meet with him!
Wong Kar Wai approached me and asked me if I wanted to do a film with him. I said, “Well I don’t know? What’s the deal? What’s the story?” And he said, “Well, I don’t have it yet. Just trust me!”
ASIANCE: What made you choose this script?
Norah: That’s a funny question because there was no script. Wong Kar Wai approached me and asked me if I wanted to do a film with him. I said, “Well I don’t know? What’s the deal? What’s the story?” And he said, “Well, I don’t have it yet. Just trust me!”
I just learned to trust him and the script came later. I had read enough about him to know that and I liked his films so much that I just trusted him.
ASIANCE: Are you taking acting classes?
Norah: I took a few acting classes to see if it was something I wanted to do. Then I asked him what I should prepare with my acting teacher and he said “Stop taking acting classes! I don’t want you to take acting classes” I said, “Are you sure? You’ve never seen me act.” He said, “I’m sure. I want you to be natural. I don’t want you to take acting classes right now” So I stopped.
I was a little unsure but I trusted him. I wanted him to do what he wanted to do too.
Click to see Norah Jones at Cannes this year promoting My Blueberry Nights
ASIANCE: Was there anything difficult for you to do in the movie? Anything that gave you any trouble?
Norah: Well it was difficult because the third day he wanted me to cry. And he told me like 5 minutes before he wanted me to do. It wasn’t supposed to be a crying scene. He just decided. That was difficult. I said, “You want me to cry? I thought you told me not to take acting lessons?” (laughs) How am I supposed to do this?
ASIANCE: Yeah what did you do?
Norah: I think I started crying out of fear! It worked out in the end. But it was definitely a scary and difficult moment for me.
ASIANCE: I always wonder how these actors can just cry on the spot.
Norah: I think every actor has a different way they work. It’s difficult. It’s not just about crying on demand. You have to wait until the cameras are ready. And then you have to keep doing it.
ASIANCE: Give us 3 words to describe Wong Kar Wai, Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman.
Norah: I’m terrible with these things.. How about 2 words? Wong Kar Wai – “ tall, mysterious; Jude Law – “ friendly and fun; David Strathairn – “ sweetheart, amazing actor; Rachel Weisz – “ fun, I didn’t get to know Rachel that well because she had her baby on the set. He was so cute and really young, so all of her free time was spent with the baby. She looked great! Natalie Portman – “ we had a lot of fun.. We became friends, so I don’t want to describe her wrong.
ASIANCE: Did Wong Kar Wai ask you to write a song called “The Story” for the movie? How did that come about?
Norah: I just wrote that song one night after we were shooting. I came home and I wasn’t ready to go to bed. The shooting was so long and I didn’t have a chance to play a lot. The song just came out. And later he asked if I had anything for the soundtrack. We both had decided that we shouldn’t use my music for the soundtrack because the music would make people forget that I’m supposed to be this character. But at the last second he ended up putting in the movie.
Remember this song by Norah?
ASIANCE: Do people know that you are Asian? Are they surprised? Do they ask your ethnicity?
Norah: Sometimes. It’s weird. Some people know all about my dad and my ethnicity and some people ask if I’m black or Italian… all different things.
ASIANCE: Do you embrace your heritage in your craft ever? Or would you ever incorporate South Asian or an Indian flair in your music?
Norah: I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine myself doing something like that because I didn’t grow up studying that music… .Maybe a flair here or there, but it doesn’t mean you need to be well versed in Indian classical music.
I think my influences are very strongly in American Folk music. As I get older, every year I notice I get turned on to a different kind of music that I never thought I would’ve been into in the past. I would never say “never” but I seriously doubt it.
ASIANCE: Who would you love to work with in music and on screen?
Norah: I would love to work with Danny Wells. He’s a songwriter down in Nashville. Bryan Adams. I don’t if I’ll make another film. I really enjoyed it and I would love to do it again. But for me I want to treat it as a hobby that I’ll work really hard at, if I do it again. I’m not going to plan to do a bunch of movies or anything. So I have no idea.
ASIANCE: Who are your favorite artists? Do you have any new and upcoming artist that you like?
Norah: That’s funny. I’ve been listening to M.I.A. I don’t really listen to that type of music that much but I’m in a serious reorganize clean house mode this week and I’ve been listening to this so loud. I hope the neighbors don’t get mad.
ASIANCE: You won all the Grammys do you want to win an Oscar? Is that a goal?
Norah: Not at all. I just did this film because I thought it was a cool opportunity to try something different.
ASIANCE: So no films coming up?
Norah: Not now. We had some offers but I’m just going to take a break for awhile.
ASIANCE: If you weren’t a successful Musician you would be________
Norah: A painter. I’d be an artist of some kind. I’m taking a pottery class right now. I’m not good at it. I love to dance but I’m not a good dancer. So I don’t know if I’d really be a dancer but something in the arts.
ASIANCE: What is up next for you?
Norah: I’m looking forward to taking some time off living in New York.
ASIANCE: Do you have any pets?
Norah: No. I’m dying to get a dog. I don’t really want a tiny dog. I like medium size dogs but I think I’m going to have to get a tiny dog so I can take it with me when I travel.
ASIANCE: I got my two at the shelter on 110th street in New York. They’re beautiful and they’re purebreds.
Norah: Really? I’ve been looking online for shelter dogs. I would definitely get a shelter dog. I want to make sure I can take care of it because I travel a lot which is why I want to get one this year.
ASIANCE: Do you have any other interests? Something else we might not know about you?
Norah: That I listen to MIA. (laughs) I don’t know!
People ask me if I feel a lot of pressure, but I feel like the pressure is taken off me because there is so much pressure on him (WKW) since it’s his first English film.
ASIANCE: You got to work with the best people in the industry your first time around so that’s the way to go.
Norah: I know! I was hoping Tony Leung would show up!
For more information on www.norahjones.com. My Blueberry Nights will open April 4, 2008.