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Something Wicked: ‘Macbeth’ MVP Kathryn Hunter on Witches, Shakespeare and Casting Spells for Denzel




When filmmaker Joel Coen emailed Kathryn Hunter, an actress with deep roots in Shakespeare who has taken revolutionary turns playing the lead roles in the Bard’s King Lear and Timon of Athens, and asked if she would portray “the witches” — all three of them — in his adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth, she immediately said yes. “There were no two thoughts about it,” she says now on a Zoom from the U.K. It was only in rehearsal that she momentarily second-guessed her decision.

“I said to Joel, ‘There are three witches. How are we going to do that?’” she says in her deep-voiced English accent. “And he said, ‘Oh, we’ll figure it out.’”

Watching her scene-stealing turns onscreen, however, you would think she never had any doubts. Filmed in black and white, Coen’s Macbeth — available now on Apple+ — takes place in a dusky shadowland of bitter surrealism. Denzel Washington plays the murderous thane, while Frances McDormand portrays his bloodthirsty, sleepwalking wife, hellbent on Macbeth becoming King of Scotland. Hunter’s witches, or “the weird sisters,” as Macbeth dubs them, elevate the tension every time they’re on screen.

The veteran British actress pulls her leg over her shoulder in one scene, while giving Macbeth an ice-cold stare and delivering the prophecy that he would be king. In another, she emulates a crow, right down to the bird’s jerky head movements. When she recites the witches’ famous “Double, double, toil and trouble” incantation, she looks bizarre enough to have emerged herself from her own stew of eye of newt and toe of frog. For Coen’s Macbeth, she has conjured a performance of the witches (and, if you look closely in some scenes, an old man) that is captivating, eerie, and masterful. Hunter is a crucial part of Coen’s adaptation, one that even people who don’t know or like Shakespeare would enjoy.

For Hunter, who occasionally opens her eyes in her own uniquely spellbinding way, it was the research she did and the way Coen told the story that inspired her performance. “It’s a thriller and you go inside it,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Joel’s storytelling is so brilliant that you really are on the edge of your seat.”

How did you approach playing all three witches?

We began a process of exploration of how to do three. At first there was an idea that I would have two doubles to whom I would teach my physicality, and then Joel said, “OK, let’s make it one, and maybe you’re possessed by two in the persona.” He also said that his vision for the witches was that they were like crows or standing stones that have been there and witnessed so many things. But they’re also women, and they go between these three forms.

I went away and explored crows and standing stones and women who live on the outskirts of society. I felt like they were outsiders but had natural knowledge, while also thinking about Shakespeare and that he’s obviously referencing the fates from Greek mythology. Then before rehearsals started, I was doing explorations on the kitchen table with my husband filming me being a crow, in this position and that position, and sending them to Joel. And then we met in London one time very early on. It was a good sign when Joel got out his camera and started going, “Yeah, I’m interested in that.” Fran [McDormand, Coen’s wife] was also contributing to the process as well. So it was exciting to work in a collaborative way.

What impressed you about Joel’s interpretation of Macbeth?

Joel showed me some mood boards early on. What I loved was that it wasn’t set in Scotland. It’s shot in black and white, very stark, very kind of architectural spaces that seem to mirror the architecture of the mind in a way because I think Macbeth is a journey of the mind.

With Shakespeare, including the plays I’ve directed, I always feel that when you go into naturalism or trying to make it contemporary, like setting it in New York or something, it works for a while — but actually it becomes more distant. I think what Joel’s done is brought out the tale, so it has a mythic quality, an epic quality, but at the same time because he’s such a brilliant director, he’s hopefully gotten from us performances that are very true. I mean, obviously with the giants of screen that are Frances McDormand and Denzel that truth was immediately available.

What did you like about taking it out of Scotland specifically?

The story becomes more accessible the less realistic it is. There’s a man called Edward Gordon Craig, who kind of broke the mold in theater and scenery. Craig said that we ruined Shakespeare when we try and make it naturalistic. The nearer it comes to dream and music, the nearer we are to Shakespeare, and I think that Joel has delivered that as well.

How did you and Denzel work off of each other while filming?

Denzel told me about somebody in his life who made a prophecy about him. There was this sense that this idea of prophecy was very real to him and not something odd. So it was fantastic to know that story when I spoke to him as the witch, knowing that it landed in a psyche that actually kind of believes in curses and blessings. Knowing that, I then consulted a woman who identifies as a modern-day witch — a good one. I asked her to teach me a little ritual to protect Denzel so because there’s so many superstitions around doing the play. So I would do this ritual in my trailer or in my hotel room to protect Denzel and the company, and then Covid struck. I thought, “Oh, it didn’t work.” But then we got back together again and I thought, “Oh, it did work.”

What else did you learn from studying real-life witchery?

It’s about the power of thought. We develop technologies like iPhones, but we have amazing technologies and powers inside of us, and I think that’s what makes playing a witch interesting. You get into the mind of somebody else. Or it feels like the witches are confronting Macbeth kind of knowing what’s in his mind and they’re saying, “Is this what you’re thinking? I think it is. Do you want to follow it through or are there other choices?” That’s very interesting and takes it away from pointy nose-y witches and makes it hopefully a more intimate relationship.

How did you develop the physicality of the role?

Kind of trial and error, because I didn’t want to do choreography. I did do lots and lots of research, and sometimes Joel would say, “Oh, that’s a bit dance-y.” It’s like cooking in a way. You say, “OK, I’ve got carrots, beans, spinach, and some turmeric. Let’s see what we can do.” So the elements were crows, standing stones, and women who are outsiders. You explore all of those and then it’s what happens in the moment with your playing partner — with Denzel — in the space.

When you have to say a line that’s so iconic, like “Double, double, toil and trouble,” do you stumble on that, knowing people expect it? Or is that something that just comes to you in the moment?

I remember speaking to Mark Rylance about playing Hamlet and [when] he would come to “To be or not to be,” he’d become nauseous because you could feel the audience going, “And now how is he going to deliver that?”

The important thing is, if you’re in the moment in this situation, you go, “Well, why am I saying that?” Or “What do I want to achieve? How am I going to affect the other person?” [In the plot] Macbeth has just asked to be told the future so, for me, the witches in that moment need to summon the Masters. It’s a point of instruction which was directed inwards rather than on to a cauldron, because Joel said we’re not having a cauldron. So the “Double, double, toil and trouble” line was about churning up something internal in order to surface these visions of the future. So if you get rooted in the practicality of the scene, it takes the emphasis off doing a famous line.

Many actors consider Macbeth a cursed play and won’t even say the name of the play in a theater, calling it “the Scottish Play” out of fear of bad things happening. How did the cast and crew treat it?

I think American actors bring less of that. We didn’t get have an “Oh, we can’t say that” rule. But you know, in this country, we say, “the Scottish Play” and all that. I thought, “Just be safe.” And it felt right to [say the Scottish Play]. So I did do it.

How do you feel Macbeth relates to the world today?

I think for us today, when nature is out of control and those themes that Shakespeare brings up about us losing our moral compasses are very vivid, this story is present.

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Hear Marianne Faithfull’s Forceful ‘Vagabond Ways’ Demo for ‘Incarceration of a Flower Child’




Marianne Faithfull will give her 1999 album, Vagabond Ways, the deluxe treatment with a reissue due out March 4. She’s teasing the release with the demo recording for the album’s “Incarceration of a Flower Child,” a song Roger Waters wrote in 1968 but never recorded with Pink Floyd.

On the demo, Faithfull sings along to a backdrop of acoustic guitars and one buzzy electric as she describes a scene of drinking cheap wine and smoking dope on Indian tapestry cushions. “Don’t get up to answer the door, just stay with me here on the floor,” she belts. “It’s going to get cold in the Seventies.” The studio version that appeared on Vagabond Ways sounds more polished thanks to electronics played by co-producer Mark Howard and synth bass by Waters.

The reissue will feature several other previously unreleased demos, an uncirculated studio recording, and new liner notes. In addition to digital and CD reissues, the record will be available on vinyl for the first time.

The bonus material includes “Blood in My Eyes,” a Bob Dylan cover that previously featured on the Japanese edition of the original album, as well as “Drifting,” a song Faithfull wrote and recorded with co-producer Daniel Lanois but never released. It also includes demos of “Vagabond Ways,” “Electra,” and her cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” and Waters’ “Incarceration.”

She reflected on her enduring friendship with Waters in a 2014 Rolling Stone feature when she recorded another one of his songs, “Sparrows Will Sing,” for her Give My Love to London album. “He’s one of my dearest friends, and I love him and he’s everything a real gentleman rock star should be,” she said. “He’s not a misogynist. He is not only in it for the money. He is a great man.”

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‘I Was in Prison. Now He Is’: Ronnie Spector Gets Raw on Phil Spector in Unearthed Audio




Ronnie Spector, who died last week at the age of 78, speaks candidly about her abusive ex-husband, Phil Spector, and more in never-before-heard audio on the new episode of Rolling Stone Music Now. Phil Spector, who died in 2021, was in prison for murder when Kory Grow interviewed Ronnie in 2016, and she told Grow she saw it as karmic justice for the years when her ex essentially locked her away in their mansion.

To hear the entire episode, press play above, or listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

“I couldn’t go out for seven years,” Spector said. “I didn’t go anywhere… What goes around, comes around. I was in prison. Now he is. So that’s how I look at it.” In the interview clips, Spector also gives a vivid account of the making of the Ronettes’ epochal hit “Be My Baby” and more.

The episode also includes an in-depth discussion between Andy Greene, Angie Martoccio, Rob Sheffield, and host Brian Hiatt about Spector’s life, music, influence (from Jersey Shore rock to punk to riot grrrrl to, um, Eddie Money), and legacy — as well as her soon-to-be-reissued autobiography.

“She talks in the book about how she was possessed when she was young with the desire to be seen, to be heard, to be accepted,” Sheffield says. “She talks about how she was a cheerleader at her high school. And she was like, that wasn’t enough for me, to be the most popular girl in school. I needed to be in the most popular girl in the world. And you can hear that lust for power in ‘Be My Baby.’ This is the voice of an ordinary girl from the streets of Spanish Harlem who is absolutely intent on making the whole world hear her and go, what the hell was that? And that’s exactly what she did.”

Download and subscribe to our weekly podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now, hosted by Brian Hiatt, on Apple Podcasts or Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts), and check out three years’ worth of episodes in the archive, including in-depth, career-spanning interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Halsey, Neil Young, Snoop Dogg, Brandi Carlile, Phoebe Bridgers, Rick Ross, Alicia Keys, the National, Ice Cube, Robert Plant, Dua Lipa, Questlove, Killer Mike, Julian Casablancas, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Marr, Scott Weiland, Liam Gallagher, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Costello, John Legend, Donald Fagen, Phil Collins, Justin Townes Earle, Stephen Malkmus, Sebastian Bach, Tom Petty, Eddie Van Halen, Kelly Clarkson, Pete Townshend, Bob Seger, the Zombies, Gary Clark Jr., and many others — plus dozens of episodes featuring genre-spanning discussions, debates, and explainers with Rolling Stone’s critics and reporters. Tune in every Friday at 1 p.m. ET to hear Rolling Stone Music Now broadcast on SiriusXM’s Volume, channel 106.

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Jamie Lynn Spears Says She Tried To Help Britney Get Out of Conservatorship




I Tried To Free Britney …
But It Blew Up In My Face!!!

1/20/2022 12:00 PM PT

Call Her Daddy/Spotify

Jamie Lynn Spears says she tried to help Britney free herself from her conservatorship … but the efforts went nowhere and pissed a lot of people off.

The former Nickelodeon star says Britney made it seem like she wanted out of the conservatorship during some late-night sister talks on a trip to Hawaii, and Jamie Lynn says she tried to get involved.

As Jamie Lynn explains on the “Call Her Daddy” podcast, she took Britney’s comments to heart and talked to her sister’s lawyer … but it blew up in her face big time.

What’s more, Jamie Lynn says she and her husband had some judges look into Britney’s conservatorship and told her all she needed to do was move out of California for 6 months and the conservatorship would end.

JL says she even offered to have Britney live with her in Louisiana in an effort to dissolve the conservatorship … but she still doesn’t know why Britney never followed through with that option.

Jamie Lynn doesn’t give an exact time frame for when any of this was happening … but says she was always going to support whatever Britney wanted to do.

Britney’s been reacting to a lot of Jamie Lynn’s interviews and excerpts from her new book, so it will be interesting if she has a response here.

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