grammys

Herbie Hancock poses with the Best Contemporary Jazz Album and Album Of The Year awards in the press room during the 50th annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center on February 10, 2008, in Los Angeles, California.
(Feb. 10, 2008 – Source: Vince Bucci/Getty Images North America

*French director Luc Besson gushed on Instagram late last year about multi-Grammy winning jazz musician Herbie Hancock joining the cast of his sci-fi epic, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

Besson wrote, “Herbie Hancock is a legend. His music was my only friend at 14… I learn so much listening this genius… I’m proud to have him for a role in #Valerian .”

Hancock has a handful of acting credits including a notable turn as Eddie Wayne in the 1986 film “Round Midnight,” for which he won an Oscar for his original score to the Bertrand Tavernier-directed film.

He has also appeared on the Disney Channel show “Girl Meets World” as Catfish Willie Slim. Mr. Hancock currently plays the Minister of Defense in Besson’s feature adaptation of the French 1967 graphic novel series by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières.

The film stars Dane DeHaan and model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne as special operatives who, under assignment from the Minister of Defense, “must embark on a mission to Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture. When a dark force threatens the peaceful city, Valerian (Dane) and Laureline (Cara) must race against time to identify the menace that also jeopardizes the future of the universe.”

Valerian is a thrilling space ride packed full of insane visual effects and action sequences. Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen, and Rihanna round out the cast of this ingenious adventure.

“Visually, it’s like…the most far out sci-fi experience that I have ever seen,” Hancock told EUR/Electronic Urban Report. “Like, the most far out on steroids of sci-fi. I’ve never seen anything this mind-blowing ever. And I’m a sci-fi freak. I’ve seen everyone that I could possibly see and this is beyond any of those. But it’s not just a visual experience. The film Valerian has so many messages about humanity, about compassion, about female empowerment. That’s a very important message.”

24-year-old Cara Delevingne plays a “badass” Spatio-Temporal Agent who “does the intelligent work” as Valerian’s partner. Herbie points out that she’s “just as strong, just as powerful, just as smart — she’s this fearless wonder woman.”

Continuing, “She’s more together than Valerian himself. He’s kind of a youthful James Bond that doesn’t quite have his stuff together and she’s got this extra element that all females have. That men just don’t have anyway.”

Mr. Hancock also notes that Besson’s fantasical creatures “have characteristics that we haven’t experienced seeing on film before.”

“What we experience in this film is the importance of compassion. That’s one of the messages of the film. Compassion for things that are unfamiliar. I want to go back and see it ‘cause it’s the type of film that you can’t take it all in-in one viewing. There’s so much more to be seen. It’s the kind of film you can see over and over again and each time you’ll see something new that you hadn’t seen before. That’s the genius of Luc Besson.”

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cast poster, rihanna

Photo credit: Twitter.com

Sci-fi films certainly have specific advantages in addressing controversial topics through special effects that live action does not.

Herbie: Yes. Even if we look back on E.T., it was the first film, I think, that any of us had seen where the alien was not the bad guy. The alien was the good guy. We’re able to learn lessons that we as human beings need to learn for ourselves and to apply to our daily lives. Sometimes more easily when we’re seeing it depicted outside of the normal human-to-human experience. When we’re dealing with sci-fi. In every sci-fi film, the ones that are the iconic ones, there’s always human attributes that are being expressed and shown that we’re able to absorb in that format. I totally agree with you. We’re able to absorb in that format. These are life lessons that are encouraged by looking at these films.

I adore Luc Besson and I imagine being directed by him and exploring this vivid world that he has created had to feel quite magical. Describe what your first day was like on the set.

Herbie: He’s very warm and very welcoming. He showed me around the complex. I had to fly to Pairs to shoot the film in his complex. He introduced me to key people and he just made me feel totally comfortable. I had already been given the script segments that I had to do before I left for Paris and I hoped that I had prepared enough but it’s never enough.

It was a fascinating experience being there and seeing the set design — how they put together something that’s this fascinating. First of all, there’s a lot of CGI in the film. Of course, I couldn’t see that. I could only see surfaces that either were used as such or surfaces the were used to bounce the computers graphics off of. So this sort of mixing and matching of things is totally different from what you see actually on the film.

Actually on my second or third day on the set, I actually watched another performance. It was a body double for one of the characters that Rihanna plays. I actually saw a performance of one of the body doubles with the pole dancing. Rihanna wasn’t expected to be on the set until the following week, after I had already left. So I wasn’t able to see her there. I could not imagine that what I saw on the set was gonna look like what we saw on the screen because there’s so much computer graphics that are a part of what we see as viewers of the film. So it’s amazing to see what was there before. The kinda bare bones elements that I saw could not compare to the mind bowing experience that’s on the screening. It completely blew my mind.

What do you think of modern music production? Is there a laziness nowadays in this digital age we’re living?

Herbie: I wouldn’t necessarily confine that to music. But in life in general, for the country’s that have access to the technology of today, there’s a feeling of entitlement. I know as an American, we exhibit that a lot these days. A feeling of entitlement because things, in so many ways, are so easy to come by. And we’re kinda spoiled by it. But I think a lot of it is gonna bite us in the behind if we don’t watch out. Because there’s work that needs to be done. In order to absorb some of the good things, there’s some housework we need to do to ourselves. So this is kind of a general statement I’m making about humanity and the people of countries that are supposedly advanced. And I really believe that the indigenous peoples of various nations have some of the answers that we really need for humanity to be able to survive.

Now, to go back to music. I have noticed that because we’re bombarded by so many new things, that even some of the younger generation kinda get caught up on themselves and some are working extremely hard to learn some of the new technologies through coding and new start-ups are happening. People are working hard to take advantage of these new developments and to study and come up with new ideas with the idea of really helping humanity. But then there are other people who, there’s so much coming in, that they feel like they don’t want to go to school. That they can figure things out for themselves and they’re afraid that if they learn from books and from what other people have done that it’ll kill their own creativity. And I don’t agree with that at all.

What can stop ones creativity is their inability to be able to seize what they need and to learn from what others have done so that they’re not stuck reinventing the wheel that somebody else already did. The past is available for us to know where we’ve been in order to be able to figure out where we need to go. I know everybody has heard that phrase a lot but it’s the absolute truth. The only thing that can stop you from developing your own curiosity and your own concepts and your own creative ideas is you getting in your own way and thinking that the only thing that’s possible is what I’ve learned from the past. You always have to keep an open mind and realize that the people that we study are not the people that followed the rules. We study people that broke the rules. Think about that. We don’t know who the people are that follow the rules because they didn’t make a difference. The people that studied the rules knew how to break the rules and those are the ones we study.

So this is one of my concerns, that people are actually afraid to learn. I wouldn’t be where I am today — and I’m in a pretty good spot — I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had not studied throughout my life. I encourage everybody to remain throughout their lives a student. Primarily a student of life. Because it’s being a student of life that is what music is about. Music is about life, it’s not about notes. It’s not about harmony. These are things that we use in order to express what life is about. That’s what I want to encourage in young people.

Valerian arrives in theaters July 21.