‘Filth and Wisdom’ Star Eugene Hütz on Taking Direction From Madonna and the Sexual Power of Accordions

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Biggs: Not Jewish. Photo: Courtesy of IFC Films

Americans know Eugene Hütz as the electric, mustached lead singer of gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello, and as the English-butchering tour guide who stole the show from Elijah Wood in Everything Is Illuminated. Now, the Ukrainian-born Hütz stars in his second big flick, Filth and Wisdom, a little film directed by indie upstart Madonna. Acting alongside Vicky McClure (a dead ringer for a young Material Girl), Hütz plays a struggling musician who moonlights as a cross-dressing dominatrix. Vulture sat down with Hütz to discuss working with Madge, inspiring Gucci, and the politics of his handlebar mustache.

So what was the rapport like with Madonna as your director? Is she as scary as she seems?
[Laughs] She’s only scary to people who read too many tabloids.

Burn.
[Laughs] Sorry. But we were able to start on a fresh page and keep it fun. We became friends during the filmmaking and then performed at Live Earth together afterwards. She was very scrupulous with some of the actors, but I got off easy. A lot of other people experienced more actual directing. I was welcomed into the project on some special footing, so that gave me a lot of leeway.

So did you subscribe to and develop the film’s philosophy that one needs to wallow in filth to gain wisdom?
That’s really kind of a pop version of a lot of different philosophies. It’s a bit simplified. I subscribe more to the dedication and immortal passions that lead to wisdom. But cluelessness leads to experience, and experience leads to wisdom, so without cluelessness there can be no wisdom. It’s as simple as that.

You sort of fell into acting. You met with Liev Schreiber to discuss the soundtrack for Everything Is Illuminated, and he immediately cast you as the Ukrainian tour guide.
Ever since I was young, people have tried to push me into acting. They were always hustling me, but I went with my actual passion, music, and hustled all of that. All my friends and family predicted that I would be an actor, but that bores me. Performance can’t move the walls. You never see people going bananas in a movie theater, bouncing off the walls. They need music to help them get there, and that’s why I’ll always be a musician first.

You have some intense scenes playing a dominatrix, but you make riding a man on a harness look so easy.
It’s funny, because the scene where I’m whipping and riding that old guy was literally the first scene we started shooting. There was no lead time into that. So the first day, it’s like six in the morning, I just had my first cup of coffee, and I had to whip someone into a frenzy. That’s some real movie magic right there.

You’ve been hailed as one of the only men who can make a handlebar mustache sexy. Any tips?
Well, first, I think that’s an untruth. It’s a matter of cultural perspective. Look at the accordion. In the United States, the accordion is seen as the least sexy instrument ever. But if you go to Russia or Brazil, all sexual jokes are about an accordion player. The guy comes into the village playing the accordion, and things start happening. The guy who rocks the chicks is the guy with an accordion. So I don’t think I should take credit for making the handlebar mustache sexy, because it’s sexy in a lot of places — just not always in America.

What do you think of the line of Gucci menswear that you’ve apparently inspired?
I don’t know, man. If it’s inspiring, then good, but I obviously wasn’t dressing to inspire Gucci. I don’t know if they got the whole style of how I dress.

So they missed your point?
Pretty much. But I’ll keep it polite.