Light Mode

‘Across the Universe’ Interviews with Jim Sturgess and Julie Taymor

[IMG:L]Talented newcomer and sought after British sensation Jim Sturgess makes his big-screen acting debut in Julie Taymor’s new musical, Across The Universe. Taking the lead as love struck artist Jude, whose journey is ignited by the desire to locate his father, the real life musician puts his pipes to creative use when resuscitating infamously classic Beatles hits. Incidentally, it doesn’t hurt that the boyish-faced, shag-haired thespian bares more than an uncanny likeness to the one-and-only, Paul McCartney.

In Across The Universe,  Jude (Sturgess) and his best friend’s sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) are disillusioned youth navigating through a re-staged ’60s iconic and revolutionary period. Sturgess‘ irresistibly enchanting performance even earned the actor cheers from the audience at this month’s Toronto Film Festival. Hollywood.com was delighted to catch up with the fresh talent whose ascending star shines very brightly.

Hollywood.com: You have a great singing voice. Have you had any professional musical training?
Jim Sturgess:
Well, thanks! Yeah, it was me singing–and I hadn’t had any training either. I was in a band and stuff like that back in London, so I had been singing, and I was into singing music and stuff like that. That’s as far as [I reached in] being professionally trained.

- Advertisement -

HW: What kind of band were you in?
I guess you would sort of call it an indie band–an English indie band. We were like inspired by the bands by the bands of the kind of Manchester scene in the late ‘80s and ‘90s: The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, New Order, that kind of stuff. So yeah there were seven of us in the band, it was very electronic. We were big into the Beatles. I was a big fan of the Beatles.

HW: Does being English have anything to do with that?
JS: I guess it’s the same for everybody, but certainly coming from England, we are very aware of the Beatles. I was [a fan] and all of my friends were. And a lot of the bands I would listen to were also very vocally inspired by the Beatles, so it was just a process of finding foundations in the music. I remember listening to albums like Sgt. Pepper as early as maybe 6.

HW: So what was it like to work with Bono?
It was amazing. For me, it was great having someone like him in the film just because one, he’s a huge rock star and two, he carries the same ideas as the people and icons from the ‘60s, you know. He carries that same torch, he’s very into changing the world. He’s a big personality with a big heart. His message is really the same as all the people that came out at that time. It was great to have this spokesperson for our generation to be this character in the film.

[IMG:R]HW: You said being part of this film changed your life. In what way?
JS: In the way that I was unemployed and living in London with really not much to do, and now I’m here sitting with you guys at Toronto Film Festival. Yeah, and it’s kind of a pretty mad roller coaster.

HW: What was the Toronto Film Festival experience like?
: I’ve never been to a film festival, so I couldn’t even picture it in my mind. It was great just walking around seeing all these people gather around in the cinemas and all these great films being shown all around the city; it’s an exciting thing. We were walking fast and heard everybody screaming like something terrible had happened–like you know an attack or something like that–and it was Brad Pitt who just got out of his car, just two blocks down the road. So yeah, it was fun.

HW: What was your favorite part of the movie?

- Advertisement -

JS: There were two that really stick to my mind: One of them was when we did the Strawberry Fields scene, it was the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death that day. And Julie took my aside and reminded me about it and talked about it and she said, “Listen, this is your studio and we’re going to play the music and you’re going to sing. And you just do whatever you like, you’re the artist. This is your art studio and just sing it as many times as you like.” So me and Dawn Masi, the artist I’ve been working with, had this big bucket of strawberries. I asked for all these tins of paint and huge canvases, and they had two or three cameras rolling and the camera guys are all in this one body suit because I was going to get busy with the paint and they played the song and I sang, and it was very emotional because it was John Lennon’s death and I had that on my mind. And it was amazing just to get aggressive with the fruit [laughs]…definitely a moment I’ll never forget.

[IMG:L]HW: And the other one?
JS: The other one was the peace march which we did down 5th Avenue. We watched so much footage of the ‘60s of the Vietnam protesting and we turned up on the set, and it was exactly as I saw it on screen–with the banners. It was so mind-blowing, there were like 500 extras that day! And me and Evan were at the front of the march on 5th Avenue and 500 extras chanting behind us and then the music kicked-in over this massive loud speaker, and we had to start singing. It was f*cking huge, my legs turned to jelly and Evan was squeezing my hand. That was an amazing day.

HW: Do you still keep in touch with your co-stars?
Yeah absolutely! Me and Evan have seen each other a couple of times and we just worked together again on this Spider Man thing.

HW: Is
Evan in that as well?
Yeah, yeah!

HW: That’s kind of wild. Does the production have a title yet?
I don’t know yet, it’s really just a workshop just to play on–just to start seeing what’s possible or not. And it’s a project that’s very far in the future.

HW: Do you have any other projects coming up?
JS: No…not really. Unemployed again [laughs].

Julie Taymor Spreads Beatles Songs ‘Across the Universe’…

[IMG:L]Taymor is usually associated with unforgettable visual style. A heralded director deeply rooted in a puppeteer background, Taymor has risen to fame in the entertainment industry by showcasing her innovative and artistic talent across mediums with Frida, Titus and the Broadway smash hit The Lion King. No stranger to musicals, she conceived an imaginative love story, Across the Universe, set in NYC’s Greenwich Village during the turbulent 1960s by re-interpreting classic Beatles songs.

- Advertisement -

Taymor recreates a revolutionary generation defined by tumultuous anti-war protests and riots, while exploring the birth of rock and roll, psychedelic art and counterculture movements. And the director gaveHollywood.com a glimpse into her creative psyche during the Toronto Film Festival.

Hollywood.com: What a stunning, sweeping work! Can you talk about the filming process and collaboration?
Julie Taymor:
Well, the joy in this project is that it had parts for really young people. Evan Rachel Wood is known, but she was growing up. No one had really seen her. She was 17 when we started the movie. And having these young people means you’re going to have fresh faces. They’re not jaded in any way.

HW: Very helpful for long shoot days, no?
: We also had to do a month and a half of rehearsal and pre-records, so they got together and called it “Beatle Camp.” They were living together–actually I think a couple of them did move down to the Lower East Side and live together–and they bonded. They came together as a group from different places and they were what you see in that film. The charisma and the chemistry is what you see in the movie.

[PAGEBREAK][IMG:L]HW: Why did you choose to use Beatles’ songs, but not the Beatles performing them?
How can you use the Beatles performances? Tell me, it’s impossible. What are you going to do? Have these guys lip syncing the Beatles? No, that’s not this movie.

HW: Fine point…
What one would have to respect is that John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison–with a little help from Ringo Starr–were [each] great song writers. That’s why you never see the word Beatles in the main credits. Those are songwriters. That means their songs can be interpreted by many performers–and to limit [the interpretation] to the  Beatles is a mistake. Those are perfect performances, but that doesn’t mean those songs can be re-interpreted. How many Chicago’s are you going to have? I think people have to get over that hump, then you can object about “I don’t like this rendition, or I don’t like your version of this song, or I don’t like musicals, or I don’t like people taking Beatles songs and putting them into a literal context.”

HW: Did you find this type of conservatism a big challenge?
That was always my biggest burden. The biggest fear is taking songs that are not abstract, but they are up for the personal interpretation of all you people who listen to them. But it’s a musical–that was my job.

[IMG:R]HW: I listened to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” sung by a young woman and realized how feminine those lyrics could be.
Well, do you think any guy right now would sing, “Hold Me Tight”? or “I ove you, yeah, yeah, yeah!”? Those Beatles at that time were channeling 15-year-old girls. That’s why the girls were going nuts. Because they sang their feelings. Jim’s Jude sings, “Something in the Way She Moves,” and what’s such a beautiful thing about that love song is how un-simple it is, how complex it is. “I could leave her now, you know I know how…something in the way she moves, attracts me like no other lover.” So, you know he’s had other lovers. “There is really something in the way she moves me, you know I could leave her now, you know I believe in how…” There are these love songs and they’re poignant, and they’ve got complicated twist and turns.

HW: Why did you decide to do a movie rather than a musical release on Broadway?
Well, I’ll tell you exactly. First of all, I am so happy that it was a movie musical because it wouldn’t have been written the same way if you did it on the stage. When [Across the Universe] came to me, it was already a film. It was not my idea to make it as a film. I was hired. Brought on very early when it was only a concept of a love story set in the ’60s.

[IMG:L]HW: How did Bono get involved in the film?
Bono entered because Elliott Goldenthal had worked with Bono and I had met him a couple of times, and then I had been working with Bono on doing Spider Man The Musical.

HW: Jim mentioned that…
Oh God, then maybe he’ll do the Broadway musical. He was phenomenal–the two of them. First of all, I love Jim and Evan and [their characters] Jude and Lucy. I love their chemistry so much that I would cast them in a million movies together because, like Tracy/Hepburn, once you get an onscreen couple that clearly connects like that, it’s fun for audiences to see them.

HW: The image of the soldiers’ trenches through the rice patties with the Statue of Liberty looming is so stunning and so ‘right now’–maybe because I’m looking through the prism of today’s war.
We were too! Absolutely, you wouldn’t have Lucy’s line in the Laundromat when she says, “Maybe when bombs start going off in this country people will listen,” if you didn’t have 9/11. We were very aware that this is not a nostalgic period piece. This piece is as important and as contemporary today as it was then. It is what is going on–that there is a war that is not a happy war; that is a war that we all believe in; that is a war that goes on and on and on, as [Lucy] says, and nobody’s listening. The Beatles are incredibly entertaining and moving, and yet they did “Revolution,” which was from John Lennon’s heart.

HW: Do you support the notion that can films can enlighten through social statements and fully entertain at once?
You know there are plenty of entertaining films. Even SiCKO was an entertaining movie. There’s ways that–I
believe you don’t have be mindless and stupid to be enjoyed. I love good comedies. I mean Ratatouille was one of my favorite movies this year and Ben Stiller’s movies, I love them. But I think when you have the Beatles you have an obligation and the [time] period to do both. It was a very, very chockfull time–people we both responsible and totally irresponsible.

HW: The film was untitled for quite a while? Why is that?
: “All You Need Is Love” was the title of the movie before I became involved. I wanted to change it because I feel as I do still feel: you have to experience the dark side and go through all of the experience of those characters before you can say the words, “All You Need Is Love.” Across the Universe to me is much more appropriate because this movie speaks to everybody in the world, and the Beatles belonged to everybody in the world.

- Advertisement -