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One Day - Jim Sturgess interview

One Day, Jim Sturgess

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JIM Sturgess talks about some of the challenges of playing Dexter in One Day, including an early chemistry test with co-star Anne Hathaway, defending some who can be ‘a bit of a prick’ and letting his hair inform the character.

He also reflects on the emotional complexity of playing someone who ages from their late teens to late-30s sometimes on the same day.

Q. Do you recall your first audition in LA with Anne Hathaway?
Jim Sturgess: Yeah, the first audition I had was with Lone [Scherfig, director] on my own in London and then I was in LA anyway and they said: “Will you go and do some reading with Anne?” I think they call it a chemistry read or something horrible like that… and so the pressure is on to have chemistry, if you know what I mean. It’s not the nicest way to meet someone for the first time [motions trying to impress someone with instant chemistry]. But it felt very easy. We went through the scenes and played around with it. Anne was so great and was being so supportive and helpful in trying to get the best out of me for the sake of the audition. So yeah, it kind of felt really good.

But even when I left then I still didn’t know if I had the part. It wasn’t until weeks and weeks later, after Lone had seen some other people… I remember I was three quarters of the way through the book just in case I might get the part and then I got the call saying I was going to play the part and it totally ruined the book because then I was like: “Well, I guess I’m this guy now!” So, I couldn’t enjoy it from that perspective.

Q. How was it to play a rogue or a cad like this?
Jim Sturgess: It was more complicated than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was just going to be a lot of fun because Dexter is a very fun loving sort of guy. He really lives life to the full. I thought it would be great, it would be the summer, we’d be in London and I was playing this outrageous character. But it ended up being a lot more traumatic than I had accounted for. He goes through a lot and there’s a lot of pain there. I don’t know why I didn’t take that into account [laughs]. But it ended up being quite an intense ride for both of us and it was quite a complicated film to make too because of the jumping around and the different time zones and having to play somebody’s dad and then having to play a kid yourself. Before lunch you might be playing a 37-year-old man with a child and then you have lunch and go back to work as a 23-year-old sniffing cocaine and TV presenting.

So, we were constantly moving around and needed to be on top of where we were at as people, where the relationship was between Dexter and Emma, what had been going on that year before we slide into this little slice of their life, whether they’d been talking much, seeing each other much, where they’d been in the world… you really had to fill in all those gaps.

Q. After being interviewed as an actor many times yourself, did you draw on that for the scenes where Dexter is presenting his show?
Jim Sturgess: [Laughs] I remember in England there was a show called The Word, which was very close to the kind of shows that Dexter is presenting. We used to, as kids, stay up and watch those. Those shows were very specific to that time. You don’t get those shows so much these days with a big audience and a raucous energy and the presenters being just as drunk as the crowd. That sort of style of TV is a thing of the past.

Q. Does that mean you based Dexter a little bit on Terry Christian?
Jim Sturgess: [Laughs] Only the suit! But Dexter’s a mixture of a few people.

One Day

Q. What mental preparation does it require from you to play an older person in the same day as a younger person?
Jim Sturgess: Well, mental preparation… I didn’t sort of sit there and prepare myself. You just have to sort of look into the story and sort of buy into the moment and try and live as though you’re that man. That’s a big part of what acting is anyway, so you just had to imagine what life is like. I can draw on personal experience from the age of 23 to when he hits 30 and then I’m lost after that. But you just have to imagine and the story is so well written, the script was so well written, and there was just this fantastic book to delve into to get any more information that you might need. When you’re acting, everything is there around you, you just have to believe that it’s real. When you’re standing there with a slightly grey wig on and you have a baby in your arms screaming in your ear, you can go: “Well, I guess this is what it’s like!”

Q. You said Dexter is fun loving and easy going. But he behaves quite badly at times. How did you look at that aspect of his character?
Jim Sturgess: He makes big mistakes and bad decisions in life, as we all do. Everybody makes terrible mistakes at some point in their life… he just makes a lot of them. He’s sort of reckless and irresponsible. But I do find myself defending him a lot. I do think he’s a very kind hearted, good friend. I think he’s a good person for Emma to have around. It’s complicated because she’s in love with him, and he’s in love with her really, but if they get together at any sort of earlier point in time, he’s ultimately going to really hurt her. And I think he knows that about himself, so he keeps her at arm’s length for her own good and for his own good, to sort of protect her.

Q. He uses her as a bit of an emotional crutch at times though…
Jim Sturgess: For sure, and as you should for friends. You should all use each other and lean on each other and need each other. And she needs him to rally her up and get her going and stop her from going down a path of boredom and misery. She’s ultimately going down a path she doesn’t want to go down and that, to Dexter, is not within his vocabulary. He believes you have to live life to the fullest. And he’s lucky enough to come from an over-privileged background where the world is his sort of playground in that sense. But the scene where he’s really quite vulgar and mean to her in the restaurant really is him frustrated with her because she’s with this guy that she clearly doesn’t love. Everyone puts Dexter as the bad guy, but if you made a film about Emma and Ian maybe Emma doesn’t look so great. Relationships are complicated and she certainly uses Ian because she’s lonely and he’s madly in love with her. So, it all depends on which perspective you’re looking at it from. But saying that, he is a bit of a prick really, isn’t he? [Laughs]

Q. Do you believe in love at first sight? And have you ever experienced it?
Jim Sturgess: I do, for sure. And yeah, my current girlfriend… when we first met there was an instant connection and an instant sort of familiarity. It just wasn’t an effort. Of course, love just comes in so many different shapes and sizes and some people fall in love instantly, some people fall in love and then fall out of love and get divorced. But that’s what’s so great about this film – it’s their journey into love and out again. You could pick another two people and you’d have a whole other story and that’s why films about love get made and made and made – because there’s a million ways to tell it and no two stories are the same.

Q. How long did you spend doing your hair?
Jim Sturgess: A lot [laughs]. It was a big part of the character, it really was. It became an infatuation for everyone, not just me! People have asked what I did to research the character and it’s weird, when you make a film like The Way Back you can research the political climate of that time and the historical backdrop that you’re putting yourself in. Yanush was a Polish officer, so you can look into the Polish history, and what it’s like to be a military man. You can learn survival skills in order to tool you up ready for the film.

But with Dexter, I was like: “What is he good at? What does he do?” He’s not really good at anything and it was a time period that I sort of knew anyway. So, I was at a bit of a loss really. So, the research really came from the wardrobe fittings and the make-up tests and the wigs and the hair because he really does work and put himself out there on that sort of surface, shallow kind of level. So, as long as he looked good he was all there.

Jim Sturgess in The Way Back

Q. Was this an easier experience than The Way Back?
Jim Sturgess: Yeah, it was easier physically. The Way Back was very linear. We actually shot that film pretty much in sequence, so from an acting point of view that was a real gift because you could take this journey that those characters were taking and grow, or deteriorate, as they do as characters and as we were doing as actors. But this was a lot harder to be on top of where you are and what you’re doing. In that film, it was literally seven people on-screen all time, all the way through the film, and in this film there were people coming in for one day, and you’d have to act with them, or suddenly you’re with your wife… and then you do a scene in the afternoon and you weren’t married to that woman anymore, you were in love with someone else [laughs]. It was like: “Whoah, where am I?” So, it was a lot harder in that sense to keep on top of things. But certainly we didn’t have to battle any snow blizzards or trek any deserts.

Q. How much did the music appeal to you? You’re in a band aren’t you?
Jim Sturgess: Yeah, I play music. So, it was good. 1988 was a great period for music in my mind. All the bands that were coming out of Manchester – The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and that whole scene was a big influence in my life. So, it was a great time. And Anne and I were swapping loads of music and playing music to each other. She was listening to all these English bands that she’d never heard of. So, it was great.

Q. Have you been playing music for a long time?
Jim Sturgess: Yeah, I’ve been in various bands since I was about 15.

Q. What do you do?
Jim Sturgess: I can play the guitar and the keys and the drums. I’m not brilliant at any of them. I can sing too. Some of my friends are proper musicians but I’m a song-writer. I write songs.

Q. Is it something you’d like to do parallel to your acting career? Possibly professionally?
Jim Sturgess: Yeah, I’ve always played music and I’ve always been in bands and there have been periods in my life where the music has taken a much more front row seat than any acting. For a big period of time the acting work was really a way of raising money to fund my music. And then that all sort of changed around and that’s fine. So, I just sort of continue to do both. My girlfriend is a musician and we’ve sort of recently… well, we’ve nearly finished writing an album together.

Q. So, before you were 15 was it music or acting that was most important, or neither?
Jim Sturgess: I got into acting really because I was quite badly behaved at school. It was a way of channelling a lot of energy. I remember cutting class… the reason we all tried to get into this play was because we were able to skip classes. It was an excuse to get out… I really loved it as a kid and people could see I was really responding to it. For the first time, I wasn’t sitting at the back of the class messing around. I was concentrating and immersed in it. But then I was a bit embarrassed a bit and sort of shyed away from it. I didn’t think it was very cool.

One Day

Q. Most actors say they used acting to get girls at that age…
Jim Sturgess: Well, that’s where the music and the band came in. I thought being in a band was cool and I started playing music and we started up a band when I was 15. So, then it was all just skateboarding and music, really, for quite a long time. I didn’t really do any acting for ages.

Q. You did The Browning Version
Jim Sturgess: Yeah, they sent me off to an audition when I was young and I got the part and I was in a film and like: “Wow, this is really cool!” But it was after that when I stopped doing it for quite a long period of time. It wasn’t until I went to university and I didn’t really want to study music… music was something I did for fun and to have a good laugh. I didn’t really like the idea of studying it. But I wanted to go to Manchester because of all the bands that I loved, so I ended up getting into a course at Salford University that really changed my life. It really changed everything.

I went there and got in with a group of people who loved cinema and films and acting and they introduced me to loads of great films and great roles played by great actors. Then we started making our own films and our own plays and I wrote a one person show, a play, and put it on in a small theatre in Manchester and that was how I sort of got seen as an actor. I had no intention of becoming an actor [at that point] but he asked me if I wanted to get an agent and I didn’t even know what that was, or why I would need one. But thank God that that man was sitting in the crowd.

Q. Do you still see some of that group?
Jim Sturgess: Yeah, I still see some of them. They’ve gone on to produce stuff and direct stuff and write stuff but none of them went into acting.

Q. Do you see yourself moving to Hollywood?
Jim Sturgess: I don’t know. Not really, I don’t think so. Home is here in London and always has been. I’m able to go back and forth and do what I have to do over there. I really like going over to LA and visiting… I always have a good time. I’ve got lots of good friends who live there now. So, I always enjoy going. New York is a place that I love. So, I think if I was to move to America I’d probably go more in the New York direction.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about Upside Down?
Jim Sturgess: That’s a hard film to describe! It might take me another half an hour. It’s basically a crazy idea dreamt up by an equally crazy man called Juan Solanas, an Argentinean director, who had only ever made a short film, which won at Cannes. He basically dreamt this idea of these two worlds that are upside down from each other. So, if you look up into the sky you can kind of see another world looming down, with its tallest buildings almost touching – you can see all the traffic and all the people and they’re all living their life up there. And it’s really a love story between the two people from the two different worlds. There’s the down below world, which is a sort of war-torn, poverty stricken world, and the up top world, which is a sort of capitalist, thriving, sort of Tokyo/New York sort of place where all the rich people live.

Q. Where are you?
Jim Sturgess: I’m in the down below world and Kirsten Dunst lives up top. It’s a love story between these two people. But the idea is that each world has its own gravitational pull, so if I go up into her world, which is forbidden – only slaves and immigrants and illegal people are up there – I have to walk up on the ceilings and I’m upside down. So, it’s kind of a crazy premise for a love story but I’m really excited about it. I mean, I’m not allowed to be up there, so once I get there I’m running around all the ceilings, being chased. But it has a very European sort of style to it. It was made by French filmmakers essentially, so it’s kind of like Amelie meets Blade Runner or something like that. It’s pretty out there. I’ve seen some bits of it that look visually amazing.

Read our review

Read our interview with Anne Hathaway