Interview date: 10/19/2009
Run date: 11/09/2009
When Bullz-Eye was invited to participate in the press junket for Focus Features’ new film, “Pirate Radio,” which took place at the Mayfair Hotel in London, you can imagine that we jumped at the opportunity. This wasn’t simply because of the location…though, to be fair, that was a hell of a nice benefit. But the concept of “Pirate Radio” – the pirate radio scene in England during the 1960s – combined with the director (Richard Curtis, “Love, Actually”) and the stars (Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, January Jones, Chris O’Dowd, Rhys Darby, Rhys Ifans, and the list goes on) had been enough to get us excited about the film long before the invite was ever sent our way. But then to be invited to fly to London, screen the film, and participate in a trio of roundtable interviews with three of the stars (Talulah Riley, Tom Sturridge, and Nick Frost)..? The word “bliss” comes to mind.
After Talulah Riley bid us farewell, it would not be long before her co-star – and, as we now know, close friend – Tom Sturridge joined us. Like Talulah, he had a plate of food before him as well, having also set off for his busy day without breakfast, but he immediately set it down and strolled around the table, shaking our hands and making sure that he knew all of our names. This was a nice tactic, as many of us barely knew his name. It’s fair to say that “Pirate Radio” is Sturridge’s biggest film to date, and it’s a statement easily confirmed, as he’s only a total of five films. (The other four, for the record, are “Like Minds,” “Being Julia,” “Vanity Fair,” and “FairyTale: A True Story.”) In addition to “Pirate Radio,” however, he’ll also be in “Waiting for Forever,” which co-stars Rachel Bilson, Jaime King, Nikki Blonsky, Richard Jenkins, and Blythe Danner. From one solid ensemble straight into another…? Not bad, sir. Not bad at all.
Journalist #1: So you were, like, one of 60 people, I understand, who tried out for this role. But you got it.
Tom Sturridge: I honestly don’t know. I’m sure that’s the stuff that put in the press because it’s, like, “Make him interesting because he hasn’t done much other films! Make up a story!” (Laughs)
J1: Was it a long audition process, though?
TS: Yeah, it was. I mean, the thing that separates me from the other people on the poster, basically, is that they are all experienced and incredibly talented and therefore were asked to be in it. And I definitely wasn’t asked. (Laughs) So I had to persuade them. I did, like, four or five auditions. Maybe three or four. But in the end, he succumbed to my belligerence.
J1: So what was the attraction for you? Why did you want to do this?
TS: Well, I mean, I wanted to be part of this group of people, specifically Richard. Whatever you think of this film, it’s rare that you get Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Emma Thompson, and Nick Frost in the same room. And I wanted to be in that room. That was it.
Journalist #2: Did you know much about the music at all?
TS: Yeah. I mean, a lot, actually. I’m relatively cultured. I haven’t been living in a cellar. (Laughs) Like, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks…I mean, in this country, anyway, they’re everywhere. Mainly in iPod adverts, I think. But my dad gave me his record collection when I was much younger, so I had a good idea. But Richard has a freakish, almost encyclopedic knowledge of all pop music from, like, 1948 to now. I mean, he could tell you the top 10 of the charts right now, and I have no idea what that is. So it was definitely an educative experience. He gave us iPods with all of his favorite music from the period, and he would play music over the P.A. system 24 hours a day. So I learned a lot about music from this film.
Journalist #3: Do you have a favorite genre from that period? Is it R&B, is it rock, is it…
TS: I kind of like the lone guys. I like Dylan and Van Morrison and Leonard Cohen and...I don’t know what genre you’d call that. Singer-songwriters? But that’s my favorite stuff, I think. As well as, like, the Stones
Bullz-Eye: Nick said that you were more educated about ‘60s music than he was.
TS: Yeah, Nick hadn’t even heard the Rolling Stones before we made this film. And that sounds like a kind of line for the press, but, like, it’s completely true. Bill Nighy, who’s probably the biggest Rolling Stones fan in the world, nearly garroted him, I think. Nick only does Hard House. So, yeah, there were some testy moments in the rehearsal process when people started revealing their musical knowledge. But it was fine in the end.
J1: Did it get competitive in the end, in terms of who knew what about different artists?
TS: Kind of, but Richard and Bill would win every time, so in the end, we were all just like children to them, and we sort of gave up. But, yeah, I think if you get a group of any kind of egotistical men in the room at the same time… (Laughs) …it’s competition on all levels about everything.
J1: Most movies that are released in the States are geared toward an audience that’s more like your age. What do you think is the appeal of a movie like this to that audience?
TS: I think it’s funny. (Laughs) I mean, I think it’s got some great performances, it’s got incredible music…I think it’s an enjoyable film. And right now, in November in America, everyone’s going to be turning on their Oscar buttons, and you’ll have all of your teary, serious films. Maybe it’ll be an answer to that.
BE: Who were you the most excited about working with in the film?
TS: Well, Philip, obviously, was somebody who…I don’t want to say that I was totally in awe of him, but… (Laughs) I suppose because he was American he was slightly more exotic than everybody else, so he definitely stands out. But having said that, working with Emma Thompson and Bill Nighy…and Nick did this show in England called “Spaced” which is one of my favorite things, so it was amazing to work with him. And standing naked in front of Gemma Atheton was a blessing. (Laughs) But there were so many moments that I was looking forward to in this film. And Richard as well. Probably Richard above anyone. It can’t be exaggerated how extraordinary he is, basically. And, you know, the stuff he makes, from “Black Adder” onward to…well, just what he does in the world. It was amazing just to be in the same vicinity for quite a long time.
J1: So did you see some parallels between you as an actor being around all these guys that have been around a long time and your character?
TS: Well, I mean, yeah, that’s my stock line! (Laughs) It was identical. The film is literally a documentary for me, from the minutiae of the fact that I met Phil for the first time on camera. You know that scene at the beginning where I take him a cup of tea in the studio, and he shakes my hand, gives me a hug, and slaps me on the arse? That’s genuinely the first time Tom Sturridge met Philip Seymour Hoffman. Literally, I’d hadn’t seen him or exchanged words with him before. Richard just called me on set and said, “Take him a cup of tea.” So that’s what I did. And the smile of delight as he slaps me on the arse is purely mine. And it kind of continued like that throughout and therefore was really easy, basically. I was a voyeur on everyone else’s talent. All I had to do was just react to it as genuinely as possible, which is easy when you have someone like Richard, who creates an environment like he does. So it was good.
J2: Did Richard Curtis instill in you a deeper appreciation of the importance of music in people’s lives, just with his own love of music?
TS: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think I had a pretty big appreciation of music before this, but it was…again, just the way Richard constructs an environment, and specifically on this, with everybody eating together, and there’s music constantly playing over us. What he did was, he made the music seem like a part for that time, our natural world. I can’t really explain, but afterwards it felt very weird to walk around and not have Mick Jagger singing to me. That’s the closest I can get to it. Genuinely, it was very weird. There was always a soundtrack to our lives for those few months. So in that sense, yes.
BE: Talulah said that it was a little bit odd to have you playing her love interest in the film.
TS: Yeah. Yeah, it was. (Laughs) No, but I knew Talulah before, and I got cast before her, I think, so I was always kind of nudging Richard, kind of, like, going, “Who’s gonna be my girlfriend?” And once she was cast, there was a bit of, “Oh, fuck. It’s like my fucking sister’s playing my girlfriend!” (Laughs) But, y’know, kissing Talulah is a good day at the office. A very good day at the office.
J1: These days, is it a blessing or a curse to be friends with Robert Pattison?
TS: Um… (Long pause) As his friend, I really just don’t want…there are oceans of words written and spoken about him and his world, and I don’t want to add to them.
J1: Well, let’s put it this way: since all of this has happened to him, has your friendship changed at all with him, or is it pretty much the same?
TS: I… (Long pause) Again, as his friend and to be fair to him, I don’t want to be the one to…
J1: That’s fine.
TS: I’m not being weird. I just don’t want him ever to have to pick up a piece of paper and see me talking about him. It would just be…weird.
J1: Well, speaking of that, you mentioning that working with Talulah is almost like working with your sister, but in the universe where this takes place, your character may think…if he thought about it…that she may be his cousin.
TS: Hey, it’s the ‘60s! Come on! (Laughs) No, she couldn’t be that, because she’s Quentin’s goddaughter.
J1: Oh, not his niece.
TS: Yeah, so they wouldn’t have been related.
J1: Okay, because that would’ve been weird, since you think he might be your father.
TS: Well, yeah, but she was his goddaughter. It would’ve been weird in the film that you’ve constructed in your mind, where she is blood related. (Laughs)
J2: I thought she was his niece.
J1: That’s what I thought.
TS: No, I’m sure she’s his goddaughter.
J1: Maybe in the American version they changed it?
TS: Maybe? Because he definitely says... (Adopts a low, quiet voice) “This is my goddaughter.” Thank you. That was my Bill Nighy impression. But, so, maybe that has changed. But they do have goddaughters in your place, so…I don’t know.
J1: You just did an impression of Bill Nighy. Was there anyone else who could do impressions of other people in the film?
TS: I would say Chris O’Dowd, who plays Simon. He can do anything, from nuclear physics to impressions of Nick Frost. (Laughs) He’s pretty good at that kind of thing.
J2: You did a lot of your own stunt work in this film…including, apparently, a 25-foot jump.
TS: Yeah, but apparently it’s not in the film! I’m really upset about that.
J2: Well, I was trying to remember where it was…
TS: Yeah, it didn’t make the final cut. People ask about it in interviews, and I’m, like, “Yeah, dude, I’ve got this amazing stunt,” but then they watch the film and they’re, like, “What?” But there’s a moment in the film where Rhys Darby, our New Zealand DJ, gets thrown…well, his stuntman…gets thrown into the sea, and when we were shooting, I jumped in after him, to save him. Which was a fun thing to see. But, unfortunately, not in the film. So no one will gasp in horror at my heroics. (Laughs)
J2: What about the underwater sequence? How did that go?
TS: That was weird. That was my first couple of days shooting, and it was…well, the only thing about it is that it’s like a James Bond plywood tank, and it’s really deep. I don’t know what it is, but maybe 9 meters. So, what, 30 feet? And so it’s not safe to resurface all the time because of the pressure. And so what you do, you slowly get down there and basically spend about two hours underwater. Inbetween takes, you stay down there. So it was a kind of weird, meditative experience, just sitting underwater. Obviously, you can’t wear goggles, ‘cause that’d mark your eyes, so you just sort of sit underwater with your eyes clothed for two hours. Which was odd. But to be honest, I found that much easier and less scary than my first one-on-one scene with any number of the actors in the film. (Laughs) So it was a nice way to ease into the process.
J3: At this point, do you have any sort of a career plan as far as how you would like to have things go? And do you want to do certain genres, or do you want explore it all?
TS: No, I genuinely don’t. If I had any kind of plan, it would be just to work with people who are cleverer and more interesting and more talented than I am, and that literally is everyone right now. The one weird thing that’s changed recently for me is…I’m doing a play, and I’ve never done a play before. Ever. And that has been amazing. If I was to be an actor, it has totally shown me a different way of living, basically. There’s a whole side of my life, my life’s potential, which I never knew existed and has been quite revelatory. So as far as career goes, that’s the only thing recently that’s kind of changed my perception of the future.
J3: Do you think you’ll be one of those actors who maybe sometimes will sacrifice money for art?
TS: Always. I mean, right now, I don’t have a mortgage and I don’t have any children, so I literally…
J3: Robert Pattison said you had three kids.
TS: (Grins) A-ha. Very good.
J1: (Laughs) See, we’ll be asking him about you in a few weeks.
TS: Oh, he’ll stream off when you do. (Laughs) But this year, all I want to do is eat and buy beer, so I think now is the time where I don’t have to worry and I can make those sacrifices. What’s so weird is that so many young actors…there’s this obsession with precocity and…basically, all agents say to you, “Do a really big shit film, because that’ll protect you,” whereas now is the time that I don’t need to do that, because I don’t need to make any money. At all. When I get my first house or my love child is born… (Laughs) …then I’ll do any kind of shit to make some money, because I’ll need it. But I don’t need it now.
J1: What’s your play that you’re in, and where are you performing it?
TS: It’s called “Punk Rock.” It opened in London at a theatre called the Lyric in Hammersmith, and now it’s at the Foreign Exchange in Manchester, because it’s directed by the artistic director at that theatre. But we started at the beginning in September and we finish at the beginning of November.
J1: Do you play, like, a real punk rock character?
TS: No, it’s nothing to do with…it’s about a schizophrenic boy who’s schooled at Stockport in Manchester who breaks down over the course of the play and ends up killing his fellow students.
J1: Is that you?
TS: Yeah. It’s good. It’s a good play.
BE: I guess I get the last question, so…prior to “Pirate Radio,” what was your favorite film that you’d done?TS: Well, “Being Julia” is just a memory that sticks out in my mind, just because of (director) István Szabó, who I was a massive fan of before. And that’s the reason why I thought that maybe acting was a useful thing to do in the world.