Were you a fan of John Lennon or The Beatles growing up?
I’m British, so it’s embedded in our history and culture. I love the Beatles, of course, and the music.
How did being a fan affect your portrayal of John?
I never knew the in depth backstory of John Lennon. The script was my first insight into it. I guess not being a Beatles fanatic or from that generation allowed me to look outside the box and study, really observe what went on then. The pressure is on when you are playing anyone who was once alive. It being a true story, I wanted to do as much research as possible.
How did you prepare for the role? I read that you had to learn how to sing and play the guitar. Was this easy for you?
The producers were casting musicians, actors and look-alikes at the time. Luckily, I got in there. They thought I was fine to do the acting but they wanted to get someone to dub the songs and cut to someone else strumming the guitar. I thought to myself that if I played Lennon, I needed to sing and play the guitar. I couldn’t just do 60% and have someone else do the other 40%. It kinda pushed me… made me more determined to do the best I could and prove them all wrong.
How influential were Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono in shaping how the story was told?
Paul and Yoko were hugely involved because they granted the rights to three songs — “In Spite of All the Danger” one of the first songs that The Beatles ever recorded, as well as “Hello Little Girl“ and “Mother” which Yoko owns the rights to. These songs were vital to telling the story. Two of them we had to perform and film before they even gave the rights to, so we had our fingers crossed. Luckily, they gave their blessings. It’s unique because Paul and Yoko had never, together, given rights to any one film.
Aside from your personal relationship with Sam Taylor-Wood, how was it working with her as a first-time director?
Sam’s a fantastic director. She really knew exactly the story that needed to be told. From really early on, she was hands on. She didn’t want me to do an impersonation of Lennon. She didn’t want any of the actors to do an impersonation, but to rather embody the spirit, the essence, and the whole of the person. The way it’s shot was beautiful due to her background as a photographer and her great working relationship with the cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. Sam’s just one of those women who walks on set and lights up the room. She’s really warming. She has that ability to befriend everyone and everyone wants to do his or her best for her.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
If you learn the backstory of any artist, it always makes their work more intimate and interesting. This movie shows all these aspects of John that no one knew about because he was always putting on a front or a show. He had all of these vulnerabilities and insecurities hidden away. To explore that, to go on a journey with it, is an experience in itself. It makes you appreciate his art, his music, and his poetry more.