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Jim Sturgess Interview

His day is now

Jim Sturgess Interview
Danielle de Wolfe
22 August 2011

One Day is a book that makes people ruminate over lost loves, grow hopelessly nostalgic for the boundless opportunities of youth, and weep softly around the pool when they finish reading it on holiday. In fact, it’s such a phenomenon that we’ve seen as many burly men avidly reading its pages on the Tube as we have women.

By all accounts, it is not something you want to mess with — so it’s a brave man who attempts to turn such a national treasure into a film. Thankfully, that man is also the book’s author, David Nicholls. And, doubly thankfully, the man who’s cast to play Dexter, the Nineties’ lad-culture TV presenter who descends into ruination, is 33-year-old Jim Sturgess, one of the big hopes of the British acting firmament.

Not only does he possess the indie looks that could easily have seen him on the cover of The Face in 1994 (had he not been studying for his GCSEs), but he also has the acting prowess to deliver. This is the man who broke out with 2007’s Across The Universe, who headed up cult British horror Heartless in 2009, who starred with Colin Farrell in 2010’s The Way Back. He can handle the pressure. Just you watch.

People are passionate about this book. Have you Googled yourself to check the ever-fickle public are convinced you’re the man for the job?

[Laughs] I haven’t specifically looked but I have seen some comments. One of them said, “Why do they always cast American actors in these British films? Jim Sturgess’s British accent is terrible.” That was my favourite.

Talking of accents, did you help Anne Hathaway perfect her northern accent? Did you take her to the pub to teach her about real ale, whippets and pork scratchings?

I wish I’d had the time. I’d just got back from shooting in Montreal [for Upside Down, with Kirsten Dunst] so we were straight into the thick of it. I didn’t get involved with Anne’s accent at all. She stayed in the accent on and off-camera, so I forgot she was doing it, really. But I’ve been on the other side of the coin and done other accents.

Which has been trickiest to muster?

Polish was quite tricky for The Way Back, and Northern Irish for 50 Dead Men Walking with Ben Kingsley, where I played a scally from Belfast. If you can’t hear your own voice coming out of your mouth, it’s a lot easier to lose yourself in the character. When I did the Belfast accent I became a lot more bouncy as a human being, more cheeky and mischievous. It’s amazing how an accent allows you to say things that you couldn’t say normally.

Did you model One Day’s Dexter on anyone in particular? You go a bit Big Breakfast-era Johnny Vaughan in your Nineties-TV-presenter phase…

No one’s said that yet. They always say Terry Christian. I watched The Big Breakfast during those years. It was part of my morning routine. And The Word. So, yeah, there’s probably a bit of Terry and Johnny in there.

Was there anything garish from the Nineties lurking in your cupboard that you could have worn on set?

I used to have a reversible tracksuit. One side was a black shell suit and if you flipped it was a sort of grey sweat suit. I lived in it for a period of time to have the best of both worlds.

Were you as successful with the ladies as Dex?

No, not at all. I’m smarter than Dexter so I ended up having a relationship with my best friend pretty early on. So I’ve been in a happy relationship for a long time.

Could you empathise with his descent into alcohol and drugs?

I’ve certainly drunk a lot over the years, as we all do in England. It’s amazing when you go to another country, what a big part of British culture drinking is.

Have you got any mates to go to the pub with when you’re in LA?

I have friends, yes, but I don’t really hang around with other actors. In England we’ll all eat a bit of food then go out for a good p*ss-up. In the US you go and have dinner with a bit of wine. No one wants to get p*ssed with me!

Is it true that you auditioned for role of Spider-Man for the reboot?

No, but I was involved with Spider-Man: The Musical. I’d worked with Julie Taymore on Across The Universe. She’s an amazing director and gave me my break. She was directing Spider-Man: The Musical and asked if I would help with some workshops. So me and [Across The Universe co-star] Evan Rachel Wood helped out for two weeks with Bono and The Edge from U2, who had written all the music. But I was never going to be Spider-Man.

Would you like to be Spider-Man?

Er… No.

If you could play any superhero, who would you choose?

I’d be Jamie from [Seventies kids’ cartoon] Jamie And The Magic Torch, the feature-length version.

You’ve been in lots of bands. Are you a frustrated musician at heart?

I’ve been playing in bands since I was 15. I was in a band called Dilated Spies in Manchester [where Sturgess studied at the University Of Salford], but my biggest band was when I was in London. We were called Saint Faith. It was a seven-piece and my life for about four years.

Did you get anywhere? We can’t quite remember seeing you on Top Of The Pops

[Laughs] We never made it that far, mainly because we were really stupid and immature and thought that record companies were just there to do you over and mess with your music. We had a lot of interest but we blew it, basically. I’m glad that we did, because I wouldn’t want that to be my life. It was too mad and unpredictable.

Actors who form bands, such as Keanu Reeves and Russell Crowe, tend to struggle to be acclaimed, musically. Is it easier to go the other way around?

The hard thing when you’re making music is that people have to believe in you as the singer. If they’ve seen you dressed as lots of other characters before they don’t quite know how to buy into it. The examples you gave are people who are in pretty bad bands. But there are people such as Vincent Gallo, Michael Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Charlotte Gainsbourg who are incredible actors and brilliant musicians.

And Hugh Laurie, of course…

Yes! Hugh’s doing brilliantly with his music at the moment.

We heard that you’re working with Michael Winterbottom next…

Possibly. It’s a film called Promise Land, which we’ve been trying to get off the ground together. Michael’s brilliant — he tries to do as many different things as he can, and he’s so good at them all.

Did you see Winterbottom’s The Trip? Can you do any impressions?

No. But I have a friend who does the best impression of Steve Coogan you’ve ever heard.

One Day is at cinemas nationwide from 26 August

(Image: Rex Features)