I’m here in the Apple Store on Regent Street, London and there is an incredible energy within this room full of both press and also avid fans of the stars from Begin Again . We’ve just watched a trailer for the movie and it promises to be one of this summer’s most interesting and charming movies. Now the room erupts into cheers and clapping as Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and James Corden are walking out in front of us. They wave, take their seats and begin the interview.
James Corden is asked about the film and says ‘for me it was genuinely just an opportunity to be in a film with people like Mark and Keira and directed by John. I never really thought whether it would be good or bad, I just thought this is going to be an amazing experience for me’. Now, and throughout the session, he appears very humble about his role in Begin Again and even more so about juggling shooting this film and also performing in One Man, Two Guvnors every night. No matter how much he brushes it off it must have been exhausting to be both shooting a movie and then rushing over to the theatre for the night, then to bed and repeat the next day. He grins and says how he loved every second of it.
Also, Begin Again was hardly a smooth or controlled shoot for its crew. Knightley describes how it’s ‘very much a love song to New York, a holiday in New York’, but also how on a low budget movie such as this, capturing a love letter to a big city like that demands some slightly unorthodox filmmaking. ‘We didn’t have permission for a lot of locations… so we were getting in the back of a van and then jumping out, trying to capture something before anyone noticed and then jumping back in again.’
There’s a strange parallel here with the activities of their characters on screen. Begin Again is about two lost people, one a musician (Knightley) and the other an out of work music manager (Ruffalo) who together decide to record an album all over the city. Just like in real life, the two characters have to record illegally without a permit and spend their time dodging the police whilst trying to capture a sense of the city.
‘I was there when they were recording and-’
‘I wasn’t the nicest person to be around!’ says Knightley.
‘Keira was so nervous and nobody knew that she was going to be able to sing as well as she did’ continues Ruffalo.
She looks highly uncomfortable just thinking back to the experience. She mentions how tense the studio was on that first day of recording and Mark Ruffalo jumps in saying that it was very thick. ‘Baseball bat thick’! But ‘she started to sing and everyone looked at each other and said “Oh my God, she can sing!”’.
‘Only I was in a sound booth so all I see is people looking at each other and they didn’t look happy!’ laughs Knightley.
And it was no ordinary studio in which she had to do this it turns out. Just to add to the list of things going on in Knightley’s mind at the time it is a place which she herself describes as being ‘mythic’. They were recording where Jimi Hendrix once performed and so perhaps it’s fair enough then that she felt more than just a little pressured to do well!
When asked about whether she had to perform for the film’s director in order to get the role she says ‘I sung in a film called The Edge of Love… and he (John Carney) had seen that and just gone “oh yeah you’ll be fine”. And I found this with musicians, that they can’t understand people who can’t actually just do it. Every single musician that I spoke to just went “Oh yeah don’t worry about it it’ll be fine”. For you it’s fine because that’s what you do! … But they were right, it was fine.’
‘I’m not a singer so we did have to go OK, I can only come at this from a character point of view… the character isn’t somebody who likes to perform, doesn’t like being in front of people, and the center of attention, so we thought OK how can we make that clear in the voice?’
And it is perhaps a very good piece of casting then to pick Knightley who is herself so clearly uncomfortable with performing in front of other people. We watch a clip in which she sings and strums at a guitar and her watching herself back on stage here is obviously a form of torture for her!
‘I think that’s the best thing about the film’ James Corden says. ‘From the second it starts you think “well I know how this film’s going”… and it couldn’t be more different to that’.
So it seems that just like Once you can’t all that easily put Begin Again into a box. ‘He’s (John Carney) made a deconstructed romantic comedy really’ James Corden says and yet just whether Begin Again is a rom-com is up for debate on the stage today.
‘They are people who express themselves emotionally through music’ says Keira, and the film is being discussed as one full of chemistry, but not necessarily sexual/romantic chemistry. It would seem that there is a fair helping of that between Ruffalo and Knightley but we are being led to believe by the cast that perhaps it isn’t quite that cut and dry. If that is the case, that their relationship may not be wholly determined by romance, then that is rather refreshing.
One relationship which the interviewer describes as having an impressive amount of genuine warmth and friendship to it is the bond between Corden and Knightley’s characters. They both seem pleased to hear it and Corden speaks up and says ‘Keira and I, we really just hit it off immediately and it didn’t feel like it was any work at all to find this relationship between the two of them’. He goes on to say ‘it was one of the nicest relationships I’ve had with someone on screen really. It felt natural, really great’. Knightley smiles and this feel good vibe is doing nothing but good for what’s being billed as the essential feel good film of this summer!
By this point we have been shown a number of clips from the movie, many of them funny, and it leads the interviewer to question as to whether there was much improvisation on set. Keira Knightley speaks up first and says ‘John (the director) had actually said to me five days before we started “we’re throwing the script away and we’re improvising the whole lot” which completely freaked me out because the script was wonderful… But actually we stuck to most of it and then just played around within it.’
‘That’s funny because when I started improvising a lot he said “we’re sticking to the script”!’ laughs Ruffalo.
‘Well aren’t you working on Atonement the musical?’ asks James Corden.
‘I was trying to figure how that would work, yeah Atonement that would be a laugh wouldn’t it!’ she replies. ‘Anna Karenina could be even better!’
‘Would you ever do a musical on stage?’ asks another member of the press.
‘What about this one?’ asks Ruffalo
‘It’ll be fine’ Ruffalo continues.
‘It’ll be great!’
Amongst the laughter of the crowd James Corden leans in and says: ‘You’re going to be at the academy awards… here’s a question; if Lost Stars was nominated for best original song-
‘Pretty unlikely-’ Knightly remarks.
‘But if it happened-’
He turns to us for support and says ‘we would all love to see Keira singing it’, a huge cheer from the audience drowns out her response but Corden yells out excitedly; ‘she’s said yes. It’s happening. Book your tickets now!’
And then Knightley reveals ‘I would love to do a sci-fi that’s really dark. If you actually read sci-fi literature it’s really dark, it’s insanely bleak, and they never capture that…probably because no one would like it!’. I say somebody get a script to her quick!
To close the session James Corden explains that the movie is out on the 11th of this month.
‘Who’s in it James?’ Mark Ruffalo calls out.
‘It stars…Adam Levine, Mos Def and me, everyone else is quite s**t in it!’ he retorts back.
Begin Again is out in the UK this Friday.
Many thanks to Apple Store Regent Street!