Ever since his breakout performance in 2007's Across the Universe, actor-musician Jim Sturgess has leveraged his reputation as one of Hollywood's rising stars to seek out unique, interesting projects that represent unique, interesting artistic visions.
His latest film, the dreamlike modern day fairytale Upside Down, which opened yesterday in limited release, is no exception. Directed by Juan Solanas and co-starring Kirsten Dunst, the surreal, modern day fairy tale is about a pair of star-crossed lovers trapped on two conjoined worlds separated by inverted gravity. Check out the trailer here.
I recently, I had a chance to speak with Sturgess about the film, how he chose it, and what it was like seeing a green screen vision realized. I also briefly discussed his previous project, 2012's Cloud Atlas, and how close he came to snagging the lead in Marvel Studios' 2014 epic, Guardians of the Galaxy.
A script like this comes across your desk, and it's a leap of faith. What prompted you to take that leap?
Juan Solanas, the director. For sure. There were a few stages; I read the script and I thought, 'This seems interesting, but how are they going to do this? How are they going to pull it off?' Then Juan sent me some visual imagery, these graphic designs that were a template for what he was hoping to achieve with the film. That really threw me into the world because without that you conjure up your own ideas of what the worlds look like but it wasn't until I saw his vision of the film I thought, 'Wow, this could be really visually quite exciting.'
And then when I met him I just believed in him; I believed he'd been working on this idea for such a long time, he was so passionate about it, I'd seen a short film that he'd made previously which gave me the belief that he could pull it off. That leap of faith is always the exciting part. You all jump in and become part of a team and you're all there to try to make that happen together. It's a big giant, giant, giant team effort. That's what's exciting about making films, I think.
What was that first experience for you, seeing the movie for the first time having been on this green screen and then seeing it visualized?
For one thing it wasn't as much green screen as I had imagined it would be...Juan was really great in trying to make as much reality for us as possible. We shot on location, all around Montreal and they just add, they enhance the world by graphic design around you but the basics are all there. I was really more amazed with the lengths they go to to create the reality for you. They build these incredible sets and there might be some green screen out the window that furthers the world.
Obviously there were days when we had some stunts or something to do where you're standing in a green room on a green box holding a green rope praying that some talented artist is going to fill in the world for you. But when you see the film you're like, wow, you're living in a dream. When you watch films like that as a kid you think, 'Wow, I'm in that world. I exist in that world.'
What, for you, was the human hook to this story, that made you say, 'Yes, I can relate to this character. I can understand this.'
I guess you try and imagine the lengths you would go to when you're truly, truly in love with somebody. Try to get that heart and that warmth and just understand him as a dreamer. Just understand this drive that he has and understand that he has really very little to live for actually and the frustration of what it must feel like to be from a poorer background looking and seeing this rich world looming above you. The idea at times you've got nothing to lose. I try to think more about that; not that that relates to my life but it was a good way of seeing...
Yeah...Just speaking to Juan, it's a very personal story for him, actually. He comes from Argentina. He comes from more of a third world background and now lives in Paris which is very beautiful and glamorous. There was a lot of personal stuff in the film for him I think.
Between this and Cloud Atlas you definitely pick projects that are off the beaten path. They're not your typical Hollywood blockbuster type thing. Is that something that's important to you? To go off the reservation, off the beaten path, do something that's not 'mainstream'?
You change all the time, what's important for you at that particular moment. I'm drawn to cinema, especially when you're on a project that feels like it's going to be a challenge. With something like Cloud Atlas it was a no-brainer really. They asked me to do it and of course you just say yes.
The Wachowskis call, and...
For sure, of course. And it's exciting to be in a project that really does try and move things forward and move things around and come at cinema from a different angle than we're used to seeing. I love watching movies like that. I watch films to be turned on and switched on rather than watch movies just to switch off which a lot of people do, which is fine, of course.
They've had a busy day, and they've worked hard and they just want to be bombarded by entertainment. But you'd hope there'd be enough people out there that want to be switched on. I guess they're just exciting when you feel like there's a cheeky challenge underneath there.
Now, completely opposite of the question I just asked, your name was mentioned as one of the finalists for Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. How far along did that get?
Further than I ever imagined, to be honest. They're not films that I would go and see particularly but I really started to get intrigued by it. I went to the audition and I was called back for another audition and I had a screen test and another screen test. I think I got down to the last two people. It was fun. Again, I was really, really, really excited about the idea of making a film that other people were really, really excited about seeing. That's been rare in my career: to make a film that people are actually already...
It's an event.
Yeah. I was amazed instantly by the fact that our names got put out there as a group of actors that had gone out for it and everybody was writing about it and excited about it. I just felt like I was at a place in my life where it would be so exciting to make a film that people really, really already excited about. Then I discovered more and more about the story and it felt like more of a Star Wars than it does Spider-Man.
So this is their attempt to do the space opera thing?
You don't actually get to know that much about the project. It's all under lock and key which is crazy but obviously, it's based on a comic. What I realized is it's not rooted in reality. It's up in space and the character was a space pirate of some sort so it was much more in the vein of Han Solo rather than just dressing up in a tight fitting suit. I guess your competitive nature starts kicking in. When you go for the first audition you think, 'This is a bit of fun.' Then you get further and further down the line and then you think, 'Shit, maybe I really want to do this.'
Is that something you see yourself doing? These superhero flicks are a dime a dozen these days...
I'm in this game just to experience as much as possible and whether that means doing some gruelling low budget film shoot in the back end of nowhere and that feels exciting or whether it's to be in a giant blockbuster movie which people are excited about that's equally exciting.
You just try and do as much variation and as much difference and as much as possible so you put yourself out there to try anything really. As long as you feel you're going to get something out of the experience it's all worth it. There's no point in limiting yourself to a certain style of film.
Many thanks to Jim Sturgess for taking the time to chat about the movie. Upside Down is playing right now. For the unedited transcript, jump over here, and to hear audio from this interview, be sure to listen to the MovieFilm Podcast at the embed below: