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Hey Boys and Girls, we had to watch our blood sugar levels after a visit to the shrine by the insanely adorable star-on-the-rise, Jim Sturgess. The lovely lad from London was just too sweet to chat with about his latest film, 21. (Click here to read our review) He couldn’t have been more self-deprecating or genuinely amazed at his good fortune at starring opposite Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Bono and Kevin Spacey in just three feature films.  The potential Friendly Broadway Neighbourhood Wall-Crawler had plenty of tales about smuggling Cuban cigars, Playboy Bunnies, jumbo codpieces and surviving a beat-down from Morpheus himself, Laurence Fishburne.

Dig it.

 

Jim Sturgess

 

MG: We recently got to speak to Ben Mezrich and Jeff Ma. Ben wrote the original story that 21 is based on and Jeff was the subject of the book and who your character, Ben, is based on. They’re two very, very smart men.

Jim Sturgess: I’m afraid that you’ve got the dumbass now! Don’t ask me any math questions!

{Laughter}

MG: What it was it like handling all the gambling jargon and technique you had to learn for 21? Did you take in any of the things you learned from Jeff about counting cards?

JS: Well, he kind of explained to me time and time again. I was always desperate like, “How do you do that?” and “How does that work?” I ended up understanding it in theory then when I hit the casino floor and tried to put it into practice, I mean, just forget about it. It just wasn’t gonna happen. Y’know, the story is so specific to these M.I.T. students who are so mathematically gifted; you really have to kinda of be at the top of your game mathematically, which I definitely am not. So, yeah it was fun, it was fun pretending to be a math wizard cos it’s so far removed from what I am. Y'know, I get a lot of joy thinking about my math teachers from the past looking at me going, ‘No, it’s just not possible.’

 

Q: Are you a big gambler in real life?

JS: No, not at all.

 

Q: What’s your favourite game?

JS: Well, the only game I know is blackjack. I mean I’d never even been in a casino before I came to Vegas. Coming from England, we just don’t have places like Vegas. Blackpool Pier is jut not quite up to par. So, it was just a whole world for me, and whole new culture and a whole new experience, which I thought was fine. I really didn’t wanna know too much about it until I got there, because I thought that was kinda similar to what the character goes through. I wanted to be blown away by, and I wanted to be seduced by it and I wanted to be appalled by it, which I ended up sort of really being.

 

Q: How did you become attached to 21?

JS: I ended up being attached through Robert {Luketic, director} he just asked if I’d put myself onto an audition tape. I think he’d seen a clip of another film I’d done and he was kinda interested in me through that, but I really didn’t know that at the time. I was just told, “Will you put yourself on a tape?” So, I made a kind of audition tape and I sent it off. I thought the audition tape was pretty horrible, and I wasn’t really expecting anything to come of it. Y'know, I did it on my own, kind of {mimes holding camera at arm’s length}, y’know speaking into the camera. So, yeah you send these tapes off and you never really think much about it. Then he phone back and said he wanted to meet me in London, so he actually flew to London. So I was like, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” And we had some food and we talked about the film and I was very into was he was saying about the project and he was interested in what I was saying, I think. And I was very aware that I didn’t want it to be a very sort of nerdy film, y'know, “Revenge of the Nerds 3,” these kinda geeks go out to Vegas and win millions. And it could’ve been that, in the wrong hands it could’ve been that. And I was saying that I hoped it wouldn’t be like that, it’s not what I was interested in, I wanted these people to be real, and he was completely on the same page. So we really kind of hit it off then. And then I did some more reading for him, just to kinda see how it was all going and then I got the call, “You’re off to Vegas, baby!”

 

Q: Do you feel there’s a moral to this story?

JS: Yeah, of course. Just brush up on your math skills.

 

Q: Don’t get caught!

JS: Yeah!

 

Q: Was any of the story involving Ben’s geeky friends true?

JS: I think there was a lot of truth in it. I did meet the real Miles when we were in Vegas, and he did lead a double life, which he wasn’t really allowed to tell anybody. And so he did have friends from college and his family and his sisters. So there was that thing of not being able to tell people that are close to you what you’re up to and what you’ve been doing for the past several years.

I think maybe the 209 competition is a piece of fiction to show what he’s leaving behind and have something represent the disappointment of him not being around and then what he’s missing in his real life as they win the competition.

I mean things like that; the Harvard Medical School was a reason set up for the film it was there to give him a reason to earn the money, so you’re rooting for him as a character. Otherwise, he’s just there earning money and no one really gives too much of a shit, y’know? He’s just earning money. He’s just got a well-paid job. So it’s nice to kind of give him a reason I think, the death of his father and his mother was really there to enhance his conscience and just have that voice in the back of his head that what he was doing maybe could be frowned upon.

 

Q: How did you amuse yourself while you were in Vegas? Did you have a favourite casino?

JS: Well, Jeff just kind of corrupted my innocent soul. There was the Hard Rock and the Palms was probably the main one that we went to. They have this ridiculous area which is all Playboy Bunnies dealing you your cards.

 

Q: So you were hanging out with the Playboy Bunnies?

JS: Yeah, we did. For me I wanted to just make it as ridiculous as possible and indulge in it as much as possible – and call it work at the same time. Which with this film, I was definitely given that ticket to do. While we were in Vegas is actually became hard on your mind, y’know, it’s fun to go to Vegas for like, three days max, y’know, a long weekend. But when you’re there for a month and a half, and you are indulging in that lifestyle and you are kind of soaking it up, then you’re making a film at the same time. We were all just like, “Oh man, I have to get out of this place, it’s driving me crazy” We were desperate to just go to a normal pub and just drink a normal pint and speak to some normal people and not have these flashing lights that are constantly in your face. And the audio of these casino floors are just … you know it really just starts to get into your mind, y’know? You’d go to bed and you’d still hear that Wheel of Fortune {makes one-armed bandit jingling noises}, and it goes on all day.  And when we were shooting in the casinos, we never shut the casino down; we were shooting around the real people that were in there. So I remember I looked at Kev {-in Spacey) and my eyes were actually sort of glitching, and I said, “I have to get out of here, it’s driving me insane”

 

Q: It sounds like a bad drug trip.

JS: Yeah, right. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

 

Q: Did you ever get out into other parts of Vegas?

JS: I never left the Strip. I really didn’t. I wish that I had. It was hard, we were filming every day and we had six day weeks. I was on set all day, everyday. We took in a Cirque De Soleil show. I saw the Beatles one that they did. We tried to do as much as we could that wasn’t kind of gambling. Some people went off the Grand Canyon, took a helicopter ride and went off the strip, but for me I was just stuck.

 

Q: What are your favourite entertainments when you’re not filming?

JS: Just like anyone, y’know, I enjoy going to the cinema. I enjoy reading a good book, I enjoy playing music. I enjoy going to see bands. I enjoy drinking … {Laughs}

 

MG: Can you tell us what it was like to work with Keyser Söze and Morpheus?

JS:  Keyser Söze and Morpheus? Yeah. Exactly that, I mean they’re so kind of iconic in some of the characters that they’ve done, you really do go, ‘Shit there’s Keyser Söze!”  and “Shit, there’s Morpheus!”. I was excited because they’re two people I’ve pretty much watched all my life.

 

MG: Were you intimidated? Did you learn anything from them?

JS: They didn’t intimidate me, but I was excited. I mean it’s always nerve-wracking meeting somebody of such stature. Laurence did intimidate on and off-camera when were doing that scene when he was beating the shit out of me in the chair. But that’s what you look for, you’re excited about it.

 

MG: What was he doing?

JS:  He was really just threatening me and just walking around. And I was kinda chained to this thing and he was just making me pretty fucking scared! But you know, at the end of the day, he’s such a great guy and we got on so well. He gave me a big hug and was just like, “We played hard today, Jim, we played hard,” and that’s what you look for. That’s the most exciting thing that can happen, is just to spend the whole day in that kind of state and then it’s just fun and then you go for a beer afterwards and you had a good, a strong kind of heavy day at work, y’know. 

 

Q: What’s next for you?

JS:
I just finished doing a film in Belfast, Northern Ireland, called 50 Dead Men Walking, with Sir Ben Kingsley, who’s really an incredible actor. It’s about a young guy; it’s another true story, actually. It’s set in the 1980’s, when the trouble in Northern Ireland politically were very apparent, and it’s a true story about how a local kid about town who sells stolen goods. We call them “scallys” in England, just a mischievous young man, gets headhunted and approached by the British Intelligence to give them information about what’s going on around the local area, and he then becomes an informer for the British Intelligence. And all the while he’s being encouraged to immerse himself in the world of the IRA, so he’s really living this double life, which is becoming more and more dangerous as he gets higher up in the ranks of the IRA and he’s giving more important information back the British Intelligence.

 

Q: What surprised you about meeting Jeff?

JS: Yeah, you never know what to expect. I mean I read the book so he was kind of a rock star to me. I was just, “Oh my God, this guy really went out there and he did all that.” And then I met him and we got on instantly, actually. I’d been to Cuba before I started the film, so I brought back these Cuban cigars – which I only just found out is highly illegal…

 

Q: Like having cash stuffed down your pants in the film.

JS: Exactly, Cuban cigars strapped to my body as I limp through the airport. So I thought it’d very cool if I brought these cigars and me and Jeff went out for dinner with a lot of his friend and we went out drinking. And Jeff said, “Come on, let’s go and smoke those cigars,” so he took me out to the Palms casino balcony. It’s even in the film, when we’re all jumping up and down, we just see the whole skyline of Vegas. So I produced these cigars, and I was trying be the cool, young actor and he was trying to play the real deal, and we’re trying to light these cigars. We couldn’t get ‘em lit. It wasn’t even that it was windy, we were just like {makes puffing faces} puffing on these cigars just desperately trying to get them lit. And we were very quickly reduced to the fools that we both are, and we got on so well after that, “Well you’re not that cool.” “Yeah? You’re not that cool.” 

 

Q: Did you ever get the cigars lit?

JS: No, but we had a long conversation and it was great. He was always joking about how much we looked so alike. And then I said to him, “How do you feel about us being so different?” And he just said, “Really, I think as we hang out more and more, we’ll find that we’re actually very similar.” And he was right, y’know? We have a lot in common; we had a lot to talk about. We like a lot of the same films, a lot of the same music. We’ve had a lot of the same experiences. We have a lot of the same relationships with members of our families. And really our background of him being Chinese and me being English, became almost this important {holds thumb and index fingers a 1/2–inch apart}.

 

Q: What’s the status of the Spider-Man musical?

JS: Yeah we did a workshop. Julie Taymor phoned me up and asked me if I’d come in and do this workshop for this Spider-Man musical. And I kind of learned my lesson the first around, when I was told she was making a Beatles musical. I was like, “What? That sounds like a strange idea,” and it became Across the Universe and something that I’m so proud of. So she said, “Will you come and help with this Spider-Man musical?” And I said, “What? Oh no, actually maybe it’ll be really cool.” So, yeah, I went. At that point, it was just to help out, just to kind of mess around, to play around with some of the songs. I got to work with Bono and Edge and sings songs about Spider-Man.

 

Q: How impressed were you?

JS:  It was pretty crazy.

 

MG: What’s the progress of that?

JS: We did a kind of two-week workshop, of just playing around with the music and the dialog and the script. And Julie got a chance to see in her mind how might work. I got to hand out with Evan {Rachel Wood from Across the Universe} and work with Evan again and we’re good friends. It was just a lot of fun. And at the end of the two weeks, we performed a rough outline of what it was gonna be, just singing and speaking, not doing any of the -- I wasn’t climbing up any walls.

 

Q: No tights?

JS: No, tights, I got to wear a pair of jeans. Thank God.

 

MG: So, what do you think?

JS: It’s gonna be an incredible production, I mean it really is.

 

Q: So you’re officially signed on?

JS: I’m not officially signed on to it. I dunno anymore than the workshop that we did, and I don’t know when it’s gonna be, so I don’t know what I might be doing at the time it’s coming out.

 

Q: Can you tell us about your experience filming The Other Boleyn Girl?

JS: Just amazing, yeah. I mean, I come off doing Across the Universe and I was kinda hanging back here in New York, and I was not really sure whether that whole experience had even happened. It was like a dream, once it was over and I was back to being me again. So I kind of hung out for a while thinking, “Shit, am I gonna be unemployed again?” Then this incredible opportunity came up and I was like, “Oh, who’s in it?” And they said, “Natalie Portman and Scarlett {Johansson}.” {Big goofy grin}So, okay, yeah, I’ll do that.

MG: That’s tough, man.

JS:  Yeah, it’s tough, man. So it was great, it was a young cast again, and Eric Bana is just a crazy, crazy guy and an incredible actor. It was so much fun to hand around. It was so great to get to know those two girls, both of them, who are just such fantastic people, they really are. And yeah, it was just fun, hanging out in rural England, dressing in those ridiculous outfits, learning how to ride a horse. And it was really interesting for me just learning. I’d learnt about that side of history at school, but then really getting into more of the - not the factual stuff - but the everyday stuff for me was what was interesting. What clothes they would wear in their downtime, what they would fall asleep in. These things you don’t learn in history, you just know the facts. You’d be in a room and there be dogs and chickens and rotting meat and you really got a sense to live in those times.

 

MG: Eric Bana said he felt really manly in his costumes.

JS: I’ll bet he did! In his giant codpiece protruding from his…

 

MG: Did you feel the same way?

JS: You do, it was amazing, you spend hours putting on this costume and you just kind of grew each time you put a layer on. And by the end of it, you can’t get out of your door and you have to kind of go sideways and you shoulders are kinda out here. Yeah, had it not been for my little legs popping out of the floor, I would have felt a bit more.

 

Q: Are you being offered a lot of musically inclined projects since Across the Universe.

JS: Um, no, not really, no. I mean I’m still playing music and writing music with my friends. And I did a film called Crossing Over which I did after 21 and it was great I had to play a young musician. There’s a scene in the film where he’s onstage playing, and I was like, “Well can I write the song?” And they had this song already written for the character, and I just said “I think it’d be really interesting if I wrote it to the point of view of the character as the actor playing the character,” and the director was just so excited about that idea. So very quickly, they threw me in a studio and I wrote and recorded this song and I performed on the stage and I think they’re gonna put it on the soundtrack. So it was great, it was another avenue of kind of messing with music, so it was very cool, yeah.

 

Q: Do you think that you would have made the same choices as Ben does in 21? Do you and Ben have similar personalities?

JS:  If I was Ben and I was mathematically gifted, and someone had asked me – yeah, definitely. It was fun playing someone who’s very opposite in that way, I was never very well-behaved at school, if I’m honest. I was definitely always the kid at the back at the class usually with my headphones rigged through my jumper and would be just sort of sitting there just listening to music. I mean it was nice playing someone who’s very academically correct, so I felt very different in that sense. But the similarities that we had, I remember being not really sure what I wanted to do with my life. I remember looking into going into something like drama school, finding out that it costs just a ridiculous amount of money and then I said I just simply can’t afford to go. And I’m very excited about the fact that all the experiences I’ve had through my life have sort of led to this point now. And so really it was life experience that made that happen rather than just going to drama school and being churned out like a whole lot of other people. So essentially, yeah, that is very similar to Ben, I think.

 

MG: Where in England are you from?  

JS: I’m from London.

 

MG: Were you born there?

JS: Yes.

 

MG: You have a MySpace page, don’t you?

JS:  I don’t have a MySpace, no. I have somebody that keeps pretending that they’re me. I worry about it sometimes, I wonder if he’s like some 60-year-old guy sitting there.

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

March 21st, 2008

 

 

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