There are countless books and movies about the legendary singer, songwriter, activist and artist John Lennon, but far fewer about his life before The Beatles. 'Nowhere Boy' fills in the blanks, beginning with Lennon as a fifteen-year-old raising a little bit of hell in Liverpool. Smart but rebellious, John (Aaron Johnson) bristles under the watch of his straight-laced Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who raised him. Eventually he seeks out his birth mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who encourages his interest in music and introduces him to rock and roll. 'Nowhere Boy,' directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, illustrates both the nascence of Lennon's musical career and the tug-of-war he finds himself in between arguably two of the most important women in his life.
Aaron Johnson might be more recognizable to American audiences as wanna-be superhero superhero Dave Lizewski in 'Kick-Ass,' but Brit audiences have been in the know since this Lennon pic opened on Christmas Day in 2009. Since then, it's traveled the world and racked up a number of BAFTA noms for its cast and crew.
Meanwhile, 'Kick-Ass' opened in the US on April 16, 2010, and rumors began flying that Johnson was being considered for the role of Spider-Man or might enroll in 'X-Men: First Class.' Although those have both since been shot down, fans are still hoping for a very quick return to the world of 'Kick-Ass.' (Click here to read Johnson's comments about 'Kick-Ass 2'.) For the time being, though, the bleary-eyed young father is happy to wake up in the middle of the night to share diaper duty with fiancée Taylor-wood and promote 'Nowhere Boy' in anticipation of its release date this Friday.
I was walking down the street this morning, and a woman was listening to her headphones and singing, "Love is all you need" over and over again. Do you experience those same sorts of synchronicities?
Big time, big time... There was one moment where we were singing "Hello Little Girl," and at the time I felt like I was really f*cking it up and not getting it quite right or how I performed it, I dunno, it didn't feel too good. Anyway, Sam was like, Well, look, -- 'cause this was rehearsal, just before setting the camera up -- and [she said], Okay, take five minutes off and we've got to set up in here anyway and we need to pull the carpet up and I moved the chair just a little bit, the chair that I'm sitting on, and then they pull the carpet up, and right underneath the chair is [a newspaper dated] 1968 or something like this, with John Lennon on the front of this newspaper that's been preserved this whole time. It was just so insane, because the location that we were at was just this broken-down home... [The newspaper was] under the carpet; it was under that chair I was sitting on. It was insane. So I dunno, it felt like his spirit was in the room. There were moments like that quite a lot. It was incredible.
Lennon is a universal icon, but in England, he's like a saint. That must have been a huge amount of pressure.
I guess there was a certain amount of pressure. To be honest, I didn't really think about it too much 'cause, like, I just couldn't. I'd be stopped in my tracks.... But that feeling that gave me those nerves that said, You've got to do as much as possible to research as much as you can so you don't make any mistakes, so you know your boundaries and what you can and cannot do and how to perform this character, and then I could throw it away and not think about it.
Did your own love of the Beatles attract you to this part?
No, the script did. I mean, it was just such a fantastic script. I just believed in and could relate to this person and what he was going through with his auntie and his mother and the relationships drew me so emotionally that I saw it on that level before I found out it was Lennon. Then when it was Lennon, it was like, now I know where I can go from here. Like, I know that character. I'll study that character and make it work.
So you didn't know it was about John Lennon at first?
Only until the end of the script, really. And it was like, this is John? This is a true story? I was shocked.
It's incredible because it's about something that no one really knows about. Did you know anything about Lennon's youth before this?
No, hardly anybody does. That's why this is such a unique thing, film, and [it's] special that we can do something like this and people can see what the sort of back story to this artist who was John Lennon.
I was especially struck by the portrayal of the dueling mother figures, and it made me think about his relationship with Yoko Ono and if there was any sort of parallels. Do you think there was?
I believe that he never really, he didn't discover love until Yoko, since his mother died. You know, he fell in love with his mother and then he never found a woman until Yoko, and that's when he became quite a free spirit and an open speaker and, you know, quite like his mother's character. This woman who was sort of before her time and quite '60s, and that was sort of when he became himself so he carried it on, in spirit of her, I suppose. But I think with Yoko, there's a sort of love and devotion he showed to her [and] I could use a lot of that with his mother, and he talked about his insecurities and his vulnerable side, and I used a lot of that.
As far as getting for the young Lennon, or even the grown-up Lennon, how much did you research -- did you go to the Dakota? Did you go to Liverpool?
We filmed in Liverpool... When you can film in the location where they grew up and what have you -- Strawberry Field, Penny Lane, you know -- that gives you that sort of energy. That gives you that sort of character and you feel a bit more lost in that person rather than the person you are. And the Dakota, I came to much, much later on, afterwards, but that was quite an emotional thing. The energy around there is spooky. It's intense and quite upsetting.
You were in the middle of filming 'Kick-Ass' while you were preparing to audition for this. That's a bit of a split personality, accent-wise, personality-wise, everything. How did you even manage that?
God only knows how. I can't really remember how. It's a bit of a blur to me, but I remember [during] my lunch breaks when I was filming 'Kick-Ass' that I could quickly look up on YouTube footage of Lennon and look through the scenes that I could do at the casting, and I had a day off where I could do the casting, and it was insane. Then I came in [to film 'Kick-Ass'] and I was just sort of repeating this sentence, this line Lennon said over and over again, you know, quietly out loud to myself, sort of speaking to myself in the corner, and [I] was pretty focused on that, and I didn't really sort of acknowledge anybody else. I didn't really kind of engage anybody else too much... and I just kinda went for it. And they called me back, and Sam said, I want you to watch 'Lennon vs. the US' ['The U.S. vs. John Lennon'] and get another aspect of him, and I did, and then we worked on something else, and I think by then -- I carried on with learning his accent... There was a progression, and I think she thought, "We've got two months. I can get him there."
Watch exclusive clips from 'Nowhere Boy'
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