"She really found me at a point when I needed to be found." -- Jim Sturgess on Julie Taymor:
In 21, which hits theaters tomorrow, Jim Sturgess plays Ben Campbell, an M.I.T. student who's recruited into a group of Vegas card counters by a fellow student. In fact, the entire group is made up of students and its leader, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), also happens to be a professor at the University. The fact-based film was inspired by the book Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich, and most of what you will see in 21 really happened -- with certain faces, places, names and events changed to fit a more Hollywood-ized mold. Directed by Robert Luketic, 21 also stars Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira.
Sturgess is a relatively new face to Hollywood. His first major film role only came last year, when director Julie Taymor cast the soft-spoken Brit opposite Evan Rachel Wood in Across the Universe. From there, this musician-turned-actor appeared in the recent The Other Boleyn Girl before taking on his first lead role in a major Hollywood film, 21. Upon meeting him, one can immediately tell this boy has the looks and charm to carry him real far. He's already scheduled to appear in the star-studded Crossing Over and the flick Fifty Dead Men Walking. Cinematical sat down with Sturgess in New York recently to talk about 21, as well as his blossoming career.
Note: This was a roundtable interview. Cinematical's questions are noted.
Cinematical: So did you learn how to count cards after all this -- or did you want to learn how to count cards when you were done?
Jim Sturgess: I wanted to, desperately. It's really not as easy as you think. These guys are so mathematically minded anyway, which I'm really not, plus they've worked out this strategy and this system a long time before going to Vegas in the first place. Plus they had years and years of mathematical training -- that's just who they are as people. So to kind of learn how to do it for two weeks in preparation for a film ... it just wasn't going to happen. I did sit down with Jeff Ma (the man who Sturgess' character is based on), and he explained it to me time and time again; the theory of it. And I understood it, in theory, but putting it into practice is just a completely different thing.
How was it going toe to toe with Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne? Was it intense?
JS: Yeah, amazingly intense. But that's the kind of thing you look for -- you want it to be like that. [Laurence] really intimidated me off camera, as well as on camera. But then he gave me this big Laurence Fishburne man hug at the end of it -- which I think was the most pain I was in throughout the whole day.
Was Kevin Spacey tough on you?
JS: Well he's just tough because of the nature of the work. But that goes for anything, for anybody. He wasn't tough on me specifically; he just cares about it. He cares about making the right film. He cares about his performance. He cares about all the other actors that are around him. It's not toughness, it's just passion.
Is there a message in this film? Is gambling a problem? What do you think about all that?
JS: Yeah, well spending time in Vegas for the amount of time we did, you saw some people and wanted to ask, 'Why are you throwing all your money into that machine?" It just seemed ridiculous. I think it is an addiction, it can be an addiction -- but it can also be a lot of fun. Certainly after my experience there, I didn't come away thinking gambling was a bad idea. Understand, though, that [the characters in the film] were never gambling. That's the whole point. Certainly the life seduced the character of Ben, which is very easy to do if you spend some time in Vegas. It's a very seductive place. But I guess the film tells you to have as many experiences as you can because that's what makes you the person you are.
Cinematical: Could you relate to this character in any way?
JS: Yes and no. The similarities really -- I remember being at a point in my life where I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I remember I looked into going to drama school because I thought it was kind of interesting, but then I found out drama school was just ridiculously expensive. So it was just impossible for me to go. I was a bit disheartened by that, but then I realized I had to do what I wanted to do even more so than had I gone to drama school through just the experiences I had in my life. And I was lucky that Julie Taymor walked up, understood those experiences, knew what I had been through, and that was why she wanted to cast me in that role. So, the similarities were that, like the character, it was really life experiences that got me to where I am today. She really found me at a point where I needed to be found.
Cinematical: And you didn't even need to count cards ...
JS: [laughs] No, exactly. I didn't need to count cards.
Cinematical: Did you enjoy the big Hollywood film experience? Is this something you'd like to do more of?
JS: Yeah, it was fun -- it was interesting. It is different in certain ways, and then very similar in ways to just doing a film back in England. Ya know, Across the Universe was my first experience with a big film and it didn't feel very different from that -- except there weren't any giant puppets hanging around set. Or people breaking out into song every five minutes. But yeah, of course, I would love to do some more.
Were you always a singer? After Across the Universe, did you expect more singing roles to come your way?
JS: Well I was a singer and playing in a band back in London before I was cast in Across the Universe. So, yeah, I play music and music has been a big part of my life for many years. I never expected to kinda combine being in a film with singing, but it was a really interesting way of taking music ... and I'd done acting as well, so it was a really nice blend of all the things I'd been interested in. But I never wanted to star in only musical theater or only musical theater films. So it's nice now that I've done some acting that is very separate from music. Though I still write music and play music; it's still very much a part of who I am.
Cinematical: Any musician that you'd love to play one day on the big screen?
JS: Oh man. There's so many. I guess ... someone that I'd be interested in would be Nick Drake. I was always wondering what was going on in his mind; he was a beautiful poet and a beautiful artist.
Cinematical: It's still kind of early in your career, but would you be interested in directing down the line?
JS: Yeah, I think so. Only because when I was experimenting with what I wanted to do, we started making short films and putting on theater productions by ourselves. So there was definitely a point where I was making short films, and was interested in that kind of path. But I see some of these films that I'm in and I have no idea how they do that; it's incredible. So I don't know how good I'd be at it -- but, yeah, I was definitely interested in it at one point.
Can you tell us about Crossing Over?
JS: It's a huge ensemble cast in that film, and it was amazing just being in a film with a lot of those actors; people like Sean Penn, Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd. Just a great mix of incredible actors from all over the place. It really tells lots of stories about the complexities of immigration here in America; people from different backgrounds with their different stories. I played an English guy, and you never really consider an English guy to be an immigrant -- it was just a very exciting experience. It's very kinda Crash or Traffic-esque in the way the story is told.
Did you learn anything from 21?
Yeah, not to gamble ... unless you're counting cards. Cause it'll beat you down in the end.