The challenge of casting actress Kiera Knightley who is not really known for her singing talents, and singers such as Adam Levine and Ceelo Green who have very little experience acting might have been daunting to many filmmakers, but director John Carney has managed to make it a productive, if not magical collaboration.
BEGIN AGAIN is the latest film from writer-director John Carney whose movie ONCE went from being the find of the Sundance Film Festival to winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film, earning a Grammy nomination for its soundtrack, and winning the Best Original Song Academy Award for the romantic ballad “Falling Slowly.” A stage version based on the film then went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Now, Carney has brought his unique perspective to New York City for another film that documents the power of music as it changes the lives and fortunes of two struggling souls.
In BEGIN AGAIN, past-his-prime record executive Dan Mulligan (played by Mark Ruffalo) is facing a failing marriage, a career he can’t keep up with, and a daughter he can’t connect to. But at his most desperate moment, he hears a powerful song by Gretta (Keira Knightley), an unknown musician on the brink of giving up her musical dreams after unexpected heartbreak and frustration. An unlikely pair who are brought together by equal parts inspiration and desperation, the film follows them as their musical partnership develops into a deep friendship, and their lives take unexpected turns.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” admits Knightley who is best known for her costume dramas and period films such as “Pride & Prejudice,” and “Atonement,” as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
“A lot of the music wasn’t finished until I got to New York. I had been working with a vocal coach to find a sound that would work for the character, but two or three of Gretta’s songs were just handed to me on the day we recorded them, so there was been a bit of flying by the seat of our pants and hoping for the best. There’s an old stage saying: ‘It’ll be all right on the night.’ So far, it all seems to have gone all right.”
Her modest impressions of her own talent were also playfully contradicted by her costar: “Keira is fantastic,” says Ruffalo. “She’s fun and game for anything and a talented singer.”
Keira brought an extra dimension to the script,” says Carney. “We suddenly had an English-American relationship which added a dimension of charm, and allowed us to have a very different tone from a cast of all Americans or all New Yorkers. In a way it reminded me of old films like CHARADE, where those two cultures meeting is part of the story’s appeal. I think as a filmmaker I need to play to the strengths of the actors, so Mark and Keira really shaped the film. As a director, I use the skills the people have, rather than what I wrote. Not to take advantage of that is a crime.”
LEVINE AND GREEN TRY ACTING
For Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, who is making his big screen debut in the movie, being asked by John Carney to be part of Begin Again was an honor. “I was honored just to be asked, and right off the bat I fell in love with the script. To have John believe in me is really exciting,” Levine says. “John saw something in me that was this character – whether that is flattering or not, I can’t tell, but I would not have considered doing a film unless I was really connected to the material. I love John’s tone – he is a musician, and I think his sensibilities are those of a musician so we get along famously.”
“The music was easy,” admits Levine after shooting. “That’s kind of my wheelhouse, I guess, but the acting has been quite a challenge in a really great way. The only thing people said to me was ‘know your lines’ and ‘don’t act, just listen and react,’ and that was great advice. I’ve also found that being comfortable and receptive to direction makes it a lot easier. It was daunting going into this new world, but everyone was so sweet and made me feel comfortable and at home, so I felt like I was doing my best even though I had relatively little experience.”
“Performing music and acting are similar,” says industry veteran Green, another veteran of “The Voice” who plays the part of Troublegum, one of Dan’s former success stories who helps his old friend out by lending a hand to produce Gretta’s album. “In either case, you reenact the emotion of the experience when you are in the studio or on the set. There is a rhythm to the way that you walk, the way that you talk, the way that you react. It’s all poetry in motion. They are very kindred.” As for his own work, Green is cautiously optimistic that he can believably play a hip-hop star: “I can’t tell if they acted like I was doing a good job or if I really was,” he says with a smile, “but they are making me feel very comfortable. Mark Ruffalo said I did okay, so I think I’ll be all right.”
British-born stage and TV actor Corden, who plays the part of Steve, a friend of Gretta’s from back home who is also on hand to help her record, offers perhaps the most astute summary of his cast mates of various backgrounds. “Actors and musicians are similar,” he explains. “I think all actors secretly harbor a dream to be a musician, and all musicians want to be an actor one day. I’m not sure why, but it’s true of every actor I’ve met and every musician I’ve met. I think it’s because musicians see actors and say, ‘wouldn’t it be great to be someone else for a day?’ And actors see musicians and think, ‘wouldn’t it be great to just walk out as yourself and have that freedom to perform as yourself?’”
BEGIN AGAIN opens on July 9, 2014 in theaters nationwide and is distributed locally by SOLAR PICTURES.
Check out the trailer here http://youtu.be/URgf_qOvb08 and Lost Stars Feature at the Solar Pictures YouTube channel: http://youtu.be/prXttiueTdM