In “One Day,” Jim Sturgess’ Dexter is kind of an asshole, though certainly the kind of asshole that some women are irresistibly and illogically drawn to. He says and does things to Anne Hathaway’s Emma that would make him irredeemable if played by a less charming actor, but because it’s Sturgess who’s doing the heartbreaking, we’re content to watch--and would likely volunteer to be the victim as well. Based on David Nicholls’ book (and the author’s screenplay), the Lone Scherfig film follows the pair dipping into each others' lives for one day a year across three decades. They perform a dance where they’re alternately joining together and pushing each other away as their lives and selves change from their twenties through their forties.
We sat down with Sturgess to discuss the complex role of Dexter and how he approached playing a character across a series of decades, the role of music in the film and what he's got coming up on the horizon.
The Playlist: So Dexter is not always the most likable character, what drew you to playing him?
He can drive you a bit mad, can’t he? Probably that, amongst other things [drew me to the character]. I know people like that. Not personally, but you see people like that all the time in London, hanging around the swanky bars of Soho. It was fun to play someone that I didn’t really like at first, but then you look into his life and who he is and the relationships he has and you get immersed in the story. Of course, you grow to love and defend him. I was often defending him to outraged women.
Did you read the book?
I read the book of course....I felt a bit weird. Normally you have to do quite a bit of research when you’re doing a film. I read the book and I felt a bit lost because I didn’t know what else to do. It was all there in the book. I felt a bit like I was cheating. And Dexter doesn’t have any particular skills that you can go and learn. Sometimes when you’re making a film, you go and check out what that person’s life was like and his job or skill is. Dexter doesn’t really have anything like that. So I just got into the costume fittings and the clothing and I thought that was a good place to start shaping the character, figuring out how he is by putting on an expensive pair of designer shoes. He’s all about the surface presentation.
Anne Hathaway has said how much music played a role in her performance and in getting the part. Did music play a role for you at all?
It did, and I remember a lot. Anne had to learn a lot about British music that was around in the charts at that time I knew most of those songs, it was all there. It’s always great to immerse yourself in the music of the time. But I listen to a lot of music that comes out in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s anyway. Bands like the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays and stuff. So it was fun. We played each other loads of different music, and then if we were messing about a bit of Rick Astley might come on.
So when you were approaching the character as he grows through the years, how did that change? Was it shot chronologically?
No, most films aren’t. You’re so lucky if get to shoot a film in sequence. "The Way Back," a film I did, was in sequence. It was amazing to have that luxury. ‘Cause it was a journey from one place to another, so we literally followed the journey with the camera. But this is all over the place. Literally, you could be in your thirties with a baby before lunch, and then you go and have your tea, and then you’re 27 again with a coke habit. So you’re sort of all over the place. But that was part of the challenge; that was what was fun about it, all the dressing up and the costumes and the fittings and the wigs and the make-up changing the way you looked and working out where you are in the story, who you are and what’s happened to you. But it was tough. Every day felt like you were making a new film. There was never that continuity of, “Right, I’m this person, this is the story.” You’d come into work, and someone would literally hand you a baby, this screaming child, and you’d have to deal with that, and act out that scene, and you’d go home, and you’d come again in the morning and someone’s like, “Now you’re a television presenter, and you’ve got to interview this hip-hop band and dance around a lot of half-naked girls and deal with that.” So you never felt like you were safe. Every day was a new day.
Can you tell us about the film noir “Ashes”? It’s from a Michael Winterbottom collaborator, right?
[He] and Michael did some documentaries together. He’s a guy called Mat Whitecross, who’s a lot younger. We’re the same age. We’re both in our early thirties, and it was an amazing experience. It was so exciting to work with someone who’s the same age and come at it as two mates making a film. Normally, I look up to the director so much, and they’re these old, wise, experienced filmmakers with so much knowledge and articulate passion. And Mat is all of those things, but we’re the same age and I trusted him completely. He’s made some groundbreaking documentaries with Michael Winterbottom, who I’m a huge fan of. So when he asked me to do his film, he wrote me an amazing letter and sent me the script. I was in Los Angeles at the time, being sent all these action films and stuff, and saying, “No I don’t want to do that one, that one looks great.” And I’m so glad that I did. And it was made for no money. We had to shoot it, we were all sleeping on each others’ clothes. The makeup trailer was a little desk inside the costume truck, so you had to wade through all the costumes, and you’d sit at a little desk, and this lovely lady Jackie would do your makeup, and there was just no budget at all. And that was really exciting. And it reminded me of when I first got into making films and we used to make our own short films. It felt like the passion behind it and the sense of camaraderie and the want to get the day’s work done each day and the celebration when we managed to do it and the tears when we just lost entire scenes and we didn’t have enough time to shoot it. It was so thrilling, I loved it. Mat’s so talented, that we all worked really hard and hopefully pull off a good film. But it’s a good story and close to his heart. I’m just so pleased that I met Mat and that we got to work together. We hopefully can do more stuff and hopefully get more money for it and get a better lunch.
"One Day" opens in theaters on Friday, August 19th.