Jim Sturgess has starred in a great movie that few people saw (Across the Universe, Julie Taymor’s Beatles musical); an okay movie that a few more people saw (the gambling drama 21); and a movie in which you couldn’t even see his face (voicing an owl in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole). Now, as the romantic lead in One Day, playing the caddish Dexter Mayhew across from Anne Hathaway’s Emma Morley, his boyish charms may finally have found their proper vehicle. We spoke with Sturgess about fame, playing the party animal, and Anne Hathaway’s British accent (which has come up before).
Are you finally going to be famous here after this?
I don’t know. I’ve always managed to work on a film I really want to work on, and that’s really what matters to me. The rest is a little bit scary. People start taking pictures of you. I see how Anne has to deal with it, and people can be pretty intrusive and strange. I occasionally get people coming up to me saying I look a little bit like that American actor in a film about gambling. I say, “Oh, who’s that?” and they can never remember his name. So that’s about as famous as I feel.
Dexter can be sweet and romantic or a total jerk. Which did you like playing more?
Being a jerk was fun, being coked up and going around the Soho [London] nightclubs. We did lots of improvising and messing around, being in these bars and clubs on coke and all that shit, so it was a lot of fun doing that. The script I read had loads of popping pills and snorting coke in toilets with girls, and I was like, This is great. I was worried that they might take it out of the film completely, but it’s still referenced and you’re aware of it.
Although there was far less drug action in the film than in the book it’s based on. Do you think that’s an Americanized, Hollywood whitewashing?
To an extent. If you want lots of people to watch something, you make it sort of as beige as possible — safe, which doesn’t connect with me at all. I like things that are weird and interesting and dark and obscure. So, I was always a bit, Well why’d you take that out? That’s the bit that’s interesting, that’s the bit that will get at young people, and they can relate to that. That’s why the book is so great. You see him go through all this stuff that certainly people of that age have all been through. It’s pretty normal behavior.
There’s been criticism of Anne Hathaway’s accent. You’re British: Did she pull it off?
She did everything that you should’ve done to do it. I’m really critical of that, and a movie can totally lose me if an actor is trying to pull off an accent. I just can’t engage, no matter how amazing the special effects, or how good-looking the actor is; if the accent feels like it’s not real out of their mouth, I can’t engage in the story. And I never felt that, not once, coming out of Anne. And that’s me even going, There’s some criticism, so I’m going to listen to it — and not once did I even think about it. She did the accent all the time on the set. She had a dialect coach there. I had a dialect coach as well to do the posher version of the British accent. I was struggling with my own accent! I had my own accent to worry about. She just did it all the time, so I forgot she was even doing it. It wasn’t until she got out in the evening and had a glass of wine that you could feel the American slowly creeping out.
The movie’s romantic and funny, but it isn’t a typical rom-com.
It’s so rare you get a romantic film with proper substance to it. There’s so many romantic comedies out there that are just sort of fluff and fun, not my kind of film at all. I like trying whatever’s offered to me, trying something different each time — I’m not Brad Pitt, I can’t have the pick of any movie in the world — but I wanted to do a completely different kind of character. Dexter’s not just the romantic lead. There’s a flawed, interesting, and layered person here. So, I thought, If you’re ever going to go for a romantic film, this would be the one to try.
It’s definitely not a Hollywood ending.
That’s why this film is different; it does knock you a bit sideways if you’re not expecting it. It was like, What? Wow, I didn’t see that coming. They did an amazing job, because even for someone who knows what’s going to happen and goes, “Here it comes, here it comes,” you still go, “Fuckin’ hell, I didn’t think that was gonna happen.”