Imagine an alternate reality where Green Day fizzled out before Dookie, never made it out of those Berkeley basements, and are now resigned to life on a suburban boulevard of broken dreams. That's Ordinary World, which stars Billie Joe Armstrong as Perry, a washed-up punk rocker with a wife (Selma Blair), two kids, and a head stuck in the past. The film, out now in theaters and VOD, spans the day of Perry's 40th birthday, an occasion which ignites a midlife crisis that hits all the bases: Perry abandons all family responsibilities, blows thousands on a presidential suite for a rager, smashes a guitar, and reconnects with an ex played by Judy Greer. Armstrong and director Lee Kirk recently stopped by the New York offices to talk aging, Billie Joe's acting future, and that American Idiot movie.
Billie, the film parallels your life until it veers off into the path not taken — to borrow a line from Judy Greer’s character. Was it surreal to reimagine your life?
Billie Joe Armstrong: I definitely related a lot to Perry. I liked how he put family first. I identified with the exhaustion and klutziness that comes with being a parent, and how he’s just a rock-and-roller at heart. For me, it was fun to kind of imagine whether or not this could’ve been the path I went on, or not.
Lee Kirk: We sat together for a while after he came onboard and went over the script. He had one great suggestion which was that, [originally] the Judy Greer character was just this sort of prostitute that the guys had hired for Perry. Do you remember that?
BJA: Did I say that?
Kirk: No, you said, “She should be an old flame.”
BJA: Ohhh yeah, that’s right.
Kirk: So we wrote the script with that in mind. And even with the dialogue, every line we would ask him, “What’s the rock-and-roll vernacular for this? How do you want to say it?” It was cool.
Was turning 40 as much of a midlife crisis for you as it is for Perry? It throws his whole world off its axis.
BJA: It’s not necessarily getting older or the change that comes with it, I think it’s more about the memories that you have. Where you can look at your life in these eras. Perry’s in this era of being a parent, he can’t be selfish. In the past, you could afford to be a little more selfish when you’re younger. With age, it really becomes thinking about how time has passed — that’s sort of the root of age.
How did you celebrate your 40th?
BJA: I threw a big-ass party. It turned out a bit different from Perry’s, but it was pretty nuts. It wasn’t me that threw it though, my wife threw me a surprise party. So [unlike Selma Blair’s character] she didn’t forget.
Music plays a major role not just in Perry’s own life, but also in his relationship with his daughter. And it’s the same for you, Billie. Both your sons contributed songs to the film. How did you get them involved?
BJA: I think I happened to be playing stuff for Lee that had nothing to do with being in the film and he really liked [younger son] Jakob’s stuff a lot.
Kirk: He played me “King of the World” and I’d been telling him that I’d been trying to find a song for this one part in the movie. Then he was playing it, and I think we were doing ADR or something, and I was like “Play that again. Can we use that?” And [older son] Joey’s in there, too, with his band SWMR. Actually, Joey’s in the movie. In the party scene.
What do they think of your film debut?
BJA: They think everything about it is fantastic except for me.
There’s an emotional moment for Perry at the end that involves his daughter playing the Replacements’ “Unsatisfied.” What’s the significance of that song to both of you?
Kirk: I remember that song when I was a teenager, I’d just lay there and listen to it. Somehow, it just hit me and I related to the lyrics. It always stuck with me. It’s the first image I had when I started writing the movie: a father listening to that song and realizing that he was satisfied.
BJA: Being a Replacements fan, that song is such an anthem, especially for younger people and disenfranchised people. The way it comes full circle with this little girl singing it is sort of a cathartic moment. I think when people see the film, they’re gonna see that. Especially people my age or older, they’re gonna see this kid and start thinking about maybe where they were the first time they heard that song. When she’s singing it, she doesn’t really know — she’s singing it about her father, but not from herself.
How did you decide to cast Fred Armisen and Kevin Corrigan for the fictional band?
Kirk: The most important thing to me was that I needed actors who played instruments. All the music in the movie was shot live, so I wanted to be sure to have guys really playing the songs up there with him. If you’ve got Billie Joe Armstrong in your movie, you can’t have him pretending. Fortunately, Fred Armisen is a brilliant musician and, actually, they have a history together in music. He was the first one I got onboard, then Lucas [Papaelias] and Kevin. It was really fun shooting those scenes with the guys because it felt like there was a band there. It felt authentic.
BJA: Green Day played with Fred’s band [Trenchmouth] in Beloit, Wisconsin, in 1991, in like an Elks lodge or something. And we have a lot of friends in common. Everything that you see in other rock-and-roll movies is a lot of lip-syncing and people not really playing. What makes this movie unique, when it comes to the music, we’re actually a band, we’re actually playing together. In that opening scene in the club, we’re actually playing. You can really get a great feel for people being in the audience. The crowd is having a sincere reaction. Even in the hotel room, that’s all live. It was really fun.
How do you direct the star of your film when it’s his first leading role? Billie Joe is in nearly every scene.
Kirk: We got together before we shot and worked on the character and the scenes. And he already instinctively knew what good acting was, so it wasn’t like I was trying to make him into a good actor. I was just trying to help and steer him in the right direction. There’s such a uniqueness to Billie Joe in his voice, the way that he moves, and his sense of humor; I wanted to have that in the movie as well. I didn’t want him to feel like he’s playing a character. We kept it simple and let the words do the work. As a director, to have your lead actor be so accessible was really exciting.
What inspired you to transition from a stint on Broadway in American Idiot to starring in a feature film? Is there more acting in your future? There’s talk of an American Idiot movie finally happening, at HBO.
BJA: After I played St. Jimmy on Broadway I sort of caught the acting bug. But I didn’t want to go full-bore into it because I have a lot to learn. So I started off small and then this was just the great opportunity. This role was great, Lee and I worked together pretty closely. Eventually, if something pops up, that’s cool, but I still wanna continue the process of learning how to be a good actor. Right now, we do have American Idiot picked up by HBO and I wrote the record and concept to it. [We have] the writer Rolin Jones and [director] Michael Mayer [who also directed the Broadway production], so we’ll see what happens.
What’s the most surprisingly ordinary thing about both of your lives?
BJA: Coffee is the absolute most dependably ordinary thing I could have every single day.
Kirk: If you were around on a Saturday morning at my house with my 5-year-old and 2-year-old, it would seem pretty darn ordinary [laughs].
This interview has been edited and condensed.