So, it goes like this: Gretta (Knightley) and her boyfriend/songwriting partner Dave (Levine) move to New York City when Dave lands a record deal. Success leads him astray, and the relationship deteriorates, leaving Gretta alone in a new city. Dan (Ruffalo), a recently fired record executive, discovers a heartbroken Gretta performing in an East Village bar and is reinvigorated by her raw talent. The two set off on a music adventure across New York…
We sat down with the three leads to talk about inspirations for the film.
Begin Again is truly a film about relationship defined by music, do you remember a time in your own life that was punctuated by music?
Adam: When I was 19 I fell in love with this girl. I was getting gas and I saw her and fell madly in love with her right at that moment - so, I kind of semi-stalked her a little bit. I found out where she worked, and I knew her car – she had a Grateful Dead sticker on the back of it. Maybe I followed her… just for a minute or something… I was young! And then I wrote a song about her. I knew someone who worked with her and I had them play her this tape. And sure enough, it was played enough that she asked what it was. So they told her who I was and she said she wanted to meet me. And then this whole, amazing love story took place. And it wound up being this girl that I wrote about 20 other songs about. I was infatuated with her for three or four years. That’s a pretty profound experience where music is directly linked to my life.
Mark: Mine was around my first love and the Ghost in the Machine album by The Police. I played it with this girl about 500 times. And then I had my first kiss with her, and then maybe some second base too… [laughs]. That was pretty profound, and now anytime I hear that album or any song from it I get very sentimental.
Keira: I actually don’t have one.
Mark: You’re married to a musician, dude!
Keira: OK. Oh! Grace Jones’ La Vie En Rose.That was the album that was playing a lot when I met my husband. So, yeah, every time that comes on I think, “That’s good! She’s cool!”
Adam: Doesn’t it feel good to talk about it?
Keira: It doesn’t feel good at all! I’m English, I don’t know [laughs]. I need to stop using that excuse.
Adam and Mark: [laughs].
Adam: She’s English.
Each of your characters share qualities with people in the music industry… did you channel anyone in your performance? Keira?
Keira: Not really, no. Partly because we didn’t get the songs until two days before we got into the studio. So there wasn’t really any time to figure out who she might be a bit like. It was just a matter of getting the songs, getting into the studio, and figuring out what felt good.
Mark: I wasn’t really channeling anybody, but I did steal heavily in the visual sense from Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips. Which I’m not at all embarrassed to say, but I want to add the appendage that it was out of great respect to someone I admire deeply.
Adam, I’m sure there are bits and pieces you pulled from your own life. But was there anyone else you looked towards?
Adam: I don’t think so, not directly. I definitely pulled from my own life. And also from guys I’ve been around who have totally lost their way. I tried to marry the two. Actually, I had no choice but to improvise with it. This guy, my character, I know this guy. I know he’s not an actual person, and I know what this guy is going through, and while it’s different from what I went through, there is that kind of person that I truly know. The stages of looks, facial hair, everything, you can kind of tell who this dude is and where he lives and who he struggles with. There is that guy. I don’t know who that is, but I know that somebody. And now he’s this guy!
Keira, this is the first time your singing voice is featured prominently in a film, was there a sort of vulnerability to the performance on set?
Keira: We didn’t actually do it live on set. The last film I sang a bit in, we did do totally live on set, and that was completely terrifying… But this one we recorded it all beforehand in the studio. And I’m somebody who likes to prepare a lot before roles or whatever, so it was pretty terrifying to not have the music until two days before. There wasn’t any chance of preparing. But it was really interesting as well, because it meant I had to come to terms with the fact that I don’t express myself through music. Trying to get my head into somebody that did that, it was a challenge.
Mark: It made you really cranky. I could see that.
Adam: I never saw Kranky Keira.
Keira: That’s because I projected it all on Mark. I was angsty. What I found interesting was that you always hear about musicians getting very drunk in recording studios, but I was only offered a green tea. I don’t think that helped with my level of anxiety. It was definitely a very clean, green environment.
Mark: It did help make your singing even more virtuosic.
New York City is really on display in this film, and it makes sense because New York has such a strong musical history. Mark, as a New Yorker, what is your quintessential song for the city?
Mark: It would have to be Halloween Parade by Lou Reed. And Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed is quintessential New York to me.
Adam, coming to New York for this film, do you have any songs you feel really suit the place?
Adam: Lou Reed is definitely very New York. Good answer. Other than the cliché things that we immediately gravitate towards, For Once In My Life by Stevie Wonder and Luck Be A Lady by Frank Sinatra. Those are two of my favorite songs in the world, and they’re so New York…. But I want to go with something that is New York City to me, but isn’t about New York City. OK, I’m going to say Still Crazy After All These Years, by Paul Simon.
After working on a film that marries music and film so well, have your feelings on the importance of music in film changed?
Keira: Well it is always a very strange thing to watch a rough cut of a film when they don’t have the score, it’s the most bizarre thing. And that’s when you really see how important music is in film… It’s such a huge part of filmmaking.
What about with this film specifically?
Keira: Yes, this film specifically because it’s about music; it’s so central to the whole storyline. It’s about the creation of an album, so yes it’s a very important part of this film.
Mark: This film wouldn’t be anywhere near what it is without the music [laughs]. And particularly John Carney’s take on music. The way he weaves it so beautifully into story and character without it ever feeling like we’re breaking for a musical number… which can be lovely! Don’t get me wrong.
Adam: There’s nothing wrong with musical numbers, we both love it… We don’t love it. But we don’t hate it.
Keira: It’s fine, we all feel fine about it [laughs].
Adam: I think that there’s something about music in general for me that makes me feel a little bit more alive.
Do you think the way you make music was affected by your experience in this film?
Adam: You know what, I would love to score a movie. That’s one thing I haven’t done that I would absolutely sink my teeth into. Someday.
To really get into the characters in Begin Again, check out their awesomely revealing playlists.
Be sure to check out the film in theaters now!
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