JIM STURGESS has done sci-fi, political drama, Faustian horror, and fluffy romance while armed with a musical talent that can make both teens and tyrants swoon. This combination of good looks, knife-sharp acting, and a capable singing voice has always been a valuable commodity in Hollywood. But Jim opts for a different route, taking on roles that mold him as an actor.
You wouldn’t figure Jim Sturgess as a bully. It’s hard to think of a young Jim telling off kids at a skate park. “I grew up as a skateboarder and we’d just bully all the rollerbladers. They were standing in the way at the skate park. The skateboarders couldn’t tolerate the rollerbladers. It’s just the way it was,” Jim shares. He then laughs, brushing it off as a slight childhood incident.
He has come a long way since, tottering off into Hollywood by a series of, as he would put it, “happy coincidences.” It’s the kind of thing that a lot of celebrities would say, but Jim’s childlike wonder gives him away. To a certain degree, he’s still that restless kid who grew up in Farnham, Surrey, emulating his musical heroes, swaggering with a band of his own. At one time, he moved to Manchester, home to some of his musical influences, including The Happy Mondays and The Charlatans. Music became the core where his life revolved. It spilled out into his dreams, even in the way that he dressed. He might have to juggle being a dishwasher in a restaurant or selling trainers in Carnaby Street, but there would always be his love affair with music.
So it’s only natural that Jim broke into Hollywood, in Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, in a role that involved a lot of singing. The film itself is a challenge, a musical based on The Beatles’ catalog. It should have been terribly easy for Sturgess: he’s British and totally nuts about music, but the role presented a bit of a difficulty. “The singing in Across the Universe was just a nightmare,” he chuckles. “For me, to sing without a microphone is a real challenge.”
“The singing in Across the Universe was just a nightmare.”
Still, the film secured his stature as the next big Hollywood actor. Offers piled up from different directions, high-profile and small films alike. After Across the Universe, his filmography became an assembly of interesting roles.
His looks could have consigned him to leading man characters but Jim is smart enough to sink into characters that prove his worth as a serious actor. From the Faustian trade-off in Heartless, a British police informant in Fifty Dead Men Walking to a Polish prisoner who escapes from a Russian gulag in The Way Back, Jim revels in the challenges that each role brings.
It’s his experience in making Fifty Dead Men Walking that has made a significant imprint in him so far. His research for the role found him in pubs around Belfast, drinking in stories concerning a tumultuous period in North Ireland’s history. “The Irish are the greatest storytellers in the world,” he gushes. “For that film, we were connected with a lot of people from the IRA so it was sort of a fascinating and scary situation. I remember there was a time I was sitting there and was being taught on how to make a bomb by an ex-member of the IRA. What job in the world would allow you to be sitting with a pretty dangerous dude teaching you how to build a bomb?” he exclaims.
“What job in the world would allow you to be sitting with a pretty dangerous dude teaching you how to build a bomb?”
We’ll be seeing him next in Juan Diego Solanas’ Upside Down, a classic romance encased in a Romeo and Juliet sci-fi shell. Jim plays Adam who falls in love with Eve (Kirsten Dunst); their only problem is that they live in worlds on top of each other with opposite gravities (think that street-folding scene in Inception) that have been wrapped in closely guarded tension.
Upside Down involves a lot of stunts, wires, and acting upside down. “The director built two sets that were mixed to each other side by side. One was the ceiling and one was the floor. I would be on the ceiling set and right next to me was Kirsten on the floor set. We would have these sensors attached to our bodies so that when we move around, I could see where Kirsten was moving and I would be able to look at her and she would have the same for me. We wouldn’t be able to see each other. We would see a red dot where the other person would be moving around. That was pretty crazy.”
“I hope I’ll still have the same amount of enthusiasm for acting as I do now.”
With all these heavy-handed filmmaking duties wrapped up, he also recently finished shooting an Andy Wachowski (The Matrix) sci-fi epic, Cloud Atlas, starring Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, and Halle Berry. He also just rented an apartment in Los Angeles where he’s happily hanging around with his friends while working on Tragic Toys, a band he shares with his girlfriend Mickey O’Brien (a keyboardist for La Roux). Jim describes their music as an eclectic mix of rock & roll, psychedelic, electronic, and gypsy. Although they are already working with producers, Jim says they’re not rushing to put out their music. “It’s really difficult because we’re both doing other things as well, so we really try and maintain the idea that it’s really something that we just like to do when we’re together. We want to make sure that it’s always got a good energy around.”
Unlike actors who aim for blockbuster fame, Jim’s clear sense of direction will put him in the ranks of the great actors he’s worked with, including Ed Harris (in The Way Back), Ben Kingsley (in Fifty Dead Men Walking) and Kevin Spacey (in 21). If there’s one thing that he has taken away from this experience, it’s the fulfillment that these heavyweight actors still get from doing films year after year. “None of those great actors are tired by the process of acting. Making each film was a challenge with a new character and they seem to be as excited doing it as I was. So I guess that’s something to really admire. I hope I’ll still have the same amount of enthusiasm for acting as I do now,” he says.
Story by Don Jaucian
Photographed by Shelby Duncan