Interview date: 10/19/2009
Run date: 11/09/2009
When Bullz-Eye was invited to participate in the press junket for Focus Features’ new film, “Pirate Radio,” which took place at the Mayfair Hotel in London, you can imagine that we jumped at the opportunity. This wasn’t simply because of the location…though, to be fair, that was a hell of a nice benefit. But the concept of “Pirate Radio” – the pirate radio scene in England during the 1960s – combined with the director (Richard Curtis, “Love, Actually”) and the stars (Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, January Jones, Chris O’Dowd, Rhys Darby, Rhys Ifans, and the list goes on) had been enough to get us excited about the film long before the invite was ever sent our way. But then to be invited to fly to London, screen the film, and participate in a trio of roundtable interviews with three of the stars (Talulah Riley, Tom Sturridge, and Nick Frost)..? The word “bliss” comes to mind.Although Talulah Riley has been acting professionally since 2005, when she appeared as Mary Bennet in director Joe Wright’s take on “Pride and Prejudice,” it’s fair to say that the majority of those here in the States who know her work are probably serious Anglophiles. Riley appeared in the teen TV drama “Nearly Famous,” popped up alongside David Tennant in “Doctor Who,” but beyond the aforementioned Jane Austen adaptation, her only other film role of note has been as one of the leads in the boarding school comedy “St. Trinian’s,” which still hasn’t seen US release. Still, with her role in “Pirate Radio,” as well as an appearance in Christopher Nolan’s next film, “Inception,” her profile is unquestionably on the rise…and it doesn’t hurt, of course, that she’s both beautiful and charming. When she arrived for the roundtable, she entered the room with a plate of food (she’d been unable to grab a bite to eat beforehand, so she snared some semblance of breakfast from the hospitality suite), then promptly asked us all, “Would you like some?” We politely declined, but we did let her sneak in a few bites before kicking things off with our first question.
Journalist #1: So can you tell us a little bit about how this role came to you? I mean, was it one of those things where your agent just called out of the blue?
Talulah Riley: No, I went to audition for it. I went to meet Richard (Curtis), did a reading, and…that’s about it. (Laughs) I just audition for things and get them or don’t.
Bullz-Eye: What was your experience with ‘60s music going into the film? Were you a fan?
TR: Yeah, I’d grown up listening to ‘60s music. I think most children in England know of it just because it’s part of our heritage, you know, great bands like the Who and…they’re British bands, so everyone’s familiar with them. And it’s great music!
BE: Were you aware of the whole Radio Caroline story?
TR: I knew of Radio Caroline, because my mother used to listen in, but I didn’t know about the situation. I didn’t know it was illegal to broadcast rock ‘n’ roll in the UK, which is bizarre to me. So that was quite interesting. But I had no in-depth knowledge of the radio situation.
J2: Did you have to go through the boat camp thing that the guys did?
TR: Yeah, I went to boat camp. That was really fun. I didn’t have the DJ lessons, though, which was distressing. But we went there and just stayed on the boat, and, y’know, it was kind of like a country house weekend. Richard and Emma had made the rooms really lovely…Emma Freud, the script editor and Richard’s partner…and put, like, candy in there. And we all played games and got to know one another. It was not a horrific experience. (Laughs) It was a very lovely one.
J2: So you didn’t feel outnumbered by the boys?
TR: It was great! (Laughs) They were really nice to me. But, yeah, there were very few girls, so they were very attentive to the ones that they did have, which was nice.
J2: How about working on the water? What was that like?
TL: I loved it. I mean, I love the sea, and…I think some people got seasick, but I really personally enjoyed it. It was heavenly. The sun was shining, we were on this big boat…it was glorious. It was really nice.
Journalist #3: You had the most wonderful costumes. I was just wondering: did you have any say in how you looked?
TL: Not really. I mean, we’d go for costume fittings, and then we’d look at lots of different dresses, and everyone would give an opinion on what was nice and not very nice. But it was fantastic to do, a lovely kind of fitting. The fashions really helped you get into the part.
J1: Were they based on actual designs from the era?
TL: Some of them were vintage, the real stuff. But of the ones that were made, yes, they were absolutely to pattern.
J1: Did you like the stuff?
TL: Yeah, but it was a bit short. I mean, literally, I had my fingers around my hem all day, trying to surreptitiously just pull it down. (Laughs) And some of the colors were slightly…I mean, I wear very dull colors. But it was great for getting into character. I do like it, but I don’t think I could personally pull it off in everyday life.
J1: Did you get to keep anything?
TL: No, because, y’know, they were mostly vintage.
J3: Were you very excited about Nick’s nude scene?
TL: (Laughs) Oh, that was funny because it was his first-ever bedroom scene and my first-ever bedroom scene…not that we were actually doing much, but we did have to lie sort of semi-nude under the sheets. And he was incredibly sort of vibrant and outgoing, but then he suddenly got very, like, “I’m engaged and I’m getting married!” And I was, “Okay, that’s good. I just won’t be touching you, then!” (Laughs) So it was kind of embarrassing, and then we both went on to do other bedroom scenes. But that was the best time!
BE: How was Tom (Sturridge) to work with?
TL: I’ve known Tom for years and years, he’s one of my best friends, so that…that was actually quite strange to work with Tom and to be his love interest. And I didn’t really want Richard to tell him that I’d been cast in the role, ‘cause I just thought it’d be hysterical to turn up and freak him out on the first day of filming, but Richard actually told him the night before. So Tom called me and said, “You’re doing what?” I think he was kind of cross with me. Yeah, it was funny to have to kiss him and stuff.
BE: How did you cross paths with him in the first place?
TL: I worked with a guy called Robert Pattinson, who is Tom’s best friend, and then he introduced us… (Starts to laugh) …and then Tom and I became best friends!
J2: How was it working with Richard Curtis? What kind of a director was he?
TL: Oh, I just absolutely love him to pieces. I mean, I’ve always wanted to…I love his films, I love the things he does, and he’s just the nicest, nicest person. You probably know from talking to everyone, I’ll bet, when you asked them about Richard. He’s just delightful, and he’s a lovely director and a really good person.
J2: Does he have a different style from the other directors you’ve worked with?
TL: He’s just really personable. He’s really human and friendly and never makes you feel uncomfortable or makes you feel you’re doing anything wrong or making wrong choices. He talks to you and says, “Why don’t we try it like this?” Or, “I love what you’re doing.” He’s very encouraging and…he’s very nice.
J1: Did you have a back story for your character? Because I thought it was a little strange that Bill Nighy’s character brings his niece aboard with all the guys there who aren’t around a lot of women a lot?
TL: Right, well, Bill clearly…he’s sent me clearly to be a birthday present. (Laughs) But I had problems with what she did to poor Carl. It was just so wrong, and no one would ever do this. Ever! But Richard was, like, “It’s the ‘60s, it’s free love, and she’s very young, and all the DJs on the boat are like rock stars or gods.” So…I don’t know, I tried to excuse it that way, but I did find it very hard to do. I was, like, “I don’t know how to say ‘sorry’ for this.” It’s just so awful! (Laughs)
J2: What was it like working with Philip Seymour Hoffman? Was there some kind of anticipation, since he showed up late? I mean, here’s this Oscar-winning, high caliber actor. Were you in awe of him at all?
TL: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it was funny, because we were all talking about him before he arrived, going, like, “I wonder what he’s gonna be like!” And there were all of these rumors that he was going to be a method actor, so we were going, “He’s a method actor, so he’s going to be very serious,” and we were winding ourselves up. But then he arrived and he was just very lovely! (Laughs) He was just a really nice guy and just kind of mucked in with everyone, and it was fine. But then someone pointed out that he’s playing a really nice character, so then we were, like, “Ah, well, maybe he’s just being really method!” But, no, he’s lovely, a very nice guy. He has a daughter called Tallulah. (Smiles)
J1: Do you stay in touch with your “Pride and Prejudice” costars?
TL: Yeah, actually, I got a message through from Ros (Rosamund Pike) today. They were all very sweet.
J1: That was a great film.
TL: Oh, thank you. That was my first film.
J1: Was it?
TL: Yeah, we started just the day after I left school, so it was my coming-of-age experience, and it was very, very nice.
J1: So where did you go to school?
TL: Haberdashers' Aske's.
J1: And you studied drama there?
TL: Oh, no, no, it was quite an academic school.
J1: Did you know that you wanted to be an actress?
TL: Yeah, which is why…my parents obviously wanted me to have an education, and they wanted me to go to university, but then I got the film, which started straight after that, and I just wanted to keep going with that for awhile and see what happened.
BE: How did you enjoy the experience of working on “Doctor Who”?
TL: (Cheerily) That was great! Yeah, David Tennant’s an awesome actor, and it was a really fun thing to do.
BE: And I’m sure the “St. Trinian’s” movies will probably never come out in the States because they’re so definitively British…
TL: Actually, “St. Trinian’s” is being released there this fall! (Laughs)
BE: Oh, really? I’m kind of surprised to hear that. I mean, I’m glad, of course. What was that experience like?
TL: Really fun. I mean, that’s what I’m known best for in England, and it was really great to get that. It made me fall in love with doing comedy, actually, because I’d not really done it before. But I loved it. And it was nice to work with so many girls, because…well, like you see on this film, it’s usually a lot of guys. And the uniforms were fantastic! (Laughs) So, yeah, it was really good. I hope American audiences will like it.
BE: How would you describe it to them? What’s a good point of comparison?
TL: It’s like “Mean Girls” crossed with “Harry Potter.” (Laughs) If you can imagine that!
BE: And there’s a sequel forthcoming, too, I understand?
TL: Yeah, there’s a sequel that’s being released here in December. But, obviously, I don’t know when it will come out there. I guess we’ll see how the first one does!
J1: So you have, like, special powers or something?
TL: No, no, no, it’s about an English girls boarding school, and the headmistress is Rupert Everett in drag. Basically, we’re the naughtiest school in the country, so we kind of blow things up, and…they’re kind of anarchic school girls. They wear their outfits with garters. We end up stealing a painting from the National Gallery, and Colin Firth is the education minister who’s trying to shut the school down. It’s a good, fun film. (Laughs) Something there for everyone!
J2: So you’re currently working on the new film by Christopher Nolan (“Inception”)?
TL: Yeah, I just wrapped.
J2: Can you tell us a little bit about that?
TL: Not really. (Laughs) Obviously, it was quite different from “Pirate Radio” and “St. Trinian’s”! It was a very serious set. It’s a psychological thriller. It was quite nice, though. I was filming it at the same time as doing “St. Trinian’s 2,” so it was nice to be able to go from one to the other, although confusing. (Laughs) Different things required for each!
BE: How was Christopher Nolan to work with as a director?
TL: Incredible. He runs one of the most business-like sets I’ve ever worked on. He’s just incredibly efficient, and everyone was really competent. It was…yeah, he’s definitely a master of the craft. It was very interesting.
J2: Do you know when that’s coming out?
TL: It’s coming out next July.
J1: I’m surprised that you haven’t been in a “Harry Potter” movie yet.
TL: I actually was an extra in the first “Harry Potter” movie. (Laughs) You, like, see me in pigtails when I was five. Okay, not five, but…
J1: Which part of the movie?
TL: I was in the Great Hall.
J1: That’s cool, though! So you’ve been doing this for a long time, then?
TL: Oh, no, that was just a fluke. It was filmed near where I lived. That doesn’t count as proper acting. (Laughs) I didn’t start that ‘til I was, like, 18.
J1: Still, it must’ve been fun.
TL: Oh, it was. It was good fun.
J1: Have you seen the American cut of “Pirate Radio” yet? Were there any of your scenes that were cut from the original?
TL: I don’t think so. I mean, we shot…the confusing thing is what was shot compared to what got seen, ‘cause we shot hours and hours and hours and hours of footage. But I don’t think it was anything of mine that was cut from one to the other. It’s kind of hard to know what was cut, ‘cause I think they just did it based on what the American audiences would most understand and enjoy. (Laughs) Just because British humor can be strange!
J2: So you’ve also seen the longer cut?
TL: Yeah, the longer cut is the British version. I think it’s, like, half an hour longer.
J2: Which do you prefer?
TL: I probably… (Hesitates) I don’t know. It’s hard. I mean, obviously, I’d watch a seven-hour Richard Curtis, so seeing more is nice. But…it’s nice to have an edited version as well! Hopefully there’s going to be loads on the DVD extras, because we did shoot a lot of material, some of which is pure comedy gold.
J1: So is it out on DVD here yet?
TL: I don’t know. Maybe…I think it’s just about to come out.
J1: Did you do anything…like, was there any kind of commentary or something that you were involved with?
TL: Just the EPK (electronic press kit). But no commentary. I think Richard must’ve done a director’s commentary, and I imagine that will be interesting.
J1: Were there any major flubs or anything?
TL: (Laughs) Yeah, there were obviously a lot of very funny people, so there was a lot of joking around and a lot of people just collapsing in tears, laughing.
J3: Can you speak to some of the differences between British and American humor?
TL: I think British humor is probably slightly more out there, and more extreme. I think we probably push it a bit more than is necessary. And, you know, we have kind of a very long tradition of strange slapstick comedy which probably manifests itself, and the dialogue in more modern comedy. I’m not sure.
BE: Who on this film did you not get to work with as much as you would’ve liked?
TL: Emma Thompson. It was really different, because the women never saw each other. We were just shipped on one at a time. We got to see all the boys, but Emma…I didn’t get to see hide nor hair of her, really.
BE: Anyone else within the cast, as far as the boys go?
TL: As far as the boys? (Laughs) I got to see the boys a lot! We were all sort of down in Dorset together, so I saw as much of the boys as I needed! I would’ve liked to have seen more girls.
J1: Did you at any point get to meet with Kenneth Branagh? Because I don’t think he ever interacts directly with the ship people.TL: Did I get to meet Kenneth Branagh? Yes. At the read-through. But you’re right: he did all his stuff first, so we didn’t really see him. I didn’t even think of that. (Turns back to me) Kenneth Branagh! (Laughs) But it’s funny, because you forget who was in the film if you didn’t see them, so it was, like, “Emma Thompson! I wish I had spent time with her…”