The Verge: Aaron Johnson


In the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy, 19-year-old Aaron Johnson plays Lennon as an artist on the brink of potential and stardom. Were you to look at Johnson's slate of upcoming movies, you'd be tempted to call that typecasting. First, Johnson will be seen toplining the ultraviolent comic book adaptation Kick-Ass in April, then he'll follow that up with the U.S. debut of Nowhere Boy (currently undated by the Weinstein Co.) and Chatroom, from J-horror director Hideo Nakata (The Ring).

In Park City last month, Movieline sat down with Johnson on the eve of Nowhere Boy's Sundance premiere to discuss the perils of playing a pop culture icon, the essential advice he got from Nowhere Boy's director Sam Taylor-Wood (now Johnson's fiancee and pregnant with his child), and the superhero franchise he couldn't imagine stepping into after doing Kick-Ass.

Nowhere Boy's premiered in London and played at a couple of festivals around the world. Is it a different feel to show the film outside the UK?

It is. There's a thing about being British -- we did a special screening in Liverpool because Liverpool felt like they owned those boys. Also, that's where their families were, so a lot of John's family and friends came to that screening.

That must have been nerve-wracking.

Oh, it was quite mad! At the beginning of the screening, they said to us, "Oh, this person and that person will be here, John's cousins..." and we were like, "OK, who are they? Point them out to us." And they were like, "No no no, none of them have said who they are yet. We don't actually know." Well, f**k. [Laughs] The atmosphere before it started was like, "Oh s**t." Really tense.

How was it after the screening?

There was a little afterparty and they just came out of the woodwork. "Oh, I was his best mate!" Just slapping me on the back. I was really shocked, they were so complimentary and had tears in their eyes. They were really sweet towards me and thought Sam had done him justice. Things like that made me start to well up as well, so it was strange. Because I'm British, there's that sense of it, but because Lennon was so global and made such an impression, everyone felt like they knew a piece of him. It's really interesting to be in America with it, since there's a whole new energy and a whole new feeling. There's a huge base of Lennon fans here -- it's going to be exciting in New York, as well.


When you're dealing with someone whose later life is so well-documented, do you feel like you have material to work backwards from?

Yeah. I mean, the piece that we did was the only part of his life that wasn't documented -- there's no footage of that. There's f***ing biographies and that's how this came about, but then you use facts from everywhere. We had to do the research and it was kind of fun, although at first it was a little scary and you worry about what people will think. You just want to do your best.

Do you worry more before you shoot or during?

It was before we started. It was almost that nervousness that gives you the energy to go out and read and research as much as you can, because you just want to be confident that you know as much as you can so you can do it justice. It's that nervousness that gives you the reason to do the research, and then it's Sam who literally says, "We're not doing an impersonation. You don't need to worry what people think -- you've got to go with your gut and your feeling. The script is already there, so just embody the soul of Lennon and feel what he would have done in those circumstances." All that research and two or three months of filling your head with knowledge, you just sort of throw it away. It's embedded in you, and then you can take over and create and reenact what happened.

Did you have to learn guitar for the role?

Yeah, yeah.

Do you still play?

Um... [big laugh]

Maybe not so much.

I mean, when I go 'round to people's houses, if there's a guitar about. Anyone who's got a guitar, you like to pick it up. I can play a couple of songs, some 50's rock and roll, a bit of Elvis. That's it, really -- I'm not a musician, I'm not a singer. It's a lovely thing to take home with you and a nice skill to have learned, but it's nothing where I'm going to push myself the same way [after shooting]. When I was on the film, I was pushing myself really hard in a way where I wanted to play like Lennon, and sing like Elvis.

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