Sarah J. Edwards interviews and photographs Aaron Taylor-Johnson on the eve of his breakout role, playing a young John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy". In the feature, read all about this acting, singing, tap dancing and acrobat star's journey into making major film roles.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 3 Nø 1 print edition in 2009, this is an edited version.
Interview and Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
Styling by Charlie Anderson
Hair and Make Up by Gary Gill
Hair & Make-up Assistant: Lorna King
Location: Holborn, London
Aaron Johnson wanders into the studio, early. He presents himself with a mix of rock ‘n’ roll bad boy and softly spoken charm.
As I glance up at his unruly locks, pretty much the first thing he says is “You can’t cut my hair. They won’t let me.” Gary Gill works his magic and soon Aaron is trying out clothes with Sally while they trade remarks in Liverpudlian accents, “It’s a bit tight.” “Is it a bit tight?” – you’ll read why later. His anecdotes are sharp and laced with a cheeky sense of humour.
During the shoot, he falls into poses with ease and he answers direction with an ‘Alright, Babe.’ And ‘What’s that, hon?’ it’s hard to believe he’s just 18-years-old. More power to him, that kind of confidence will get him far.
Gearing up for the role of his life (so far), Aaron was handpicked to play the truly legendary John Lennon in Sam Taylor-Wood’s upcoming film, Nowhere Boy. Not only that he’s been on a rollercoaster adventure in a tiny amount of time, he’s just wrapped filming Matthew Vaughn’s action / comedy, Kick-Ass alongside Nicholas Cage and starred in The Illusionist with Ed Norton and he’s hungry for a whole lot more.
A few days later...
Hi Aaron, how are you?
"I’m great, thank you."
Did you enjoy the shoot?
"Yeah I loved it. They did a great job with combing back my crazy bouffant hair. I’m really getting into the whole Teddy Boy look especially with Nowhere Boy at the moment! I find these sorts of shoots a really nice treat to the other side of the job – just a nice relaxed atmosphere where you can mess about, play music, meet new people and just have a giggle!"
Have you had your haircut yet?
"No, not yet - Next week. I can’t wait to show them this issue!"
You started acting at six years old. What films do you think people would be most surprised to know you’re in?
"Most surprised? Possibly Kick-Ass, because I look so different from anything I’ve done, plus I’m playing an American so in a way it will be nice to surprise some people [and show] that I’m able to do something different. I like to be versatile and choose more challenging roles and of course, work with new people."
You studied at the Jackie Palmer Stage School, how old were you when you first joined?
"I joined when I was six and left at 17. Sadly I’m not with them anymore, but they’re still very close to me and have always been very supportive. They offered me a fantastic opportunity."
Can you tell us about your first day?
[Laughs] "My first day, I was scared as I had the little uniform on and a bag with my tap and jazz shoes! I think then we were the youngest boys class and I can’t remember how or even why but we learnt dance and drama – I loved it as it was just another activity I did after school on a Thursday. It wasn’t a big brainer and I didn’t go expecting anything, but to have such fun and meet so many new people was just another great way of socialising. I think nowadays drama school can be mistaken for a quick way to becoming famous – and that’s just something that isn’t me."
You’ve appeared in at least 23 TV episodes and films, what are the two characters you’ve played that are the most extreme and show your versatility?
"I think Danny in Dummy and Robbie in Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging. Both characters are inwardly kind and vulnerable but had very different ways externally of expressing their emotions and personalities."
Can you tell us about Dummy?
"The film is about the relationship between two brothers that come together over the loss of their mother. The younger deals with the loss of his mum by dressing up a mannequin – the dummy – in her clothes and carrying on. While the older brother – my character – Danny is trying to follow through his love for djing and turns towards sex and drugs as a means of release. [As a result] has no time to be the father figure. The two boys therefore have nothing in common [but] are brought together through the tragedy of losing their mother."
You not only act, but sing, play guitar, perform jazz, tap, and acrobatics. What other skills do you want to learn and apply in film and why?
"I learnt to horse ride on my Uncle’s Ranch in Texas and would like to play a cowboy. Combat skills would be brilliant too, as I’d love to play a soldier from any period in time. It would be cool to learn to ride a motorbike and be James Dean or Steve McQueen. Also, I really admire people who can speak another language. I’d love to be able to converse fluently in I don’t know say, Spanish or Japanese then use it in a movie, how cool would that be?"
You’ve worked with some of Hollywood’s greats, can you tell us about those experiences?
"I’ve been lucky enough to work with and learn from some fantastic actors, Julie Walters, Sean Bean, Rufus Sewell, Jackie Chan, Ed Norton to name but a few. Susan Sarandon was very sweet and lovely – as you would imagine and is a very inspirational woman. Nick Cage was awesome – we had a scene together in ‘Kick-Ass’ where we both had to scream our heads off whilst chained to chairs and being beaten up. Meeting people who are so expert in their craft only makes you want to push harder and strive to be better."
Let’s talk about your recent film Kick-Ass, can you give us your own synopsis, an unforgettable experience on set and the most valuable lesson you learnt?
"Kick-Ass is adapted from the Mark Miller comic series, about an ordinary teenage boy who is a comic book fan. He makes his own super hero costume and goes out on the streets of New York to fight crime only to find that he’s not a fighter and ends up badly beaten and in hospital. He then comes back new and improved as Kick-Ass version 2.0 and on the off chance gets caught on a camera phone saving a guy from a gang and becomes a local hero through the power of YouTube! In the meantime there’s a gangster cocaine ring being run by Frank D’Amico who’s being hunted down by two vigilantes dressed in disguise as superheroes, ‘Hit Girl’ and ‘Big Daddy.’ It’s a pretty dark comedy!"
Excitingly you’re set to play a teenage John Lennon in Matt Greenhalgh’s screenplay Nowhere Boy, which Sam Taylor-Wood is directing. Can you tell us about your auditioning process and how you won the role?
"Well at the time I was shooting Kick-Ass and on the days off I tried to fit in a time to read for ‘Nowhere Boy.’ On the set of ‘Kick-Ass’ at lunch I had all the documentaries of Lennon laid out and was jumping from an American to Liverpudlian accent in the space of minutes. I was really fortunate to click with the director Sam, as I believe there were many musicians in mind for the role. I’m just really happy I can be a part of such a fantastic and exciting project!"
How far along is the process?
"I’ve started some pre-recordings, which was just amazing, and I’ve also done some voice coaching."
How does it feel to know you’ll be playing one of our biggest icons and most loved musicians?
"It’s something I’m trying not to think about just yet as it’s pretty daunting. I just want to do him justice. It’s the only part of his life that wasn’t filmed or documented so not many people know the full story."