When it comes to professional and personal experiences, none will top filming Cloud Atlas for Jim Sturgess. “I’m mourning the experience so much. I don’t want this to end,” Sturgess said in our exclusive interview.
After a career that found him going from the grounded in reality, 21, to the wildly romantic, One Day, his latest film allowed the UK actor to simultaneously appear in a part sci-fi epic, part period piece and all glorious cinematic experience… as we state in our Cloud Atlas review.
Sturgess tackled six parts in the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer film, most notably Adam Ewing, the nineteenth century man stuck on a ship crossing the planet for his father’s business. That part of the six connected stories found him literally going tete-a-tete with none other than Tom Hanks. The legendary actor’s character is a doctor charged with saving Ewing’s life… or is he?
It was a chance to bask in greatness for the actor, but also to discover the incredibly human side of the two-time Oscar winner. “You just have to hang out with him and see he’s a force of nature. Not only is he super crazy smart, but he’s ridiculously nice and hilariously funny. When he’s working, he’s on,” Sturgess said of Hanks.
Sturgess then shares exclusively a story of filming that brought it all home to him when it comes to summing up the Tom Hanks experience for a young actor.
“It was the very first time I did a scene with him. He’s Tom Hanks, right? He’s given a million incredible performances. We did a scene where the camera was on him and he did his bits, and then it was on me while he was doing his bits behind the camera. Now, it’s a known fact when you’re acting, you’re always better behind camera,” he said and laughed.
“And Tom Hanks goes, ‘Damn it, why am I always so much better behind the camera?’ To hear him say that, and it’s an anxiety that you always have when you’re first starting out, to hear Tom Hanks say that… that was really good.”
The entire Cloud Atlas creative process was also an inspiration. “Everything ticked -- everything. There was a real team spirit. Every Sunday Tom (Hanks) would organize a film night where we’d head to the local cinema and then go back to his house for pizza and beer,” Sturgess recalled. Credit for that familial feel emanated from the top. “That of course started with the Wachowskis."
It’s unusual for a performer to appear in a film with two directors, much less three. But when it came to the Wachowskis and Tykwer, it was more of a three-headed Einstein of the film world than a hindrance. “It never felt confusing or overbearing,” Sturgess said. “It was interesting; three directors stand around and give you their ideas. They were so good.”
When the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Fest, Sturgess’ feelings of being part of something sensational went even further once he witnessed the film’s glory with an audience. “When we watched it in Toronto, people were laughing and clapping throughout. When Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) escapes the old people’s home, there was a giant swell of applause and cheers. I thought, ‘Wow, this is great,’” Sturgess said and smiled.
Sturgess joined the audience in laughing at parts of the film, much to the surprise of the film’s star. “I couldn’t believe how comedic a lot of it is. I didn’t see that while we were filming. It was a pleasure to watch it and hear people laughing.”
Another scene Movie Fanatic adored is in a Scottish bar when Sturgess is made up like a soccer hooligan. At our screening, the audience hooted and howled during the quick brawl that Sturgess admitted was actually much longer. “They cut so much down! We had this whole Spaghetti Western bar fight that we rehearsed for days and days. In the end, it’s a three-hour film, something had to go,” he said.
“That scene was huge fun. It was a play day, really. There was no weight of the story on your shoulders. You can just come in and rip it up.”
Makeup design, clearly, was a key to Cloud Atlas’ success. Sturgess believes that as he was playing different people, emerging from the makeup trailer was a huge push toward capturing the characters.
“That’s when it all came to life -- before you couldn’t quite imagine it. It makes you feel the way you should be feeling. By the time you got to set, you were lost in that world,” Sturgess said. “I’m used to putting on a pair of shoes and feeling like the character. Here… I got to put on a whole new face!”