From writer/director Richard Curtis (Love Actually), About Time is charming, endearing, heart-warming and, at times, a real tear-jerker. The story follows Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson), whose father (Bill Nighy) tells him, at the age of 21, that the men in their family have always had the ability to travel through time. He can’t change history, but he can make his world, and the life that he shares with his beautiful girlfriend Mary (Rachel McAdams), a better place.
At the film’s press day, singer/songwriter Ben Folds, whose song “The Luckiest” is prominently featured, talked about what it’s like to have the song in the movie, how often people use his music in the wrong context, the times he’s had missed opportunities because of some licensing issue that he wasn’t aware of, what he likes about Richard Curtis’ movies, his favorite movie soundtrack, and preparing to head out on tour with symphony orchestras. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
BEN FOLDS: It was amazing! A really great movie like this one is such a high art form that involves so much. What I do is much simpler. I wrote this song 10 years ago, for a movie. It was deleted from the movie, along with the horse it rode in on. Now, it’s found a home, which is awesome. Richard [Curtis] did the heavy lifting. He showed me what the song really is. I wrote something and I moved on. You live the movie and the song gets this context, which is the highest honor the song can have. The movie itself transcended the song being in it ‘cause I actually forgot that my song was in it. I got to the end, and I was like, “Oh, they played it, didn’t they?” It was played a few times. I saw it with an audience and without an audience. Seeing it with an audience and hearing people sniffle, from the middle all the way out, it’s great. This is a situation where it looks like music placement, but it’s actually life context, and that’s the best you can hope for.
Has the opposite ever happened to you, where someone uses your music and the context is just all wrong?
FOLDS: You can’t really control how people hear stuff. It’s hard to remember that. I have to let go of it. I write a song, and no offense to my songs, but they’re pretty slutty. They’re happy to sleep with bad movies, too. It does seem like they’re misunderstood sometimes, but you learn something about that, too. People get really caught up and go, “I’m not gonna put my song in this commercial. I’m not gonna put my song in this.” But if someone hears your song as life insurance music, you can’t change that. Don’t write a life insurance commercial, the next time you write a song. If you do, cash in. That’s fine. That’s good. But this is more than all of that. The movie is so great.
Richard Curtis wrote About Time while he was listening to your music. Has any other filmmaker or artist ever told you about their experience with your music?
FOLDS: Well, I was always really jealous of Aimee Mann for what happened with Magnolia ‘cause that was so inspired from that. I thought, “Wow, how amazing would that be!” And that’s what this is. I don’t think it happens very often, in general. I think people use temp music quite a bit, but the people who write the temp music don’t ever really learn that their music was inspiring a movie. I think a lot of good directors listen to music while they’re working. The songs just don’t become a part of the film. They’re replaced.
How did you actually find out that Richard Curtis wanted to use your song in the movie? Did he reach out to you personally?
FOLDS: Yeah, he wrote me an email. It came through Nick Hornby, the British novelist. Nick is a friend of mine and we’ve worked together a lot. Nick said, “Richard is making a movie and I think it’s going to be brilliant. He’d like to get in touch with you.” And he did, and I said, “Yeah, absolutely! No problem!”
FOLDS: You never know. The music business is a weird business. Sometimes licensing doesn’t happen because some business component that you never knew about stops it. I’ve had so many instances where people have said, “We really wanted to used your song,” for this or that, and it’s something I love and I’m like, “Really, my song was almost in that?!” And they say, “Yeah, but your people were douchebags.” It happens. I think I’ve fixed all of those problems now. My business has gotten simpler and simpler. Now, I’m at a point in my career where I have the luxury of getting an email from Richard Curtis, rather than having his people contact my people. That’s something that takes awhile.
I remember that Baz Luhrmann got in touch with me, years and years ago, about using my song in a movie, and I was not really realizing what that meant. I told him I didn’t think I could do it because what he was asking for is not really what I did, and I recommended somebody else who had a really big hit from it. I was right. But now, I would be like, “I’ll write that!,” because you realize how important it is. But, Baz Luhrmann was awesome. That was the best phone conversation I’ve ever had. He was all over the place. It was 45 minutes of him changing subjects and speaking faster than he could think. It was awesome! I was like, “This guy is really cool!” He was in the middle of the desert, somewhere in Australia, filming Romeo & Juliet.
Would you want to use time travel to do anything over or relive any moments?
FOLDS: No, I don’t think so. I would probably just fuck it up the same way. That’s not something the movie made me wonder. But, I took it really seriously. I think Richard took the movie really seriously. He says that he planned for this to be his last movie, and part of the reason for making the movie was that you get one life and it needs to be lived to its fullest, every day. People tell you that, and you hear it in movies and songs, but this movie actually gets that across. So, I don’t think I’d want to go back and do anything over.
Did you get to go on set, at all?
FOLDS: No, I wasn’t involved in the making of any of it. I was just delivered in a nice car to a seat in a movie theater. It was amazing! I didn’t do anything.
FOLDS: I think Richard, as an institution, holds a special place, even back to his work in comedy in England. He makes stuff that is very artful without being arty. It just speaks and it delivers. When you think about it, there aren’t many successes like that. That’s why it was a no-brainer to say yes. I totally trusted him to do something with this because of that. They’re great movies. They could almost be corny, but they’re not, at all. That’s the way my music is. You almost want to roll your eyes at “The Luckiest.” I’m pretty critical, but I can’t quite do that because I feel like it’s real.
When you look at your own discography, do you see a difference between the Ben Folds stuff and the Ben Folds Five stuff?
FOLDS: In presentation, I do. Embarrassingly, the songs I wrote when I was 12 years old, are similar to what I write now. And then, I went through a period when I was in high school where all the songs had really stupid titles, like “Having Two Dicks is Cool.”
Do you have any favorite soundtracks?
FOLDS: About Time has a really great soundtrack. The Graduate is one of my favorite soundtracks. “Mrs. Robinson” is played as backdrop music for quite a bit of the movie, and it means something different every time you hear it. And then, you finally hear the words when he’s driving up the PCH. That’s pretty bad-ass. I like that one. That’s a good one. That was a pretty great use of a soundtrack.
Is there more touring or recording coming up for you?
FOLDS: I’m actually finishing a piano concerto right now, and that has been a lot of work. It’s a big thing. That premieres in March, and I will take the next 18 months and tour with symphony orchestras. I’ve done a lot of work with orchestras. But, this will be based on that piece and some chamber music that I’m writing. I hope we’ll go to a big chunk of the world. It’s hard to book a lot of territories with symphony orchestras. You have to be fairly popular to rouse that kind of event. All of the U.S. dates are in, and Australia and the U.K. The rest of it will hopefully come together. I’d like to see Japan happen.
About Time is now playing in theaters.