‘Ordinary World': Billie Joe Armstrong on Finding His Groove as an Actor & New Music
From writer/director Lee Kirk (The Giant Mechanical Man), Ordinary World is a highly entertaining dramedy about a former punk rocker (with a truly memorable and stand-out performance from Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) facing 40. Ten years after taking an indefinite hiatus from his band, Perry is having trouble reconciling being married to a highly successful, beautiful woman (Selma Blair) and having two great children, with his rock dreams never having come true. While he faces his brother (Chris Messina) at the family hardware store, his former bandmates (Fred Armisen, Kevin Corrigan), a former flame (Judy Greer) and his in-laws, he learns that what he wanted may not still be his ultimate dream.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Billie Joe Armstrong talked about how he came to be playing the lead role in this film, why he was adamant about playing live in it, finding his groove as an actor, knowing he’s always going to be a musician, for the rest of his life, having his own sons also fall in love with music, deciding to include the title track “Ordinary World” (which he wrote, along with three other original songs for the film) on the new Green Day album, Revolution Radio, and that putting out new music and taking it on tour never gets old.
Collider: This would have been a very difficult role to cast an actor in because they’d have to be able to sing, play guitar and just have the right vibe, but your agent recommended you to writer/director Lee Kirk. How did that happen? Were you looking to take on an acting role, and then they just came across this and thought it would be a good fit?
BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG: It came up after doing St. Jimmy on Broadway for American Idiot. I loved acting, and so I just kept my options open. As agent asked if I wanted to be represented, and I said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll give it a shot!” It was never something I had really put that much thought into. But then, Lee Kirk reached out and asked if I was interested, and I read the script and said, “Absolutely!”
When they cross over into acting, a lot of musicians or singers don’t want to take a movie where they have to sing in it, and it’s the same for a lot of dancers. Did you have any hesitation about doing a role like this and blurring those lines, or was that part of the appeal?
ARMSTRONG: That was part of the appeal because I was pretty adamant about wanting to play live. What I see in a lot of music movies, or rock ‘n’ roll movies, that feature a band is that they’re lip-synching. I was like, “Let’s just go in there and do it live.” I think that’s the big difference between this one and a lot of the other rock ‘n’ roll movies. They’re playing to tape, but Fred Armisen and I were actually in a rock ‘n’ roll bad together. I also really related to the character, especially when it came to the parenting part. I’m a pretty klutzy parent. My wife is the CEO of the family. I’m the fun guy, just trying to make it up as I go along, and that’s what the character is, too.
A lot of actors would get nervous about taking on a lead role like this. Were you nervous about this, at all, or did finding so much that you could relate to take a bit of that nervousness away?
ARMSTRONG: There were a couple of times, leading up to shooting, where I was like, “Oh, my god, what did I get myself into? Hopefully, I don’t ruin this guy’s precious script.” And then, after a couple of days of shooting, I started getting in the groove of it and it was really fun. I love being a rookie at stuff. It makes it feel vital. I love doing things I’ve never done before, and I love making stuff.
In this film, you’re essentially playing a guy who probably wished he could grow up to be you, as Billie Joe Armstrong. Was that ever a mind-fuck for you, personally, or did that help you understand where this guy was coming from, on an even deeper level, because you could have easily turned out to be this guy, yourself?
ARMSTRONG: That’s the gamble that you make when you decide to become a rock musician. It’s totally unpredictable. And it still is unpredictable. I have no idea where my career is going. I just make the best music that I possibly can. The main thing about the character is that he loves music, and he shares it with his daughter. He’s having a mid-life moment, and it’s a small moment, really. I think that the character actually really loves where he’s at, in his life. He’s just trying to have it make a little bit more sense while he figures out what he actually wants to do with it.
He also seems a little bit afraid to say that he’s okay with his life being different than maybe what he expected it would be.
ARMSTRONG: Yeah. There’s no doubt that he wants to be a father, and he absolutely loves his family, he loves his wife, he loves his brother, and he even loves his in-laws. It’s more about what his lifestyle is leading to. Does he want to work in a hardware store where he has no idea what he’s doing, or does he want to try to maintain being some kind of an artist? And he ends up teaching guitar lessons at the music store. No matter what, if you’re a parent, you have to make sacrifices. I think he’s a really great guy, that he’s made those sacrifices. I definitely can relate to that.
Did having your own kids make you approach music from a new perspective?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah. I know I’m always going to be a musician, for the rest of my life. That’s for sure. It’s about how you balance between being a musician and being a parent, and making it intertwined. With my family, my sons both love music and play music, and they’re really good at it. In one of the scenes, you can see a little cameo of my son, who’s in the party. You’ve just gotta bring it all back home.
What’s it like to get to watch your own kids fall in love with the thing that you love and have a passion for?
ARMSTRONG: It’s not only exciting to watch, but you can also speak a different language with each other. It’s a music language that’s unique, compared to what other parents do, especially in their professional lives. Not everybody can talk about being an accountant.
How closely did you collaborate with writer/director Leek Kirk on this? Did you have a hand in the dialogue and making sure that this feels authentic?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah. We stayed very close to each other, and Lee was amazing. We’d go through the script together, rehearsing it before every shot with the other actors. He was just easy to work with. We were able to put it in my language, which was really important.
How was the experience of forming this family bond, especially with the young girl, Madisyn Shipman?
ARMSTRONG: Madisyn was great. She’s a really talented kid. We got along great. It was fun, in between scenes, I’d pull out my iPod and show her different old rock ‘n’ roll and punk stuff, and she was really into it. We had a lot of fun together. We really were in sync with each other, a lot. She’s a great kid.
It seems like one of the biggest challenges of acting would be getting out of your own head, so that you can just live in the character you’re playing. Did the fact that this was such a quick 21-day shoot really help with that?
ARMSTRONG: I don’t know. I loved the independent spirit of the whole experience, instead of doing a big Hollywood picture, or something like that where I would have felt more out of place. The fact that I was taking naps in churches, in between takes, and there was that guerilla style of filmmaking, I felt more at home with that.
Were you always going to include the title track, “Ordinary World,” on the new Green Day album, Revolution Radio, or did you decide that, later on?
ARMSTRONG: I didn’t really know. When we were making the record, I just decided, at the last second. I thought, “This song makes a lot of sense, being on the album.”
What are you most excited about with the new album and getting to play the new music on tour? Are you still always excited about putting out new material?
ARMSTRONG: Oh, yeah, absolutely! This never gets old, and when it does, I’ll go do a movie. I like the fact that I can get into other projects because everything feels fresh when I come back to music. When I was done with the movie, I felt really compelled to start working on another album. Little did I know, they were going to come out back to back.
I’m a huge music person and I’ve always been a fan of Green Day. I’ve never been disappointed, anytime I’ve ever seen you guys in concert, which has been many times, over the years, especially since I’m also a concert photographer. And I have to say that American Idiot ranks as one of the best rock albums ever written, as far as I’m concerned, so thank you for that.
ARMSTRONG: Thank you!
Did you know just how special that album was, from the beginning, and that it would ultimately also lead you to Broadway?
ARMSTRONG: The record felt special to us, when we recorded it, with all of the artwork and the concept behind it and it being a rock opera, but we didn’t really know where it was going to go. It’s like I always say, you just follow the music. Not only was American Idiot a special moment for us, but it also led to Ordinary World, too.
Ordinary World is in theaters and on VOD.