The Last Five Years is a musical chronicling the ups and downs of a love affair and marriage, over a five-year period, and the roller coaster of emotions are played out beautifully by the film’s stars, Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. With a story that is told almost entirely through song, Jamie (Jordan) is a talented up-and-coming novelist who falls in love with Cathy (Kendrick), a struggling actress, but as they grow and change, over the years, they also drift apart.
At the film’s press day, actor Jeremy Jordan spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why this was such a dream project, that he’d only ever heard the soundtrack but not seen the stage production, why this is not your typical musical, telling all of the relationship highs and lows through song, not understanding why musicals often get such a bad rap, why singing most of the songs live was so crucial to the emotion of the film, and how much he enjoyed working with co-star Anna Kendrick.
JEREMY JORDAN: For me, I’m a musical guy, but I also love film and television, as well. Getting to do one of the most intimate musical stories ever written, and getting to bring that to life, it was really a dream project. It’s something I’ve loved since the first album came out, 10 or 12 years ago.
Had you ever seen the stage production?
JORDAN: I’ve never seen it. I’ve only ever heard the soundtrack. I was in college when it came out, and I fell in love with it, immediately. Being pretty much sung through, you get the whole story. So, by the time the audition came in 2013, I knew it all. I’d never seen it, which I think was helpful, in putting it into film context. I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what it would look like. Although I had many preconceived notions of what it sounded like, so I had to unlearn all of the -isms of the original performer. But, I shed that eventually. Once I got cast, I just didn’t listen to it again. We did an early recording for the album. We did most of it live, but when we recorded the band, we did vocals along with it, so they gave us the vocals for the songs, and I would just listen to that. I finally put me in my head, and not some other guy, which was nice.
What were the aspects of this that you found yourself really drawn to?
JORDAN: I think it’s an incredibly well-written portrayal of an incredibly common relationship. Everybody has those relationships that have failed, where people fall in love and then just lose the connection, for whatever reason. For Jamie and Cathy, I think it’s ‘cause they didn’t listen to each other and didn’t really stay true to who they were. That ultimately took them apart, and they also learned from that. I don’t think a musical has ever really told a story this succinctly and this intimately. Musicals generally have a much grander scope. And because there are only two characters, you’re really able to focus on every little nuance of their relationship. So much of it is relatable and understandable and applicable to real life, and experiences that we’ve all had. That’s certainly what drew me to it.
This is a musical, but it’s not a show tune-y musical. It has so many layers of emotion, in that it’s real, it’s intense, it’s sexy and it’s funny, which is not what you expect from something like this. Was that part of the appeal, for you?
JORDAN: Yeah, it feels like you’re going to have to go through it, but then you feel all of the highs, as well. In that way, it’s like an indie movie. When you think of an indie movie vs. a blockbuster movie, generally the indie movie is going to have a lot more weight to it and a lot more meat to it. I think the same goes with this vs. a big musical. It allows you to tell a real story about two people, in a really interesting way that just happens to be sung. What I love about doing musical work is that it heightens the emotion. There’s a great adage that says we sing because what we have to express can’t be spoken, just using words. When you’re just using words, you’re limiting yourself to everyday casual speak. As soon as you start to sing, you can unlock the stuff that’s underneath. That’s what this digs into. It digs into those moments where it gets unleashed. The inner moments are really alive. You really understand the perspective of these two people.
It’s funny because when you think about advertising for musicals lately, and you think about Into the Woods and some of the Les Mis trailers and even Frozen, all of the initial ads for those movies had no signing in it. It’s because people have this notion of what a musical is. They like to woo them in with ads that don’t use that. Ours is not that, but it’s all song through. It’s not what you expect when you are going to see a musical. So, when you come to see this movie, put that out of your brain. The whole thing is sung, but you’re not there to watch a musical. You’re there to watch a love story, told through song. It’s like going to a really well-written concert that tells us a story. People love music, they love songs and they love movies. I just don’t understand how, along the way, a musical become something that was less than both of those, instead of being something that is an incredible merge of two things that people love. Suddenly, it turns into something where people are like, “Oh, god, that sounds stupid!” This movie is a movie before it’s a musical. The passion and the lyrics and the story come before the songs. The songs just take it to another level.
JORDAN: Yeah, the pacing certainly helped, although it was very different. We sang almost all of this stuff live, which we very rarely did on Smash, just because of time constraints and camera stuff. It has to do with production and editing, and all that sort of stuff. But, we weren’t concerned with all of that. We were going to sing everything live. When you’re telling a whole story through song, you can’t just create a character in a sound booth, and then lip-sync whatever you created. You’d be stuck with no room to grow or play with the emotions of a scene. You don’t go into a sound booth and record all of your dialogue for a spoken scene, and then go in and lip-sync it later and try to make it perfect. That would be completely asinine, so why would you do it for a musical? That doesn’t make any sense to me. So, we didn’t do that. And I think the movie is well-served by that.
When so much of the emotion comes through the songs, is it crucial to sing live to really keep you in each moment?
JORDAN: Think of your favorite singer/songwriter who sings with emotion and power, and now put that into a situation where you’re in a scene. That sounds thrilling to me. It’s not like you’re putting a Britney Spears pop song into a scene in a movie. That’s not what we’re going for. We’re going for deep, intimate, real, passionate, heartfelt storytelling. Each take is different, and each take allows you to explore something different or more, or go further or pull back, or change something. You can add a breath in a place that you’ve never tried. There are endless possibilities to how you can interpret the material, that way.
Because this story is about the relationship between Jamie and Cathy, that chemistry and dynamic is so important. Did that come immediately for you and Anna Kendrick?
JORDAN: Yeah, we developed chemistry on set, very well. We were very open to our characters. The material is well-written, so we were striving to lift our acting up to the level of the material. We both really loved it so much and we wanted it to be so great that we threw everything we had into it. We still don’t really know each other very well. We had a few drinks, the first day we got together, and we learned some fun stories, but then, two and a half weeks was over and we went our separate ways. You just dive in and allow yourself to fall in love, and then you allow yourself to feel hatred and pain. You just have to be open and receptive to that energy from the other person. Anna was very giving, and also very receptive, so it was a cake walk to go to those places with her.
The Last Five Years is now playing in theaters and on VOD, and the soundtrack is available on iTunes.