The fantasy romance Upside Down, from writer/director Juan Solanas (The Man Without A Head), tells the uniquely original story of an interplanetary dystopian romance, in which opposite gravities literally keep the young lovers apart. Adam (Jim Sturgess) lives on the poverty-stricken planet below while Eden (Kirsten Dunst) is on the wealthy, exploitative world above, and even though their planets are so close that their highest mountain peaks almost touch, the numerous obstacles they much overcome to be together seem insurmountable.
At the film’s press day, actor Jim Sturgess spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how he came to be a part of the film, what interested him about the story and character, the director’s vision for the fantasy landscape, how stunning and beautiful he found the finished product, and what it’s like to have to react to your own imagination. He also talked about the audition process he went through when he was vying for the lead role (which ultimately went to Chris Pratt) in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and that he never even got to read any of the material, as well as his hopes to make the indie film The Big Shoe (which is also set to star Kristen Stewart and Elizabeth Banks), about an overbearing mom who hires a therapist to work with her shoe-designing son. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JIM STURGESS: It was a bit of both. They sent me the script, and I knew that they were interested in me for the part. They were like, “The director would love to meet you.” You read a bunch of scripts, and then suddenly you read something that is just so vastly different from a lot of the other stuff that you’ve been reading, so instantly you’re like, “Oh, what’s this?” I was definitely confused by it, in the beginning, just because I couldn’t imagine it in my mind. I had my own version of it in my head, which was completely different from what (writer/director) Juan [Solanas] was thinking, luckily so. It was just one of those things. When you’re picking films, you don’t know why you gravitate towards something. It could be for a multitude of reasons. For me, it was literally because I’d just finished doing a film called The Way Back. That was a huge reason for why I just wanted to do something totally different from that film, which was so grounded in harsh reality and was a really tough shoot. Every film has a different challenge, but I just wanted something that was completely different and that was set in a fantasy landscape.
Is this the kind of project that you really did have to meet with the director on, to get an understanding for his vision for the story?
STURGESS: It was all about who was going to make this and who the person was, behind the idea. It was a huge leap of faith. You don’t know what it’s going to look like, visually. You hope the person that’s making it has got some great vision that you can jump on board and be a part of. It was so clear, the minute I met Juan. He just blew my mind, as a personality and as a passionate filmmaker. He told me all about this vision that he had, and how he’d been working for the last five or six years, just to try to make this into a film. He showed me all of his ideas, and I was just like, “Wow, that’s amazing!” We’ve all had a crazy dream where we thought, “Oh, I’ll try to write that down,” but the minute you try to write it down, it just seems totally absurd. So, for someone to actually follow that through and go through the steps, that takes a particular kind of mind-set and a particular kind of person. So, the minute I met him, I thought, “Wow, okay, this could be really exciting.”
STURGESS: Totally! I was so excited to actually sit down and watch the movie. I still haven’t watched it in a cinema, on a big screen with an audience. It’s one thing to watch it on a big TV to get a sense of what they had achieved. I was just blown away by the fact that they could use CGI in a really artistic way and make the film look really stunning and beautiful. It felt very unique, in that way.
Don’t you feel like this film is such a big, high-concept story, but that it’s also so intimate because most of it is just the interactions between Adam and Eden?
STURGESS: Yeah, you could tell this story in any surroundings. It’s a tried and tested classic love story, but it’s in this amazing fantastical world. It’s just about a guy who’s fallen in love, who’s not really allowed to be with the girl, for whatever reasons, and he just wants to try to get her back.
As an actor, do you enjoy fully using your imagination and working with the green screen, or do you prefer to feel more grounded in a reality where things are more tangible?
STURGESS: I don’t know. It’s really a subconscious process, and it’s really weird to try to talk it out. With any film, the minute they shout, “Action!,” you just lose yourself in that moment and in that scene and, for this, it was no different, really. When I think back to it, it actually was crazy. I was talking to nothing up in the sky and pretending to act like that was just totally normal. But, it was fun to just have to push my acting that little bit harder. There’s nothing worse than watching a film set on green screen where you feel like the actors are pretty disconnected. I’ve seen a few movies like that. And Juan was so passionate and obsessed by wanting it to just feel as real as possible. You definitely have to work a bit harder. Not everything is there to play for. You can’t just react. You have to imagine, and then react off of your own imagination.
You recently talked about the audition process you went through when you were vying for the lead role in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which you said even included a costume fitting. How difficult is it to get further and further down the road for a role and get more attached to the character, only to have it ultimately go to someone else?
STURGESS: I worked as an actor for a few years before anything happened, so I’m used to going up for auditions, and then not getting the role. But sometimes I don’t read the book of the film, in case I just totally fall in love with it, and then it just becomes an obsession and you want to do it so much because you’ve completely fallen in love with the story and the characters. And then, if the part doesn’t go your way, it’s heartbreaking. So, there’s a certain amount of distance you have to keep before you can throw yourself in 100%. But with that, I didn’t really know much. They don’t tell you too much about what you’re actually getting yourself into. You’re just going along for the ride and seeing how far you can take it. I never felt connected to the material because I never read any material.
Is The Big Shoe (which is also set to star Kristen Stewart and Elizabeth Banks) the film that you’ll do next?
STURGESS: The Big Shoe is an independent film, and there are always financial problems, so hopefully something will happen.
What appealed to you about that story?
STURGESS: It’s about reading something that’s like nothing you’ve ever read before. It’s a really interesting character and a really interesting world that the director has conjured up. You look at the director and see who’s behind it. Steven Shainberg, who’s behind Secretary and Fur, lives in his own universe, and those are the best artists to work with. From an acting point of view, you just visit their headspace for that period of time and live in their madness. You get to be a guest in their head. Those people are the most interesting people to attach yourself to. I just thought it was a really unique and brilliant idea, and it says a lot about art versus commerce. The story is really about the difference between making a piece of art and making something just to sell.
Upside Down opens in theaters on March 15th.