Jim Sturgess isn't known for action films, but he shows off his ability to handle intense action scenes with his starring role in Cloud Atlas, directed by Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. And in addition to tackling action-heavy sequences, Sturgess had to play multiple characters - including one of a different race - in the complicated ensemble drama based on the bestselling book by David Mitchell.
Discussing the Warner Bros Pictures release, Sturgess talked about the make-up process, his character's arc, and working with the Cloud Atlas filmmaking team.
On the challenge of playing so many different characters in one movie:
"Yeah, massively. You knew that this was a once in a lifetime gig. You'd never get the opportunity to do it - not even playing multiple characters, but multiple characters from different ages and genders and race. That's unheard of to sort of get to play like that, to switch a race or to change your gender. It was fun, and it just became a playful process because it had to be. If we all took it so seriously, it would have been so stressful. So everybody just kind of jumped in feet-first and was like, 'All right, you want me to try on this big giant nose and these fake teeth. I'll do that.'"
"Luckily, the idea comes from a beautiful greater idea of transcending all of those things to play these souls. So to be able to do it and feel excited about the bigger idea that you're trying to convey in the film, but also just have a lot of fun dressing up, yeah, it was a once in a lifetime thing. I wish every film was like that."
On when he knew he'd be playing multiple characters:
"I was told, for me, at the very beginning I was told two parts. I was told Adam Ewing and the Hae-Joo Chang characters. So obviously I was like, 'I don't understand why you want me to play an Asian man.' I was very cautious about that; I wanted to make sure it was okay for me to do that. So I spoke to Andy and Lana and I asked them, 'Why do you want me to do this?' And then they explained how necessary it was for the actor who plays Adam Ewing to have to play Hae-Joo Chang. It's a development of the same soul. So I like, 'Okay, that sounds interesting.' And then once I knew that everybody was doing it, Doona was going to play by wife as Tilda, Halle Berry would be a Korean old man or whatever, I thought, 'Okay, this is going to be really exciting.' I couldn't have jumped in any quicker after that."
On looking in the mirror in make-up:
"We had some pretty scary Chang make-up tests where it didn't quite work. [Laughing] But that was just the process of where you knew you had to find something that would work for the film. We had a little bit of room to play with, being that it's set so far in the future where interracial relationships are really happening. But it was definitely like you sit in the chair and go, 'Is this going to be okay? I don't know.' But I just had total faith in Andy and Lana and Tom that they wouldn't let anything go by that wasn't going to work."
On his reaction to the first complete make-up job for the film:
"It was weird. I never really saw it in its full [effect] until I saw the film in Toronto. In the beginning I was like, 'Oh god, there's Chang on screen,' sort of thing. And then after a period of time - which is kind of like what it felt like when we were filming it - that just became the way he looked. It wasn't like, 'Is he Asian?' It was just, 'That's Chang. That's the way Chang looks.'"
On the futuristic action scenes in Cloud Atlas:
"We were really at the mercy of Andy and Lana at the point, and they're two of the best people to be at the mercy of when it comes to sci-fi. There were moments when you're like, 'It doesn't get better than this,' when you're in a futuristic landscape."
On being an action star:
"I've never done that before, really, and it was hard work actually. I had to stop drinking beer for a start. [laughing] Only on the weekends... It was a new experience and we had these stunt training rehearsals that we had to do which we had to do quite a lot of. I was surprised how much work goes into such a small sequence. When you watch it in the film it lasts 20 seconds, but that was a good months-worth of learning this kind of dance and fine-tuning it. When we started rehearsal we had to do it on the floor, which was one thing, but then once they put you up on a plank sort of 10 feet up in the air where you can fall off, it becomes a whole other thing. And then they just kept altering it. The plank got thinner and that was harder again. And then the plank wasn't a plank, it was this kind of grid thing with bits sticking out of it. And then it was like, 'Actually, you're not going to do it in shoes, you're going to do it barefoot.' It was constantly new things being thrown to the point where the very last thing was, 'And you're going to do it with your shirt off.' And then it was like, 'F**k! Now I'm panicking!'
"But it was cool. As an actor you're blessed that you get to travel through time to some extent when you play different characters from different period of times. I've never been to the future so that was awesome. I loved it."