By :Billy Gil | Posted: 23 Dec 2009
Jim Sturgess has been able to quietly descend into Hollywood while retaining a certain underground cool. He’s taken lead roles in such Hollywood films as 21 and Across the Universe, but the versatile actor doesn’t want to take the easy way out. His latest film, 50 Dead Men Walking, occasionally put him in danger as he played real-life Irish operative for the British police, embedded in the IRA, Martin McGartland.
“I wanted to do something more gritty. I think in acting you’re given the ability to do that, to go from the bright lights of Vegas to the gritty streets of Belfast,” he said, referring to the settings of 21 and 50 Dead Men Walking, respectively. “As far as my job was concerned, it was exactly the same [as a bigger Hollywood film] — acting is sort of acting no matter who’s filming. When the film came out, it was another sort of drive and passion to get people to go and see it because I genuinely think it’s a great film. And it’s hard when it doesn’t get the attention that some of the films with more of the machine behind it get.”
So it’s a good thing the film is coming to DVD and Blu-ray Disc Jan. 5 from Phase 4 (both versions are $29.99).
“I think the economic climate is what it is, and when people go to the cinema, they’re more interested in seeing the larger, special-effects films,” Sturgess said. “Hopefully this film will find its life on DVD.”
In the film, based on McGartland’s memoir of the same name, Sturgess plays a young man in Belfast, Ireland who gets by selling stolen goods door-to-door — at the time, jobs were tight. After being arrested by the British police, who occupied the area in a time in which the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) fought them for independence from the United Kingdom, he agrees to join the IRA and become an informant, after his British mentor (played by Ben Kingsley, expertly, of course) promises he’ll save lives — and gives him a car and money he couldn’t easily acquire otherwise.
“When I read the script, I thought it was made up,” Sturgess said. “When I believed it was a work of fiction, I thought it was great story even then.”
Sturgess said he got himself to Belfast to spend as much time there as possible before shooting and learn the difficult, thick Belfast accent and absorb the culture.
“We kind of really immersed ourselves in it,” he said, saying the cast and crew spent 13 to 14 weeks in Belfast. “Even when I spoke to my mom, I was speaking in an Irish accent.”
Sturgess said that it may have been dangerous at times to film in a place still plagued by unrest — at the time of the film’s release, McGartland was still in hiding, after surviving being shot six times in 1999. A camera captured much of the experience of filming there, Sturgess said, some of the footage of which can be found in behind-the-scenes featurettes on the disc.
“While we were filming, I was kind of blissfully unaware,” Sturgess said. “I was in a lot more danger than I was aware of, I think. There were certain areas we filmed in that it was kind of thin ice. … There were times where kids were throwing things at me and shouting obscenities. I remember one kid chucked a stone at my head. That was quite a shock.”
It was a far cry from playing cards in Vegas or singing Beatles songs in Across the Universe, Sturgess said. And, speaking of the Beatles, Sturgess said he hasn’t tried Beatles Rock Band yet.
“I’m hoping to get it for Christmas,” he said.
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