KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS IN NOWHERE BOY.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WEINSTEIN COMPANY/LIAM DANIEL.
While most rock-and-roll biographies follow a predictable narrative—i.e., a meteoric rise (groupies), a fall from grace (drugs), and redemption (babies and/or Grammys)—the new film Nowhere Boy takes a different angle, exploring the formative years of John Lennon. Never mentioning the word "Beatles," the film shows Lennon (played by the electric Aaron Johnson) coming of age through the influence of music and a few film reels of swivel-hipped Elvis. Raised by his strict Aunt Mimi, the story follows the rebellious Lennon as he reconnects with his scandalous, fun-loving mother at fifteen. As Lennon struggles to define himself, he's stranded between these two women like opposing magnetic poles in his life. Playing the conservative Aunt Mimi, Kristin Scott Thomas creates a striking portrait of a woman rarely able or willing to show her affection for the boy she loves like a son. It's a role that could come across as an "evil stepmother" in the hands of a less skilled actor. But Scott Thomas manages to show the tumult of emotions underneath the Mimi's brittle severity. We caught up with the exquisite Kristin Scott Thomas to talk about her favorite Beatles memory and why she's ignoring Hollywood.
GILLIAN MOHNEY: What about Mimi appealed to you?
KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS: I really liked Mimi because I liked the tough-love thing, and I didn't want anyone else to play her. I felt that she's somebody who has been undervalued and criticized but actually she was the most fantastic woman. She really encouraged John to explore different things, she got him into reading and listening to music, [but] she had very strict values, and she was very severe. She gave him a structure and I think that's amazingly important, if he hadn't had a structure he wouldn't be able to rebel in the way that he did, and give us all the fantastic things that he did.
MOHNEY: There's so much footage of John Lennon and the Beatles, but I'm assuming that there's not that much of his Aunt Mimi—did that make playing her more difficult?
SCOTT THOMAS: There was a little bit of footage that I was able to use to get the accent right. [But] it's not a replica, it's a story about a boy discovering his talent and it explores the sources of that talent, and the relationships he has with his women, and his gift. That's what we were talking about—this is a love affair, and a story about families, and how John Lennon became John Lennon.
MOHNEY: It's really a coming of age story, in some ways you don't even recognize him as John Lennon—it could be any teenager.
SCOTT THOMAS: I think that's why the film is so moving. He doesn't feel removed and iconic; he just feels like a kid. That's why you can identify with it and in the end you're just like a wreck. He takes so much beating, physical beating. But... at the same time it's somewhat of an inspiration, because someone can survive through all of that and [still] give us all these amazing things. I think anyone who has a slight inkling of talent should go see that film, and get inspired...but it may inspire all sorts of people we would rather not want inspired. You never know. [LAUGHS]
MOHNEY: Did you use any music to bring out the character of Mimi?
SCOTT THOMAS: Well, no; I do listen to a lot of stuff, I like my music, but can't remember what I was listening to then. I think I was listening to something unlikely, not Mimi-esque at all. I find that it's hard to, like I can't read novels when I'm making a film, because it's too distracting, and you carry the emotion of the thing that you're reading.
MOHNEY: Absolutely! When you are reading, it can color your whole world, which is great about reading. You've done so many films in English, and you've done a whole bunch in French. I'm sure that each film is different, but is there something when you're acting in a foreign language or not your first language that appeals to you or it brings out—something that is different because you have to translate it?
SCOTT THOMAS: You don't translate. I've been living in France for thirty years, so I'm completely bilingual now. Even if I make mistakes in French, I pretend I don't.
MOHNEY: Or is there something about French films that's appealing to you?
SCOTT THOMAS: There is something about the roles that I'm offered in French films, which is completely different than the roles I am offered in English films. I'm able to play these women who have life in them. Who... don't have to look back over their shoulders thinking my life's great, was great. In France we're interested in women my age... Most films seem to be about a man and a women falling in love at some point and once you pass forty-five, it's almost disgusting to fall in love. Unless it's like Leaving [Scott Thomas's new film] about a mid-age love affair, which I think its great. There's nothing sentimental about it, its just down-and-dirty.
MOHNEY: Did you have any favorite Beatles memories before starting this?
SCOTT THOMAS: I remember watching them on television as I was a little child, and thinking Sgt. Pepper's album cover was the most extraordinary thing I've ever seen in my life. Actually I broke it. We had a girl who was helping my mother when we were growing up and I broke her record. So that's my Beatles memory, it must be a sign!
MOHNEY: You were meant to play Mimi?
SCOTT THOMAS: Yeah, I was meant to play Mimi. Apparently when they cleared out her house after she passed away, they found boxes and boxes of unopened, never-listened-to records. That she just got, had a look at, and then put it away. She just loved him, and I love that story, love love love love...
MOHNEY: I have one more question for you, what kind of role would bring you back to Hollywood?
SCOTT THOMAS: The kind of role that I'm getting in France. There are so many great directors who I would love to work with, but for whatever reason it is I'm not finding those roles and... I'm so satisfied with what I'm doing [with] the mixture of films I'm making and the theater that I'm doing. I don't feel starved, I would love to work with a number of American directors, if they'd consider me. But I don't think I'm at all in the right space or mode to go hanging around in Hollywood waiting for someone to notice me at lunch. I've never been able to do that. I'm just too proud I guess. I can't get into all that physical stuff of having to have flawless skin... Sometimes you see people and it looks like someone's got an eraser and made their face a little blurry-their traits seem to go out of focus.
MOHNEY: You can always tell.
SCOTT THOMAS: The other day I was on the set of a film, and somebody said, "Can you not do that because you get too many lines?" I said "Excuse me! If you wanted a line-free actress at my age, they are plenty out there!"
NOWHERE BOY IS OUT NOW IN SELECT CITIES.