'Yesterday': Lily James found one particular scene 'stressful' to film (Exclusive)
Could you imagine a world in which nobody knew who the Beatles were?
That's the question that "Yesterday," which is out today, poses to moviegoers. The film stars Himesh Patel as Jack Malik, who finds himself as the only person in the world who remembers who the Beatles were following an accident and thus launches a music career pretending that their catalogue is his.
Lily James stars as Jack's best friend, confidant and potential love interest, Ellie Appleton, a small-town teacher who isn't attracted to the glitzy lifestyle that Jack's career ends up giving him.
Ahead of the film's release, Lily James chatted with AOL's Gibson Johns about preparing for "Yesterday" by shadowing teachers at a grade school, knowing songs by the Beatles that she didn't even realize were their songs, working with Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis and how she chooses the variety of roles she takes on.
Check out our full conversation below:
How does it feel to finally have people seeing "Yesterday," now that it's in theaters?
It’s so great. We had so much fun making this movie, so to finally be able to share it with the audience and get a sense that people are really enjoying it is really, really great.
How did you relate -- or not relate -- to your character, Ellie? What did you latch onto when preparing for the role?
I latched onto her humor. Even though she’s kind of in pain and is dealing with this situation where someone’s not seeing her and it's a hopeless love situation, she does have this sort of English sense of positivity and I like that she’s a teacher. I went and spent a couple of days at a school in Sussex and, man, it was amazing seeing these teachers. I think I work long hours, but then I see them and I’m like, “Whoa!” That was really cool. There’s only one scene in the movie where you see her teaching, but I was really glad that I spent the time going there. It’s terrifying standing in front of a class full of kids. It’s literally horrifying. [Laughs]
What was that shadowing teachers experience like? What did you when you joined in on classes?
At one point early on, they were like, “Do you want to get up and teach?” And I was like, “Absolutely not. That’s crazy.” But by the time we’d started the actual scene, I had a lesson plan and I was teaching them maths and it was quite a hard equation that I hadn’t done in years, so that was quite stressful. While I was there, I noted down everything the teachers were saying because they have to be like standup comedians. They’re basically acting. They go class to class and have to give it their all and they’re so invested in the kids, and I thought that really suited Ellie. She’s a really generous person, and she thinks of other people first and it’s nice to play somebody who that just lives within a small community within a village who does her thing. They’re kind of unsung heroes.
There's a really great scene in the film where Ellie is recording backup vocals for Jack's debut album in a little studio next to a train track. Which songs did you have to re-familiarize yourself with before shooting that scene?
It was, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and some other ones. I knew "I Want To Hold Your Hand" pretty well and I was able to harmonize with him because that Beatles harmony is always so clear in your head. Their voices melded together so well, and that felt very familiar to me. The thing about the Beatles is that, while I wasn’t a maniac Beatles fan, every time a song comes on I find myself singing along and realize it’s the Beatles and I already know it. It’s a part of your soul and growing up and part the culture. You don’t even realize you know it, and sometimes I don’t even realize the songs are by the Beatles. Like, “Twist and Shout”? What the hell? They did that, too? [Laughs]
You're in good company in "Yesterday." Obviously, there's an amazing cast, but you also have Danny Boyle directing and a Richard Curtis screenplay. Talk to me about working on the project with those two specifically, who are filmmaking legends at this point.
They’re like titans of British moviemaking. It was a real privilege. Working with Danny Boyle for the first time in the audition, he was just up on his feet and jumping around. I just wanted to be around him and have the privilege to be directed by him. It was incredible. He’s got so much energy and he comes to the set every day with optimism and he’s so collaborative. It’s about everyone and the crew feeling completely valid and important, so he creates the best vibe on set of anyone I’ve ever worked with. Then, on top of that, we had Richard Curtis there who is just hilarious and cheeky and brilliant. He was there with total dedication and passion, and everyone just wanted to make the best movie they possibly could. We wanted to enjoy making the movie, though, too. It was about having fun, because that was the spirit of the Beatles.
Going into “Yesterday,” did you have a favorite film by either of them?
That’s very, very hard. My favorite film of Danny’s is… well, all of his films are so good, so it’s hard to choose one! When I saw “127 Hours” I was taken back by the filmmaking. I also like “28 Days Later” and “Slumdog Millionaire," because I love musicals and that epic scale. With Richard, I think probably “Notting Hill” is my favorite.
You were in an incredible small film called "Little Woods" earlier this year. Last summer you were in "Mamma Mia 2," and you also did the "All About Eve" play recently. I'd love to hear from you about the variety of different roles you’ve been taking in the past couple of years and how you go about choosing what you end up signing on for.
At the moment, I’ve really entered a place where I wan to be specific about my choices and brave in my choices, which is sometimes really scary because it can mean walking away from projects that you would really love to do for lots of reasons. But, maybe it’s not the right direction we should be moving in right now, because I want to keep challenging myself, surprising people and pushing boundaries. I think it’s quite easy to get lured into doing things that people have already done. I’m trying to be purposeful, and I want to see if I can do different characters and how far I can go. There’s so much to explore within myself and within characters, and that’s why I wanted to be an actor in the first place.