The musical fantasy is uplifting in a season of depressing moviesFreddie Highmore plays musical prodigy August Rush in writer/director Kirsten Sheridan's musical fantasy. Highmore 'hears' the music in the desolate surroundings of his orphanage. He knows his parents are looking for him and sets out to find them in the wild of New York City. Kerri Russell and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers play his parents. They are young lovers who spend a magical night together, and are then separated by deception and tragedy. The film is a musical journey of these characters connecting. Robin Williams also costars in a Fagan-esque role taken right from Oliver Twist. Highmore, Russell, and Rhys-Meyers were in New York recently to promote the film. Highmore has certainly grown a lot. This may be the last time we see him play such a young character. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, before his recent tabloid headlines, spoke fondly of Freddie and seemed to look at him like a little brother. Check out Freddie's take on the film below, followed by some excerpts from Kerri Russell and Jonathan's press conference.
How do you learn to play a musical prodigy?
Freddie Highmore: It was great to do August Rush and have all the challenges of playing that character, especially the American accent for the first time and also playing the guitar and the conducting I had to do. It seemed really easy waving your hands around, it wouldn't make any difference if you were moving it left or right, but I wanted to do it realistically. I think you can tell if someone doesn't know what they're doing.
Did you have a hard time learning the American accent?
Freddie Highmore: We had a voice coach before the actual shooting. I try to talk in it most of the time when I'm there on the film. I don't go home and pretend I'm August rather than just the actual lines I'm saying in the film. If you do it that way, it makes it more natural and second nature. After awhile you get used to it and there's so much, especially being in New York to film; you're always surrounded by American people. Also "Catcher in the Rye", which happens to be one of my favorite books, I just found that kind of useful. It helps you get into the American accent.
How is playing an American different?
Freddie Highmore: It's definitely different. I always try doing a different character for every film so it's not just changing one. There was obviously the whole aspect that he's a guy who stands up for what he believes in. Today the sort of thing for a guy in England growing up is that you have to suppress all your emotions. It's almost like you have to sit back and be cool. August is like that when he's in the orphanage. They try and knock it out of him, but he goes for it. I think that's interesting to have the hero of the story being someone who isn't a traditional person who goes around killing people to get his way. He's softer.
Was it difficult playing the guitar?
Freddie Highmore: I had been practicing guitar about six months beforehand; I concentrated mostly on the songs I had to play. I got those down pretty well so they could use me actually playing.
Where did that 'slap' style of playing come from?
Freddie Highmore: There was this guy called Michael Hedges that we looked at a bit. He played in that style. If August was a musical genius, he wouldn't be able to know "this is E" or "this is G" immediately, but he would be able to get some sound out of it in his own unique way. It was great to find that slapping style.
What was it like working with Robin Williams?
Freddie Highmore: He's fantastic! I thought it was brilliant, great casting as well because he's a guy with so much energy and so much going on. He's got so many ideas. It's more like a conversation when you're talking to him and less like scripted dialogue that you've got to be saying. It also took him awhile to get to set just walking through New York, everyone stopping him. He'd have to sort of leave an hour before he was meant to be on set.
Kerri Russell and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
August's parents fall in love at first sight. Do you believe in love at first sight?
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: I do, I fell in love at first sight once. I ended up going out with the girl for a few years. It was a very strange thing. It wasn't like thunderbolts and lightening, it was more like a sickly feeling. It was rather uncomfortable. It was very factual, like the sky is blue; when it rains its wet. I was in love.
Kerri Russell: Love at first sight. I think more in an innate knowing. When you have a child with someone, it's for life. Whether you hate the person or you love the person, it's for life. So you're bound to that person in fate and everything. The other thing really about this film is that everything is told in magic and magic helps usher everything along.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: I think he recognizes in Lyla the same despondence. You find these people in this life. People like you. Definitely the opposite sides of things, but kind of mirror images. I want something more, but I can't tell you what it is. I'll know when I find it, but I'm very aware of the process of looking. Once Lyla gets into the plaza and goes away, Lewis thinks he's been dumped; because he's from the criminal classes. I wouldn't even say he's from a working class. He's from the criminal class.
Music and the way people react to music is such an important part of the movie. How does music influence both of you?
Kerri Russell: Most of my scenes in the movie are by myself. There were scenes in the movie where I was by myself, and Kirsten [Sheridan - the writer/director] would blast a certain song and just blare it so loud and we would just use that in the scene. I love music. I play music much more than I watch TV. We sing, play guitar, go to sleep with the baby. It's a big part of our life.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: I'm part of the Ipod generation. I got 10,000 tracks from all over the world.
You can sing and play though.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: I could sing and play as well. I've got some brothers; one of them is the drummer in the band. They're good musicians. I play for fun. They play properly. Music in general, I grew up in a house of musicians. Everybody's life has a soundtrack, I'm sitting here talking to you but there are horns beeping outside. I know I'm in New York. That's an element in the film as well. How strong that sense can be.
So that is you singing and playing in the movie?
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: Yeah.
Kerri, you were talking about the magical element of the story. Do you think it's a challenge for audiences in 2007 to embrace that?
Kerri Russell: I know what you mean. I love these kinds of movies. I like to feel good, I like to think that there's something that's ushering us all along and protecting us. I can only tell you my experience thus far promoting this film, I was worried about what you just said and I was so surprised how grown men will come up to me and say, "I've never been so emotional during a film."
Did becoming a mother make you understand that mystical bond in the movie between mother and child?
Kerri Russell: Absolutely. There is something undeniable about what you're talking about. You become a parent and you see everything. We were watching Finding Nemo, and I got so emotional about him not finding his dad. I was sobbing, it was crazy. You can't control yourself. You're a parent and you feel like you're a parent to everyone.
What's the biggest surprise of being a mom?
Kerri Russell: The loss of sleep. And the best thing is when they start smiling and they recognize you.
You both spend the movie searching for each other and your son. Did you get to spend any time getting to know Freddie Highmore?
Kerri Russell: I love Freddie. You don't meet him and go, "What a jerk." He's so lovely.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: I hope that's a tabloid quote.
Kerri Russell: I'd see him everyday because he would have to learn how to play the guitar and I would have to learn how to play the cello. Jonathan can fake his way through everything. Anyway, Freddie was complaining that he had to play the guitar, and Jonathan didn't have to do much so me and Freddie would commiserate together. But I love him, and we saw Sweeney Todd while we were together. He's fabulous. And he's not a creepy kid actor. There's plenty creepy kid actors out there, but he's not.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: I think that has a lot to do with upbringing. He's got very nice parents. He's got a very nice brother, Burt.
Kerri Russell: Ah, yes. Burt.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: They are very close. I went to meet them last weekend because Freddie and I follow the same football team in England. We got season tickets - Arsenal. So we had breakfast at a greasy spoon café and went to this football game. He's a kid. In every essence, he's a kid. But he happens to be a kid that can sit in a room full of adults and have equality there. He's done a lot of stuff and he's smart. There's reasons why great actors like Johnny Depp take to him, because Johnny's not dumb. He's a great guy. And he saw something different in him. I think that makes him very attractive as an actor, as a human being. He's the heart and soul of the film. If Freddie doesn't work, it doesn't work. Freddie is August Rush. He is this movie. We're just there to support his story.
August Rush is in theaters today.