James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, and Tom Vaughan talk about the romantic comedy
Brian Jackson was just a kid who wanted to go to college; he never dreamed of what would happen next.
Based on David Nicholls novel, James McAvoy plays Brian in the new film, Starter for 10; Nicholls also wrote the screenplay, which caught the attention of one Mr. Tom Hanks and his Playtone production company.
According to director Tom Vaughan, "Tom read the book as a proof, and they got in the bidding to option it, and they were the guys with the enthusiasm for the movie. Tom sent the script to Sam Mendes, possibly to direct it, and Sam said, 'This is a good British film and we will find you the right British director.' They went down the list, and they found me."
David wrote the book loosely centering around his experience at Bristol University in England. Brian Jackson's ultimate goal was to appear on the game show, University Challenge; once he got to the school, he tried out for the team. Being sort of a geek, Brian falls for two girls - who also fall for him.
Starter for 10 takes place in the 80's, which meant going back to that era. "Yeah, I think it was an incredible time for change," said James. "That decade kind of accelerated the move, politically and socially; and even this film, which is a crowd-pleasing, rom-com, mainstream movie, it's got a really strong social context."
University Challenge is kind of the equivalent to Jeopardy here in the States. "It's really famous in England; everyone can sing the theme," notes co-star Rebecca Hall. It's basically a general knowledge quiz that's based on two teams made up of two different university's students. The questions are very high-brow and intelligent."
But what was really noticeable in the flick was the 80's music - mainly The Cure; Vaughan fought very hard to get the band to sign off on the rights for many of their songs. "In pre-production, when we were financing the movie, the script had a lot of music in it; when we went in for the meeting, they said, 'How many are you going to have? 12? That's too many.' So when I was making the movie, I didn't quite know how it was going to end up. A lot of the spirit is reflected in the music, especially The Cure; that was a band who really gets it, they really suited Brian Jackson. I was trying all types of things, and finally we had 25 tracks and just waited to hear what they said. The real lucky thing is Robert Smith, from The Cure, really loved the book, really loved the film, wanted to be involved; he wanted to do some original music for us. Unfortunately, his schedule didn't work out; but I was finishing up the film, I was in LA, and I got this phone call from Robert Smith in the middle of the night. 'Oh, I'm really sorry Tom, I feel like I'm letting you down, but I don't think I'm going to be able to do the music.' But he's so brilliant and such a nice guy; the next day, I walked into Playtone and they were negotiating the music deals. They said, 'I don't know what happened, but we just got the best deal ever for The Cure tracks, and that means we can go to everyone else.' That made it much more manageable."
James made this film just after wrapping on The Last King of Scotland - two very different movies, two very different roles. "One's a middle-class Scotsman who thinks he's cool, and the other is a working-class Englishman who really knows he isn't; literally, we started right after. I loved this, and I knew we were going to do this before I went to Uganda; and all the time we were doing all the heavy acting, I knew I was coming to do this and felt really good about this."
Starter for 10 is made up of some of the biggest up-and-coming British actors; the cast also includes Benedict Cumberbatch (Amazing Grace) and Alice Eve. Having such an amazing young cast in one film was something the two will definitely never forget. "We all got to work together, and we were all in an environment where we were all in college, and it was reliving that great time. We had a lot of fun on that job," Alice says. "The whole team around us was real fun. On set, everything would go wrong or nothing would go wrong, and it would be a continuum."
"Most of us know each other socially between us; the first night we got together in the hotel was a bit wild," remembers Benedict. "We had great fun making it, so no complaints here. It was ours to mess up, and we had to work really hard not to."
And they certainly didn't mess it up. Starter for 10 is in select theaters now; it opens wide February 23rd.