Nowhere Boy - Aaron Johnson
Nowhere Boy - John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) © 2010 Weinstein

Aaron Johnson was born ten years after John Lennon’s death, but in the movie Nowhere Boy he gives a remarkable performance, capturing Lennon’s formative teenage years, where he channeled his anger and personal pain into creativity and making music.

In 1955 in Liverpool, as a troubled 15-year-old, John Lennon is being pulled by two strong women who clash over him, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), his free-spirited mother, who gave him away in his infancy, and her sister Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), the buttoned up Aunt who stepped in and raise John.

Sam Taylor-Wood, who directed the movie and Aaron Johnson became a couple and have a daughter named Wylda Rae Johnson, born on July 7, 2010.

You auditioned for this while you were doing Kick-Ass. Was it hard to go from an American accent to a Liverpool accent?

Nowhere Boy - Aaron Johnson
John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) © 2010 Weinstein

Yeah, I was still finishing up on Kick-Ass which, at the time, was pretty difficult as well. We were shooting that in London, which is my hometown, and half the crew was British. It was this comic-book, nerdy American bushy-haired kid, and when I read the script for this film, that could potentially be the next job, I loved it.

I had a day off where I could go for the casting, but I had no time to prepare, because I was still doing Kick-Ass. I spent my lunch breaks on YouTube trying to find old footage of John Lennon. I couldn’t remember his voice. It’s funny, because if you ever ask anyone in England to try and do a Beatles accent, no one knows what they really sound like.

If you ask anyone in America, they would try and give it a go. [Doing a Beatle impression] “I’m Ringo!”  English people just know their songs. I think I was probably nowhere near the character when I went in, but Sam just saw something in me and was willing to see me again.

When you knew you were going to play John Lennon, was it overwhelming?

Yeah, I guess it was. I dived into it pretty naively. It made me feel like I had to do as much research as possible, just so I felt comforted enough that when I hit day one of shooting, I could throw it all away and know the boundaries that I could be in, and be instinctive as possible.

What kind of research did you do?

Everything. Watched all the documentaries, I read bits and pieces from biographies, I listened to interviews and tapings that he did, I started learning guitar and playing rock and roll and songs of Elvis and Buddy Holly, and started watching tapes of them, because those are people that were his inspirations. Those were the people that he would have watched and seen move around on stage, and he would have tried to incorporate that into his band. I tried to cover every angle.

What was more terrifying, playing such an iconic person or playing and singing onscreen?

Nowhere Boy - Anne-Marie Duff and Aaron Johnson
Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) © 2010 Weinstein

Playing and singing. That’s not my strength or background, I’m not a musician, but it was something that was a huge part of him, and at that part of his life, was another element to him, and something quite special. I knew that I’d have to do it.

Was getting into the emotional mindset of Lennon a challenge, because of the complicated nature of his relationships with his aunt and mother?

It was pretty much there on the script. A lot of it I could relate to, and draw from my own experiences, and then a lot also came from slowly discovering more about Lennon, and what he had to say about how he felt when he was with his mother, and what he was like when he was with his aunt.

His mother was this eccentric woman and quite a free-spirit, ten years before her time, and someone that he hugely admired and loved, yet didn’t really know how to be around her, just in case he might lose her again. So he was constantly battling with that.

He’d always try and cover up for himself. He’d put on a front, he was a sarcastic, cocky, quick-witted, arrogant guy that we always knew, but he was really wounded, and there’s a lot of pain and insecurities that were there.

Speaking on a professional level, did you and Sam Taylor-Wood’s being a couple help the process?

We worked really closely on this, obviously. We weren’t together before we started, but people would ask that, does that affect you in that way, but I don’t think it does. We’re just used to being in each other’s heads, and think the same way, and we connect on a whole other level. We’re just honest with each other constantly, so in that respect, I feel like we’re better when we work together.

What was the most difficult scene for you to do?

I felt the big confrontational scene with Aunt Mimi and his mother was challenging, with the drama and emotion, but I did enjoy that. I also found the music stuff tough and hard, because it was something I felt slightly conscious about, because that was something I did want to get right, and I didn’t feel 100% all the time, but I did it anyway.

Did you meet Paul or Yoko?

Yeah, I met both of them. The moment Yoko saw the film she came out and said, “Yeah, I’ll give you the rights to (the song) Mother. She was in tears.

Paul was hugely complimentary of our performances, and thought the film was great, and who could have asked for anything more? Yoko the same, she was hugely supportive, and she still is.

Is there a Kick-Ass sequel in the works?

Mark Millar and John Romita, they’re writing a comic book, so I don’t know, but it’s really up to Matthew Vaughn, and he’s doing X-Men at the moment. If he comes back to it, I’d happily do it.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.