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Seen at Sundance: Sam Taylor-Wood Talks ‘Nowhere Boy,’ Her John Lennon Biopic

Aaron Johnson plays John Lennon in Sam Taylor-Wood’s 2009 biopic ‘Nowhere Boy.’

Mike Jones

A breathless Sam Taylor-Wood almost passed out from excitement at the premiere of her film Nowhere Boy. The biopic of John Lennon’s early, tumultuous life features an uncanny performance by Aaron Johnson, who worked long hours to get Lennon’s signature accent.

Taylor-Wood understood early on that the pic would be in the firing line of Lennon worshipers, so research was crucial. “Some people come down to the guitar strings he used,” she said, admitting that she saw another 300 actors for the lead role even after Johnson auditioned, just to be sure. Moreover, they needed the approval of Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney for some crucial scenes.

Taylor-Wood sought their feedback by sending the script (written by Control screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh), hoping to involve them early. Ono sent a long email on John’s relationship with his aunt, who raised him for most of his life. Paul would call with details about Lennon at the most inopportune times. “I’d be shopping in the supermarket and he’d call, feed a quick detail, then hang up,” she said. “I’d have to ask people to quiet down.”

Taylor-Wood shot scenes that needed their approval before getting it, hoping the advance work would bear fruit. It did. Ono watched the film twice, the second time with her son Sean, and gave their blessing.

As the credits rolled during Lennon’s track Mother one particular card honored the late helmer Anthony Minghella. Taylor-Wood connected with Minghella during jury duty for an indie film fest. The opinionated director caught the eye of Minghella, who asked her to to develop a book titled The Story of You by Julie Myerson.

“When he passed away, the project stopped. I couldn’t do it. The book was about grief, and I was grieving,” said Taylor-Wood. “So I did this really cheery one instead.”


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