Page and Screen: One Day (Part Three – In Praise of Jim Sturgess)

Anne Hathaway’s performance in One Day may be flawed and ultimately a letdown, for cinemagoers and fans of the book alike, but she has one huge advantage over co-star Jim Sturgess; people know who she is. The film needed an enticing lead for audiences in countries where the book is less popular and Hathaway is undoubtedly the star on the billboards. Having seen the film though, it’s Sturgess who is the star lighting up the story. Even if you’ve read One Day or you’re intending to see it, you may well be wondering “Jim who?” and typing his name into Google.

However chances are that anonymity will soon be a thing of the past for Sturgess. One Day’s sprawling fan base will only grow with the release of this month’s adaptation. Legions of existing fans will either love or loathe his portrayal of arrogant but good natured charmer Dexter Mayhew. It’s the sort of role that can transform an actor’s lifestyle as well as their career, catapulting them from regular work in relativity obscurity, to a recognisable and desirable face of the mainstream.

Already Sturgess has appeared in a number of national newspapers, giving interviews to promote the film. In The Telegraph in particular he gives some revealing answers about his origins and his filmmaking philosophy. In 2008 he flirted with Hollywood, appearing in films like 21 and The Other Boleyn Girl, only to draw back for the next few years to make independent films, like 2009’s Heartless, which he truly believed in.

Sturgess came to prominence in Across the Universe, a love story told through the songs of the Beatles. His director for that film, Julie Taymor, is full of praise for him still, hailing his “movie star looks”, “reality” and “strong sense of self”. Taymor’s film provided the perfect breakthrough for Sturgess, harnessing and fusing together interests that until then had competed for attention and focus in his life.

At the age of fifteen, Sturgess formed a band with a group of schoolmates. He had grown up immersed in the musical world, turning to acting only for distraction at school. Then at university in Manchester he fell into making short films whilst trying to become a musician. Deciding to become an actor he moved to London at the beginning of the new millennium, only to accidentally join a band again. Although Sturgess admits to disliking his character Dexter at first in One Day, it’s easy to see where he might have been able to draw inspiration from when playing a character unsure what to do with his life.

After impressing in Across the Universe, Sturgess starred alongside Kevin Spacey in the gambling thriller 21. He played a gifted MIT student who is recruited to a group of bright young things, manipulated by Spacey, that intend to make a fortune in Vegas counting cards. 21 is a slick and enjoyable watch but still our leading man remained under the radar, choosing to take a step back from big budget productions. This is despite an accomplished performance as a big-headed, youthful genius of the sort Jesse Eisenberg would later play in The Social Network to far wider acclaim.

What now for Sturgess, after the game changer that is One Day? Will he step back into the shadows again? As I’ve been writing this article news has broken which suggests that this time he will embrace the mainstream, whilst not abandoning his principles.

According to Total Film Sturgess has joined the ever swelling cast of Cloud Atlas, an adaptation of David Mitchell’s genre blending epic. He’ll star alongside Hollywood A- Listers like Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, as well as fellow promising Brit Ben Whishaw. All the actors will play multiple roles in a film that will tell several stories, interlinked by reincarnation and other themes, across time and space.

In taking on another transformation of a much loved, highly praised and commercially successful novel, Jim Sturgess is once again willingly accepting a heavy load of responsibility and risk. But with Cloud Atlas he is joining an even larger scale project than One Day, with greater creative ambitions too. Even if it really does prove “unfilmable” Cloud Atlas will cement his reputation as both a brave and talented actor, surely destined to continually outshine the likes of Anne Hathaway.

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