Hand in hand, Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson created A Million Little Pieces. In addition to being the director and star, respectively, the married couple also co-wrote the film, an adaptation of James Frey’s controversial semi-fictional book detailing his recovery from drug addiction.
We Got This Covered recently had the opportunity to speak with both Sam and Aaron about their experiences working together on the upcoming film, which is their first collaboration since the 2009 John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy. Be sure to check out our conversation with Aaron, whose other works include Avengers: Age of Ultron and Kick-Ass, down below, and enjoy!
I’ll start you off with an easy one here: Because I already know that it was great, so how about you tell me how great it was to have your work life and your family life come together like this?
Aaron Taylor-Johnson: It was fantastic; that’s what [Sam and I have] been wanting to do since we worked together on Nowhere Boy, to find the next project to collaborate together on and recreate that kind of experience. These last 10 years, we have been working on other films and working with other people, and this project was just one of those serendipitous projects that came about after we did Nowhere Boy. Sam said, “I love this book, I really want to make it into a movie and you would be a perfect James.” And that was 10 years ago, so when the rights got reverted back to [James Frey three years ago], we phoned him up and [asked] “what’s going on with the rights to the book.” And he said, “why, do you want them?” We said “yeah!” And he said, “great, you can have them.”
He said, “I wrote this in the spirit of art, so go make art. If you can get this off the ground, that’d be great.” Because previously [the project] had been at all these different studios with different directors attached in the 15 years since the book’s been out. So, we were very, very lucky in that we didn’t have to keep looking; we had the opportunity to build upon this story that Sam has always wanted to bring to cinema. We were very lucky to have put it all together.
I just got off the phone and she was telling me how good of a gift it was to have little to no interference [from the author], which is great especially because the story is so personal to him. I did want to talk about the writing experience a little bit. You of course had your wife with you, but this is the first time you’ve ever had to put together a script. I was wondering what resources did you use? Were you reading other screenplays? Or was this a purely collaborative effort with Sam?
Aaron Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, it was. I mean I’ve spent the last 20 years reading scripts – and reading a lot bad scripts – and understanding what it is that makes a good script. I’ve got to say I got a really good friend who’s a mentor who I love: Andy Kevin Walker who I admire. He wrote Fight Club and he wrote Se7en. He very beautifully gifted me some great screenwriting books, and we had many lunches where we discussed structure, protagonists and the characters, and empathy, a lot of things that helped me see how to break this book down and adapt it to a screenplay.
But beyond that, there were many more obstacles that we came across that were going to be more challenging. Ultimately, it was the budget and what we were allowed to shoot. We shot [this] in 20 days, and in our original script, what we wanted to do was very ambitious that would fit in a normal shooting schedule: you know, 30-35 days. In order to get that check written out for the budget, you have a bond company who looks at all of this, “well it’s not possible ‘this’ many scenes a day. So you have to cut 50 scenes out of your script.” It was heartbreaking; to go Edward Scissorhands on your script is not fun by any means, and also to deliver it back to the bond company in four days [for approval]. But [this] is filmmaking: it’s just a long process of “how do you make compromises that still feel integral to your voice?” And it’s been a beautiful experience and journey to produce, to write, and to be on the performance side of things.
Our collaboration is natural. It’s a really beautiful sort of synergy that we have. Sam’s very visual; she’ll read a scene from the book and go, “it would be so cool if we saw it like ‘this.'” For instance, for example, let’s pick the scene where James enters the rehab. In the book, going through the corridor was like “I’m scared, I’m overwhelmed, and the walls are caving in around me. All I want to do is crawl back in the gutter where I belong and feel comfortable. Just put me back there.” And Sam decided to recreate the sewage in that corridor, and have the shit bleed down the wall. It says a lot about the character, and it’s a sort of back-and-forth of insecurity and arrogance and self-destruction. It was just a nice way to visualize, rather than verbalize.