Exclusive Interview: Director Sam Taylor-Johnson Talks A Million Little Pieces

A Million Little Pieces
Yeah, especially coming off the brink of Doctor Sleep. It’s funny how authors can be so protective of their work in some cases and be so open to interpretation in others. But speaking of your husband, the two of you haven’t worked together since Nowhere Boy. And I was particularly excited to talk to you because I am a huge Beatles fan and I wanted to thank you for actually making a Beatles movie, because there doesn’t seem to be one anywhere else.

Sam Taylor-Johnson: You’re so kind.

Other than the simple fact that Aaron is your husband, what made you think that he was perfect for the role? What about those two personalities sort of clicked in your mind?

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Do you mean for the role of James, or for the role of Lennon.

Well, I meant James. But now I want to hear both!

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Here’s the thing: when Aaron turned up on my doorstop to audition for John Lennon, I opened the door to Lennon. And I knew Lennon pretty well at this point through all of my research and everything I’d watched and read and hard. I had met with some actors who did brilliant and clever impersonations of Lennon. But I hadn’t met one who, when I opened the door, the head tilt was exactly the right way; the mannerisms, the walk, it wasn’t an impersonation, it was an embodiment. That was when I first met him, and I obviously I have lived with various characters and roles, some I’ve enjoyed living with more than others – I did not enjoy Ray from Nocturnal Animals. When I got the rights to the book, I went after them because I could see him playing James so well. I was trying to find material with Aaron which would show the quality that he has an actor, and also give him the opportunity to embody such a strong character.

Going back to the idea that you have to live with his characters, did it help you to have this version of James with you at all times when it came making the movie?

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, and I think because we wrote it together, we had sort of inhabited the world of A Million Little Pieces and of James already. When Aaron starts to even entertain the idea of playing the character, I see him slowly slip away into who that person away; his eating habits will change; the way he walks will start to shift. He gets so deep into the embodiment of that person, so by the time that we got to the set, it was a huge advantage that we had immersed ourselves in the material. He was almost James by the time we stepped on set.

Well, it’s nice to know that you had so many people helping you. You had James helping you; you had Aaron helping you; you had Aaron’s James helping you.

Sam Taylor-Johnson: I don’t think it was help in the normal sense, it was a collaboration between us, where we could all be around for the common purpose of getting the story told.

I think it’s safe to say that in addition to your husband, this is the most prolific or expansive cast that you’ve had working with you. I’ve spoken with directors in the past who’ve said that they appreciated the moral contribution their more veteran actors simply brought to the set every day. I was wondering what the dynamic was with Billy Bob Thornton and Juliette Lewis, and what sort of presence they brought to the set?

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Both of them were extremely generous in doing this because this was one for the soul, not one for the money. They both showed up completely immersed in the sense that they showed up on the set ready to go and had studied their character and done the ground work. So they were wonderful, professional human beings to bounce off of.

And Billy Bob, who is also a director and who is also a writer, understood the dynamic of the set. And he brought on a lot of ideas including the wardrobe ones – which were fantastic – but he could also improvise, which Aaron liked. You know, Juliette Lewis was just phenomenal. She had studied what it is to be a counselor within the facility, and that time that she gave us was very precious.

And Billy Bob, he also said, “I think this is the first time I’ve had to share a trailer with two other people in a very long time.” So yeah, their spirit was incredible.

A Million Little Pieces will hit theaters on December 6, 2019.