Starring alongside Anna Kendrick in the lead role of Jamie Wellerstein in the big screen adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years is the Grammy and Tony-nominated JEREMY JORDAN, who’s best known as a leading man on Broadway, having appeared as Jack Kelly in Alan Menken and Jack Feldman’s Newsies (2012) and as Clyde Barrow in Frank Wildhorn and Don Black’s sadly underrated and undeservedly short-lived Bonnie & Clyde (2009). Other Broadway credits include Rock of Ages and West Side Story. Musical theatre fans will also recognise him as Jimmy from the NBC TV series Smash.
A relative newcomer to film, Jordan’s appearance in The Last Five Years marks just his second cinematic outing, his only other role being that of Randy Garrity in the Dolly Parton/Queen Latifah movie Joyful Noise (2012). Needless to say, The Last Five Years is an entirely different movie experience – an intimate, personal affair that takes a magnifying glass to a relationship and examines the unfolding highs and lows when two people fall into then out of love.
As part of the launch of the movie in the UK, Jeremy Jordan spoke exclusively to Musical Theatre Review’s Craig Glenday about his experience.
How well did you know The Last Five Years before you began work on the movie?
I’ve never seen it but I was very well acquainted with the soundtrack. I’d known it for probably ten years at that point. It’s one of my favourites for sure. I knew most of the lyrics before I even knew there was a movie being produced. So yes, I was incredibly familiar with it.
Did you audition for [director] Richard LaGravenese with songs from the show?
Oh yes! I had a big audition process. They had Anna Kendrick on board long before anyone else – she didn’t have much of an audition process… she just had to sing a song to prove she could sing it [laughs]. I think they were looking for A-list actors to go along with her but they were having trouble finding someone who could sing. So they turned to us lowly Broadway folk! I went in three or four times, each time with a different song, so I had to sing half the score before they could give me the job!
Are these difficult songs compared to the average Broadway numbers?
Yes. I was in college when these songs came out and they were like a sort of test to see how good you were as a young performer because they are so difficult. If you could perform a song from The Last Five Years well, you were on your way. The songs are not only incredibly difficult to sing but they’re very active, and the emotion life in them is very complex. They’re definitely on the more difficult side.
Oh yeah, that was a day! You know, the majority of the songs in the movie are sung live, except for some of the more outdoor scenes, like when she’s driving a car or I’m on the bike, or we’re in a boat, when you can’t get good live audio quality. But basically everything else was done completely live.
When we did ‘If I Didn’t Believe In You’ in one take, we’d done some rehearsals a month or so before, with just the camera and two actors, to work out the relationships. When we did that, we just had the camera follow us around, and Richard had the idea of a single shot for that song. That’s a six-minute song, so I think we shot it 12 or 13 times in that day. It was a long day! We used one of the last takes – not the very last, but one of them – because the more you do it, the more you find in it. That’s the crazy thing about this film – I’m more adept at musical theatre when you have months of rehearsal to really find every moment and solidify it. With film, it’s all on the fly. You get a few chances and you hope that you find gold.
How long was the whole process for you?
Filming was three weeks. We had three or four days of rehearsal a month and a half before that, and Anna had to go shoot something, so when she came back we shot it. Really, all in all, less than a month. To make a whole movie!
Are you looking to make a move into the film industry?
I wouldn’t say ‘move’, but I’d love to balance both. I just shot a pilot a few weeks ago so I’m waiting to hear if it’ll pick up in the Fall. If that happens, I’ll be spending the next eight months shooting for TV. I think balance is the word. That being said, the stage is where my heart lies. But there are benefits to doing TV and film. More exposure, more chances to give an intimate performance. It’s a different sort of muscle to flex.
I imagine it also pays better, no?
You know, in my experience – because I’m not an A-list movie star – movies have paid the least for me. TV’s the most, and Broadway’s second place. At least for now. I think it’s different for everybody.
What’s your opinion of movie musicals?
I’m on and off about them. It’s really great for the medium – I’ve always been a musical performer first and foremost, so the fact that the musical is seeing something of a healthy revival in film and even on television is a great step forward. The pitfalls that tend to happen is that people go into it with the mindset of “I’m in a musical” and it can detract from the honesty of the piece. And I’m not just saying the actors but all the people putting it together.
What’s great about our movie is that we’re trying not to make a musical, it just happens to be a love story that’s sung. When people approach a movie musical this way, it benefits – the fact is, these shows are all based on realism, and people want to see stories on screen that they can relate to. When you make something so over-the-top and grandiose, it doesn’t become relatable any more.
You and Anna seem very natural and real…
Thank you. We have our moments of goofiness but yeah, it’s also a testament to the piece. It lends itself to this very well. And Anna and I are both singers. This is something that movie musicals can have problems with: everybody thinks they can sing! And everybody can sing a little bit, but there are some people who are intrinsically more gifted with this type of singing than others. And with portraying a song truthfully, without pushing or emoting too much, or switching into your singer voice. Our goal was to make people forget that they were watching a musical. If you get halfway through the movie and go, “wait a minute, they’re singing, I forgot”, then we’ve done what we set out to do.
Did Jason Robert Brown have much day to day involvement?
Jason was doing another project at the time, so he wasn’t around much. But more so, he removed himself intentionally. Jason is an incredibly smart, gifted individual, but at the same time this is very personal material for him – it’s loosely based on things that happened in his life. So he was afraid that if he was around more that he’d put more of his past and baggage into it, and he really wanted to give this piece to Richard and us to interpret it and create our own individual characters. But his wife Georgia [Stitt] was our musical supervision and she was on set every day. She was his eyes and ears, and there to teach us his songs.
What effect has doing the movie had on your own relationship and marriage?
[Laughs] I knew the material so well beforehand so for me it wasn’t new information. In the United States, it was released on Valentine’s Day, and people were asking, “Why is this a good Valentines movie?!” Okay, it’s not the best Valentines Day statement! But it does make you look at your own life and relationships. People always come out of the movie with strong opinions, usually either very pro-Jamie or very pro-Cathy.
You notice that it has to do with a recent relationship – if you’ve just been cheated or on, or struggled to help someone through depression, or whatever. There’s a cautionary tale aspect to it, but I also think that if you see this movie with someone you love, it can strengthen your relationship. You see the things that this couple go through, and ultimately it doesn’t work out, but you can see where they go wrong. They essentially suffer from a lack of communication. And if you can learn from their mistakes, it can be somewhat therapeutic.
I’ve got to say I’m definitely pro-Jamie – she’s such a loser!
Well, you know, she does whine a bit!
* The Last Five Years is currently showing exclusively at The Empire Cinema in London’s Leicester Square. It will be available on VOD from 1 May and on DVD from 4 May 2015. Cinema tickets are available for pre-booking here: www.L5Ytickets.co.uk
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The Last Five Years – Movie Review