Up until recently, Imogen Poots hadn’t really registered with anyone. She had played a couple of small parts—an appearance in a British medical drama, a non-speaking role in V for Vendetta—but nothing too memorable. That all changed when Danny Boyle cast her in 28 Weeks Later, his followup to the smash hit 28 Days Later. In the six years since, she’s carved out a pretty fascinating career, including a role in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles. But now she seems poised to take the next step, with significant or leading roles in Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick’s new film), The Blunderer and A Country Called Home. That all begins with the female lead in Jimi: All is By My Side, the Hendrix biopic written and directed by the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley, and co-starring Andre Benjamin. She joined us recently to talk about the film.
Paste Magazine: I have to say first, I really liked Greetings From Jeff Buckley.
Imogen Poots: Oh, that is so cool! I did, too!
Paste: I was actually surprised that it didn’t do more, audience-wise.
Poots: Maybe it was just too out there for the audiences? I don’t know.
Paste: I don’t know either. I thought it was beautifully acted and beautifully shot.
Poots: And you know, Andrij Parekh shot that film. Who also shot Blue Valentine.
Paste: Oh my God, if we start talking about Blue Valentine, we’ll be here all night.
Poots: Blue Valentine is one of my favorite movies of the last decade.
Paste: It’s so brilliant.
Poots: That film gives me hope, like, for the future of cinema.
Paste: But anyway, we have to talk about your movie before all my time is up! (both laugh) Tell me about what attracted you to Jimi: All is By My Side.
Poots: Well, I think I really sorted it out when I read this solid, terrific, magical screenplay, and met with John and spoke with him about it. And just really this whole caboodle. It was just something that I couldn’t wait to be a part of. It was a great story, and a very interesting meditation on the beginnings of success, when it can go either way. And it really shows what a catalyst Linda Keith was to Jimi Hendrix’s career.
Paste: As you worked your way through the production, how did your picture of what this film was going to be change? Especially now, having seen the final product.
Poots: It’s interesting—the screenplay was very linear and coherent. But then John was like, “We’re going to blow it out a bit in post-production. I want to get Terrence Malick’s editor.” And he got him. And I love the final product so, so much. John took it above and beyond. It’s such a vibrant piece.
And in the same way as Greetings From Tim Buckley, it’s a great look at “What is it to make music?” It’s not linear, not at all. And there are always people in the wings who don’t get the shout-outs that they deserve. I was watching a lot of Hendrix documentaries before we shot the film, and what I found interesting was all the different egos—Little Richard and Noel Redding and Eric Clapton. Everyone had their different opinions. It’s a nugget of an era.
Paste: I’ve always thought that Andre Benjamin was going to have a great career acting. Tell me about working with him.
Poots: Well, I just completely, head-over-heels adore him, and we had the most wonderful time. He’s such a generous guy, with his spirit, and his kindness. A really gentle guy.
He cracked me up. He lost a lot of weight for the role, and he gave up sugar, but he was constantly chewing these little pieces of Trident gum. And I said, “I don’t know if this is any better for you, Andre, than a piece of cake, but alright.”
But we hung out all the time, and I think that was really beneficial to the movie, the chemistry between us. John let us improvise a couple of scenes, and once you know somebody inside out, it’s such an advantage as far as how vulnerable you can be with your co-star.
Paste: That’s so important, that place of safety for the actors.
Poots: I was taken to the New York City Ballet last week, and I’ve never seen another ballet like it. It blew my mind. And it was almost like, the way you can get your body to move, if you’re embarrassed by the space around you, or how you’ll be received, it’s such a giant limitation. Everything looks better when we have no boundaries. And I mean that from the New York City Ballet to Lars von Trier.
Paste: How did Ridley make you feel that?
Poots: We were lucky because we had rehearsal time. John would make us dinner plans, and then a lot of times he couldn’t come, so it would just be Andre and me. “Here we are again!” But we’d sit around and read through the script again and again. John very much made the set an open place, so I’d go and hang around even on days when I wasn’t shooting. I wanted to see what Andre was doing, and thought that was important. But also, I just love being on a film set. And I’d say sometimes to John, “This is embarrassing!” Because we really were a team, the cast, the crew, everybody, we were a team. And John really wanted to make sure that Andre and I had space, and was very respectful of that. But in turn, it was our duty to say to John, “Let’s all be here together.” He’s an extremely accessible man. And he knew exactly what he wanted. And it’s really easy to trust someone like that.
Paste: That’s fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed this.