“FOR heaven’s sake, sit down,” pleads John Lennon’s estranged father.
“I’ve not sat down since 1962,” his son replies.
Lennon Naked (BBC4, 9:30pm tonight) is a marvellous film with another top class performance by Christopher Eccleston.
Although the one-off 90-minute drama begins in the middle of black and white Beatlemania, it mainly focuses on the years 1967 to 1971.
Including the break-up of The Beatles and John’s life changing meeting with Yoko Ono, played by Torchwood star Naoko Mori.
You can read more in my MEN feature here.
I first saw Lennon Naked at a BAFTA screening and Q&A in London in May.
Followed by interviews with Chris, Naoko, writer Robert Jones and director Ed Coulthard the following week.
Here are two brief clips of audio – click on the arrow to listen.
Chris on ‘Jam Lemon”
Chris on his Lennon accent
As usual, not everything could be squeezed into the feature.
So here are some extras from the interviews:
Chris on playing Lennon:
“The idea of playing Lennon is one thing. Playing Lennon with a good script is the most important thing. You can’t accept the role because it’s John Lennon. It’s got to be well-written. Robert took care of that. It was a very good script. It was the script, really, rather than playing John Lennon. Wanting to work on an excellent script.”
The film includes a more sympathetic depiction of Yoko and Lennon’s relationship with her?
Chris: “I didn’t think, ‘Oh, it’s sympathetic.’ I thought, ‘It’s three dimensional.’ I thought it was a three dimensional portrayal of John and Yoko’s relationship and Yoko. And I felt that with Paul. Some of The Beatles biopics have tended to be a little bit Lennon biased and Paul turns up in all the glory of one dimension. I really felt Paul and John’s relationship in this was written well – there’s one very key exchange when they’re breaking up The Beatles, which says volumes, I think, about the relationship. Andrew Scott (who plays McCartney) has done a fantastic job.
“On the day that Andrew was shooting, there was this palpable, like, ‘Is he channeling Paul McCartney?’ There really was. It was amazing, uncanny, I thought.”
An interview Lennon gave to Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner in 1970 was the inspiration behind the drama.
Chris: “Our chief source was the Wenner tapes, The Rolling Stone tape, which you can get on a podcast, I found out. Those were a real touchstone. And as I was working through the script I realised that Robert had lifted phrases from John in a really clever way, which gave me a great way in.”
Were we ever going to see you sing?
Chris: “No, I kept my mouth firmly shut.”
Does he have a favourite Lennon song?
“I love Julia. He says, ‘Half of what I say is meaningless.’ I think he’s referring to his entire output. His art. He’s made a connection that through his art he’s been trying to communicate to his mother. I love that. It’s quite childlike. His word for it was primitive. He said he loved early rock and roll because it was primitive. It was like a chair that was just a chair. It didn’t pretend to be a chair, it was a chair. I love that. He said, ‘I love primitive music.’”
Why are we still fascinated with Lennon, 30 years after his death?
Robert: “That was certainly something that did surprise me when we started. Everybody seemed to have an opinion about him, a feeling, an emotional connection with him and with Yoko. Kids who had been born long after he died, he seems to encapsulate something or other that they still relate to, even if they don’t know the his solo music, necessarily. They know The Beatles music and they know who he is. I was taken aback, really.
“As soon as you say, ‘I’m doing something about John Lennon,’ people who had never mentioned him would suddenly come out with all this stuff they know.”
The relationship between Lennon and McCartney?
Chris: “It was immensely competitive, I think. But Lennon’s on record as saying, when he heard Here, There and Everywhere, as saying, ‘I wish I’d have written that.’ In awe, I suppose. That relationship has never been properly mined, yet. Lennon and McCartney, two boys with lost mothers. There’s so much going on there.”
The drama is called Lennon Naked and includes John and Yoko’s full-frontal photoshoot for their Two Virgins album.
Robert: “He did shed his clothes quite a lot in that period. We just had this idea, the whole nature of the piece was that he was divesting himself of everything British, Beatles-ish, his marriage, his family and everything. It didn’t seem something we should shy away from.”
Chris: “With us Brits, there’s a slightly prurient angle about nudity. But I looked at that and then I looked at the sequence that Robert had written about when John talks about exactly what happened between him and his parents when he was five, when his mum and dad said – choose. And that was the one I was worried about. That’s the hard stuff to do. Nudity, no.”
What was Naoko’s initial reaction when she was approached about playing Yoko?
Naoko: “I laughed out loud. I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m Japanese, I’m an actress but this is just a completely different statosphere.’ I laughed and said, ‘It’s impossible.’
“But when I got the script – it’s always the writing for us turns. It starts and ends with the writing. And it’s such a good script, that was the biggest hook. And then it started to snowball.
“Then I started doing some research she became three dimensional and I started to understand her.”
Is it more daunting playing a real person who is still alive?
Naoko: “That was one of the biggest hurdles and challenges. You don’t want to try and just mimic them. It’s not about that. It’s more about the essence, delving into who they are and telling a story at the same time.
“So I think for me it was about research and trying to understand her from every angle – as a woman, as a Japanese person and that was the main thing.”
Was it hard to get a handle on Yoko? Often seen as simply a quiet presence in a room?
“Absolutely. I think that quiet, dignified public persona is essentially a Japanese thing, especially as a woman and being Japanese myself, it’s an innate sense – I understand that.
“I’m quite a private person and as a nation we’re fairly private. I’m thinking in Japanese now, I can’t speak English…so I think that’s one of the things, perhaps, that was misunderstood, especially 40 years ago. She did look quite striking with all the hair and she was quite quiet. We’re not ones to overtly express ourselves all the time. Also he was essentially more the public figure.”
Ed: “But maybe we don’t normally look at her through this particular lens, as well. These were two people who fell in love. She was a catalyst for him to have a new life. Whatever you say about the relationship, these were two people who fell in love.
“This film came out of listening to his interview with Jan Wenner, that he did for the Rolling Stone magazine, where he talks with fantastic, extraordinary candour about The Beatles and the break up and says quite a lot of dark things. But whenever he talks about Yoko, she’s what buoys the centre of his life.”
It was a very tight schedule – a drama filmed in just 18 days.
Ed: “It was a fantastically ambitious film to make in that period of time. It was 52 locations. People shoot these BBC4 dramas often on one location. So we pushed it quite a lot. But we just had to go for it. It was challenging for Chris but it’s a virtue as well. It’s a very intense performance piece and he spent three weeks inside that part.”
Naoko’s relationship with Chris?
Naoko: “Luckily we’d worked together before in Doctor Who. So we knew each other from then. There’s so many factors why I said yes to the project but when I found it was Chris, I just knew. I couldn’t think of anyone else who could tackle a part like John. So I knew I was in good hands. He’s an amazing actor and the nicest guy. He’s really funny as well. We talked a lot. We had a week or so rehearsing.”
Yoko is seen in the film for who she really is?
Naoko: “One of the joys for me was that she was written in such a sympathetic and rounded way. Having done so much research, it was so surprising the life she had led up until then, her own personal issues and demons. We all have stuff. There’s so much I didn’t know about her. The miscarriages, the previous marriage, all sorts. It explained a lot to me. She just became this very full, rounded human being and essentially a woman.
“This is 40 years ago, so especially with The Beatles being national treasures – all of a sudden this foreign, weird-looking woman, who doesn’t say much, with lots of hair – I can understand how perhaps people weren’t as savvy as now in accepting. Plus she’s an avante-garde woman. She’s exceptionally ahead of her time.”
Lennon Naked: Christopher Eccleston
Jann Wenner Lennon Interview – text
Jann Wenner Lennon interview – free podcast