LONDON — It’s tough being an actor from Liverpool. Just ask Ian Hart.
“If you’re from Liverpool and you’re young, the major thing you’re asked to act is running away from the police — or driving,” the boyish-looking Hart, 29, says. “I’ve shot people, stabbed several, been shot at, run over someone with a car. Most of the things I’ve done on television have been fairly dreadful. It’s difficult, even if you change your accent. As soon as they find out you’re from Liverpool they want to rewrite the character and make him a villain.”
That may change following Hart’s performance as John Lennon in the film “Backbeat,” which opens in the U.S. on Friday. The movie charts the early days of the Beatles and the affair between the so-called fifth Beatle, Stuart Sutcliffe (played by Stephen Dorff) and Astrid Kircherr (Sheryl Lee). But British critics have said it’s Hart’s performance that steals and propels the movie.
Hart played Lennon once before in the British TV production “The Hours and Times.” That program was shot in six days and he had little time to prepare. The second time around, Hart had a year to study Lennon because the $4.5 million “Backbeat” was off-again, on-again after its original production company, Palace Pictures, went into liquidation.
“I saw ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ 19 times, watched all the other movies, looked at old fan magazines at the Beatles Shop in Liverpool and read books. But mostly I listened to tapes of interviews because they had the type of questions I would have asked him myself,” Hart says.
As expected, Hart reproduces Lennon’s Liverpool accent, which he believes was phony anyway.
“Ringo was born in The Dingle, which is the poorest area of Liverpool and he has that accent,” Hart explains. “John was from Woolton, which is the posh middle-class area yet he spoke with a Dingle accent. I think he put it on to pretend he was working class. No rocker back then would have wanted to be seen as middle-class.”
Hart, whose parents still live in Liverpool, is hoping “Backbeat” will at least let him make acting his full-time profession. Until this movie, his acting jobs were mainly in TV and regional theater. But the jobs that paid the bills were working at the post office, putting rings in ring binders, gluing loops to plastic belts and working in restaurants. All those jobs were done under the pseudonym Jimmy Morry for tax reasons.
“Great guy, Jimmy,” Hart says, laughing.
Jimmy’s resting for a bit while Hart enjoys the attention generated by “Backbeat.” He already has another film lined up — a Ken Loach production in Spain about the Spanish Civil War. In typical Loach style, there’s no script. Hart knows nothing about his character except that he’s English and fights with the anarchists. After that, he’s not sure, and says he might go back to working in a restaurant.
But he’s learning quickly about the film business — Hart now insists a car pick him up and take him home after interviews.
“I was spending all my money getting to London from Liverpool to do interviews,” Hart says, chuckling. “I didn’t wise up until week six. But now I’m a pro.”