Flynn is in

Flynn is in
Anne Hathaway and Johnny Flynn in Song One.

Johnny Flynn is one of those lucky guys who is attractive in spite of himself.

In the upcoming romantic drama Song One, the 31-year-old lands the lead playing a folk musician who looks like he never, ever showers.

He barely seems capable of talking, and he always has a dumb, dazed expression on his face.

In fact, he looks as if he's just escaped a bear attack, and trekked miles through the frozen wilderness.

An average guy would struggle to make all this sexy, but Flynn really knows how to work it.

The guitar helps, of course.

In a movie that is all about music, he's the shining, golden god.

Opening here on March 5, Song One tells the story of Franny (Anne Hathaway), an anthropologist whose estranged brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield) winds up in a coma.

Franny tracks down her favourite musician James Forester (Flynn), and the two strike up a romance against the backdrop of hipster New York.

Unlike many movies, in which actors with little-to-no musical talent are cast as musicians, here it is Flynn, who is as much a musician as he is an actor.

For US actress Hathaway, who also produced the film with her husband Adam Shulman, this was a crucial element of the production.

"Casting was an enormous question mark," she said.

"We made a vow: if we couldn't find James Forester and we couldn't pin down his sound, we weren't going to make the film."

Of course, they did find him. To a T.

The character he's playing isn't very far removed from himself at all.

FOLK-ROCKERS

They're both folk-rockers with small but strong cult followings.

They're both English.

They're both super chill.

"I read the script and was thinking, did they write this for me?" Flynn said. "It was a bit strange.

"James plays in all the same places I play in New York.

"James retreats to the woods in Maine, just like I used to hole up in my beat-up old caravan.

"In the film, fans hold up signs saying 'We Love You, JF!' and, if I'm lucky, I get the same sort of signs when I play.

"It was a good fit to be exploring a role very much like myself."

Flynn was first inspired to create music after buying an old Bob Dylan record at a garage sale when he was just 11.

You can see the influence of the seminal folk-meister in Flynn's most recent album Country Mile, released in 2013.

It's smart, sympathetic, earnest and earthy like Dylan, but with the added benefit that Flynn actually has a pleasant voice.

In addition to his folk albums, Flynn also writes music for movies and television. In fact, it was a song he did for a French film that landed him his latest gig.

Said Song One's writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland: "By coincidence, I had filed away in the back of my mind a song I really loved from the soundtrack of a French film I'd seen at the New York Film Festival in 2011 titled Goodbye First Love.

"It was the next summer and we were auditioning lots of musicians, and I happened to watch a trailer online for the film.

"That's when I heard that gorgeous song again.

"I Googled it and found out that it was called The Water, sung by Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling.

"I did some more Googling and found out that Johnny was also a classically-trained actor.

"We got very excited and sent him the script and some songs and asked him to make an audition tape, and next thing you know we were heading to London to meet Johnny."

For Flynn, The Water turned out to be the "one song" that would launch him onto the international stage.

He has acted in British stage plays and on television since his early 20s - his most recent project was a sitcom called Scrotal Recall - but being in an Anne Hathaway joint is something completely different.

Fortunately, thanks to his giant arsenal of mad skills, Flynn was able to rise to the occasion.

Said Barker-Froyland: "We knew the characters had to be played by real musicians to make things realistic.

"An actor strumming a bit of fake guitar wouldn't cut it."

So what does Flynn think of landing in the Hollywood limelight?

He told Hunger magazine: "I'm not hungry for fame in any way whatsoever; I'm not particularly keen for my life to change in that kind of way, especially having been around Anne and New York while we were doing the film. People don't always see her as a person, to the media she is such a commodity and it's so sad because she deals with it with such grace and humour but I kept thinking: 'God if that were me I'd go nuts!'.

"I guess it's a difficult thing with both these careers because you want to do good work and to live off it and sometimes that goes hand in hand with being elevated, so you have to keep your feet on the ground."

jjohnson@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 25, 2015.
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