Cast: Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Ana de Armas, Kate McKinnon, Lamorne Morris, Joel Fry
Director: Danny Boyle
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Running Time: 116 minutes
Synopsis: From Academy Award®-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) and Richard Curtis, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually and Notting Hill, comes a rock-n-roll comedy about music, dreams, friendship, and the long and winding road that leads to the love of your life. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, BBC's Eastenders) is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James, Mama Mia! Here We Go Again). Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed . and he finds himself with a very complicated problem, indeed. Performing songs by the greatest band in history to a world that has never heard them, and with a little help from his steel-hearted American agent, Debra (Emmy winner Kate McKinnon), Jack's fame explodes. But as his star rises, he risks losing Ellie - the one person who always believed in him. With the door between his old life and his new closing, Jack will need to get back to where he once belonged and prove that all you need is love.
Release Date: June 27th, 2019
Curtis and Boyle's Dynamic Duo
It was only natural that Working Title Films would reach out to collaborate with screenwriter Richard Curtis on a passion project that had been bubbling up through the studio's development channels. Producer Tim Bevan has known Curtis for 30 years, and"from the films of the Bridget Jones series to Notting Hill, Love Actually and About a Boy"every film Curtis has written has been produced by the company that's synonymous with British cinema.
"One of our producers came to me with Jack Barth's idea, a story about a musician who remembers The Beatles' music in a world where no one else does," Richard Curtis says. "I loved the idea, and at that point told them I didn't want to read the script…as I would like a crack at it myself. I went away and wrote a film based on that simple-but-brilliant idea. So, whilst the extraordinary premise is Jack's, the script and shape of the story are mine."
Although Curtis is known for sometimes helming scripts he's crafted, on this occasion he abstained. "I was never going to direct it," he says. "I didn't even think about who should because first you've got to write a script worth anyone directing. However, once I had finished the script, Danny Boyle was the first person I asked."
Curtis and Boyle knew each other a bit, as the writer had helped Boyle with his opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics, being called in to create a Chariots of Fire spoof with Rowan Atkinson. "We did a little thing on the Olympics where I worked with Rowan, creating a performance for Mr. Bean," Curtis says. "It was great that Danny wanted something funny in the middle of the opening ceremony, because that's not a very usual thing."
As the joke was about cheating"a daring move for the inaugural evening of the world's biggest sporting event"it was a break from tradition in more ways than one. Still, it's this approach that defines Boyle as an artist. "Danny wants more out of a scene at every point, and that's exciting," Curtis says. "He's an ecstatic filmmaker. He kept talking about how Jürgen Klopp manages the Liverpool football team with something called 'Gegenpressing,' which is when you squeeze as much into the attack as you possibly can, and he says that's what he always wants to do."
So, six years after that Olympic triumph, Curtis sent Boyle his draft of Yesterday, but he wasn't particularly optimistic that Boyle would say yes. "I thought it was unlikely at the time," Curtis says, both because of Boyle's busy schedule and the nature of the story. "In a way, Four Weddings is the anti-Trainspotting, and Trainspotting is the anti-Four Weddings." Still, both films embrace Britishness and have euphoric cinematic, uplifting endings. "It cuts both ways," Curtis says. "It's expected and unexpected."
To the delight of those involved, Boyle agreed to direct. "This is not your typical film story," Bevan says. "Getting to that stage is usually very difficult, but in this case, it was pretty easy."
As Boyle remembers it, Curtis had sent him the script without revealing much about it. "I read it through in one sitting and emailed straight back with a phrase I love that Coleridge used about Wordsworth," Boyle says. "I wrote, 'This is unborrowed genius.' Richard said, 'Well it's not actually. It's based on a story that's already been written, and I've rewritten it.' Anyway, it was a wonderful surprise and a delight to see: this simple idea of everybody forgetting The Beatles, apart from one struggling singer-songwriter from Suffolk."
In the Boyle-Curtis partnership, Bevan saw connections between these seemingly disparate artists. "The interesting thing about Richard and Danny is that they both emerged in the late '80s/early '90s with Trainspotting and Four Weddings," Bevan says. "They both had films that were British and very successful, and both made the decision to stay in the U.K. to make their films and not head to Hollywood. They understood that a cultural specificity in their work was an important part of it, and that it's easier to make good work when you are dealing out of your own culture.
"They both did these two things," Bevan continues. "Both had lots of success and turned around the whole perception of modern British cinema because they stayed in Britain and made British movies. Those British movies went out around the world and did mega-business. There's a logic that at some point those two would work together and a logic, too, in that both love music"particularly pop music. The film they might work together on would be about pop music. Between them and the iconic songs of The Beatles and Working Title, another British brand, is that you have an interesting combination of British filmmaking and creative talent."
Still, before Boyle would put his name to the romantic comedy, he had to be sure he would have complete freedom to make the film he wanted to make. "When Danny came 'round to see us, he asked if he could audition for the film, which of course is an absurd idea," Curtis says. "But what he was doing was checking whether the ideas he felt strongly about were acceptable to us. If they weren't, he wouldn't do it. He pitched the film he wanted to make right back at us."
Bevan has long been impressed by how singular Boyle is as a director. "He's a person who says, 'If somebody else can direct this film, there's no point in getting me to do it,'" Bevan says. "He gets his DNA into it, and that's a good thing. He also surrounds himself with non-divas. All the heads of department and his producer, Bernard Bellew, are here to do the job. They love the job, and they love him. It's a very democratic set. It's the way things should be done and, sadly, are not done often enough. It's extremely refreshing. Danny clearly loves making movies and getting into the detail with his heads of department."
Once Boyle was onboard, he asked Curtis to change about a quarter of his working script, and a percentage of what Curtis had written was altered completely. "Writing is always a process of change," Curtis says. "By the time it's edited you end up cutting 25 pages completely, so I'm not the slightest bit sensitive about it. It was all for the better. Jack is telling a lie throughout most of the story, and how do you express that? I kept using 'he feels very guilty,' and Danny said this is quite hard to do; there's a limit to how many times you can cut to a bloke looking a bit guilty! He had this idea about putting in a nightmare where all his worst fears come true, so there's now a scene where that visualizes Jack's guilt, rather than just showing him feeling a bit guilty. That's a big-old proper scene. It was things like that, taking the film and making it more visual, more exciting, better."
Boyle loved collaborating with Curtis as they finalized the shape of the film. "I've always regarded Richard as Britain's poet laureate of romance and comedy," Boyle says. "I'm in awe of his devotion to that intersection of romance and comedy. I made a couple of films early on, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, that were very low-budget, did very well and had everybody hammering on our door saying, 'What are you going to do next? Do this. Do this!' I went off and made what I thought was a romantic comedy, A Life Less Ordinary, which I'm very fond of. But when we came back after we'd shot it, before we'd even edited it, I remember reading Richard's script for Notting Hill. I thought 'Now, that's a romantic comedy in its purest sense.' It's been great to be part of the process of working on a script like this from him, and to deliver a fullhearted romance that truly believes in love. Belief in The Beatles is a belief in love. Richard certainly has that."
With Boyle in the director's chair, it was now time to find a home for Yesterday: a studio that would not only support the filmmakers on their journey but one that trusted their instincts. On paper, the film, without stars with proven box-office records, posed big potential risks for a major studio.
When Curtis and Bevan pitched the idea to Universal, it raised eyebrows among the studio executives. "It's a pretty wacko idea," Bevan says. But the executives were willing to take the leap because of the filmmakers involved. "They said that if anyone could pull this off, Richard and Danny could. When dealing with studios, or American industry backing, the one thing they understand is the scarcity of good directors. If you get a renowned director, all the other issues tend to go away."
Boyle was thrilled that the film had found the right home. "Being part of The Working Title/Universal setup, which is the only production outfit we have in Britain really, gave us a sense of security as we planned and went into the film," Boyle says. "We knew it was safe, was going to be financed well and we'd be left to make the film we wanted. It's been a delightful process right the way through."
For Boyle, Curtis and the other filmmakers, the primary and constant goal with Yesterday was to fuse the emotional truth of The Beatles' music with a love story worthy of their songs. "Somebody said something about the number of times the word 'love' appears in The Beatles' songs compared to the Bible," Boyle says. "By some extraordinary margin, The Beatles win hands down. I hope that's what people will take out of this film: that it's a love story. So where better to go for a love story than The Beatles? A dual love story. A love story to this music, which is a part of world culture now, and a beautiful unexpected love story that runs alongside it that benefits from the story arc that takes you on such a roller-coaster journey."
It is also a film about limitless possibilities, the idea that, even when something has been lost, you can regain it. For Boyle, The Beatles' music represents the fundamental moment where the world came out of a half century of world war and was reborn. "It shifted the world on its axis when the people were given the power of their instincts, about art, love and poetry," Boyle says. "All those things that can be in those songs fundamentally changed the world to the force of movement…toward the teenager and the glory of pop sensibility. People decided to live. All because of these four guys."
With the film greenlit, the filmmakers began the critical task of finding and casting the actor who would play Yesterday's reluctant hero, Jack Malik. That proved to be tricky. "We had some great auditions," Curtis says. "We had some very good actors who couldn't sing and some very good singers who couldn't act."
Neither option was workable. "It quickly became apparent that if an actor couldn't sing beautifully and play the guitar"as well as play the piano and act and be funny"then he wasn't a contender," Bevan says. "It also became apparent that whoever played Jack would probably be somebody who didn't have film fame."
Himesh Patel was not considered an obvious choice when casting director Gail Stevens and her assistant, Rebecca Farhall, first presented him to Boyle. "They brought in this guy, saying he's on EastEnders," Boyle says. "I don't watch the show regularly, but I had seen him. I was a judge on the short-film section of a festival called Shuffle, in the East End where I live, which one of my daughters runs. I picked Two Dosas, a 15-minute short, which Himesh was the lead in"very funny with his droll, modern, 'boom, boom' humor. I didn't clock it then, but I realized it afterward."
As soon as Patel began to play, something clicked. "He played 'USSR' on acoustic guitar, and it was one of those 'bing!' moments," Boyle says. "As soon as he sang it, I knew. There were other more obvious candidates for the role, but I knew then, 'That's him.' It was like I'd never heard that song, a song I loved, before. He'd taken it over. He was utterly respectful with The Beatles' songs, and yet free with them as well. It wasn't some karaoke version that tries to be clever. It felt like you were hearing the song afresh. There was something about Himesh that the songs just belonged to him."
Casting Patel, who is relatively unknown outside the U.K., may have seemed like a risk, but the decision to catapult him into the global spotlight mirrored the rise of The Beatles themselves. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison were just lads from Liverpool who created something extraordinary, and in so doing made an extraordinary impact on the world. "Danny and I absolutely loved Himesh," Curtis says. "He was witty and charming; he stuck to this beautiful clarity that let The Beatles' songs breathe on their own, and we loved the fact that he wasn't particularly famous…unless you're a fan of EastEnders. In which case, he's one of the eight most famous people in the world."
Indeed, to watchers of the BBC One prime-time soap opera EastEnders, which has been on the air since 1985 and has become a cultural institution in Britain, Patel is a household name, having grown up on the show playing Tamwar Masood for nine years. The series had been a boot-camp introduction to acting for Patel. Players had to record 25 to 30 scenes a day and appear in as many as 8 to 12 episodes a week. Still, the prospect of his first movie was still an intimidating one. "What with everything that I've had to do for this role, it being my first film, I was a bit daunted by the setup of everything," Patel says. "It was all quite new to me."
But the role resonated with him. "Jack is an aspiring singer and songwriter who's been trying to make it for a while," Patel says. "In the beginning, he's still playing to empty rooms and people who don't care, which starts to affect his confidence and makes him wonder if he should go back to teaching. After he realizes he's living in a world where The Beatles never existed, Jack is faced with a conundrum. He ultimately decides to take the opportunity to pass their music off as his own, which gains him the attention of none other than Ed Sheeran. While touring with Ed, Jack becomes something of a superstar, and although it's everything he ever wanted, it also comes with a whole new world of complications."
Although Patel was prepared for how challenging the Yesterday shoot would be, he hadn't fully realised what an academic journey it would be into the musical legacy of the Fab Four. "A couple of weeks before we started shooting, Danny had me write down a list of Beatles' songs as they came to me," Patel says. "I wrote down 20 songs and there were some huge songs that I completely forgot about, which made it interesting to take that into the film because it's such an important part of the story. We stayed true to the songs lyrically and musically, but also made them Jack's own. It was great to be reminded of these wonderful songs and to play them in my own way.
"You've got to pick the songs that are relevant to the story, so there'll be some huge songs that people will wonder why they're not in the movie," he continues. "But Jack might not remember them; it's only at the end of the movie that he remembers 'All You Need Is Love.' Throughout the film we've got this thread of him not being able to remember the lyrics to 'Eleanor Rigby.' That's been amazing, trying to remember lyrics. When I'm trying to remember the songs myself, it's been an interesting exercise in this weird situation. What would you do? Would you remember it all correctly?"
Before Jack's mysterious accident, he had used Post-It notes to write down the lyrics of his own songs. "When he realizes he's the only person who knows The Beatles' songs," Patel says, "he tries to remember the titles and lyrics by writing them on Post-It notes, too. I did exercises to try to remember The Beatles' lyrics while preparing for this role. It was interesting because it made me relate to Jack that much more, as he's going through the same experience."
In terms of trusting his director, Patel doesn't mince words. "Danny had so much energy and enthusiasm on set, you couldn't help but be inspired by him," the actor says. "That fed into how I felt when I walked on set"completely supported and able to talk to him about anything. I learned an awful lot from him, not only as an actor, but as a person. Danny is a poet of cinema. He did things with the camera that no one expected."
Likewise, the source of this material made quite the impact. "Richard's movies celebrate love and everything that's good about the human spirit, which is what this movie does as well," Patel says. "Working with him made me realise where his stories came from because he's full of heart and generosity."
Accompanying Patel on his journey into the alternate world created by Boyle and Curtis is Lily James, who plays schoolteacher/manager/long-suffering friend Ellie. James first came to prominence on the small screen starring as Lady Rose MacClare in Downton Abbey before making the leap into film with Wrath of the Titans. Her career has continued to flourish, and with recent critically acclaimed performances in Darkest Hour, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and Baby Driver, she was a canny choice to play Ellie.
"Lily James lights up the sky," Boyle says. "This was my first time working with her. When she came in, we talked a bit and read a couple of scenes together. I always like acting the scenes out with the actor. I would play her with Himesh in his auditions, and then I'd play Himesh in hers. You could tell straight away she's a fantastic actress. The part of Ellie is a friend who's also his manager, in the sense of helping him move his gear around and get bookings for gigs. She's such a contrast to the other manager, Debra. Both are very funny actors, but Lily's Ellie has a grace about her as well, which perseveres even if she doesn't realize it. That is gold."
Curtis was wowed by James, too. "It's the most gorgeous performance by her," Curtis says. "She's the only actress that we saw for the part of this normal, lovely girl with messy hair and a slightly bad taste in clothes. She is the heart and soul of the movie."
On set, the interaction between Patel and James somewhat mirrored the roles they were playing: Patel stepping into an arena that's out of his comfort zone, James ably abetting him. "Lily helped Himesh a lot because she has carried that load [of being the lead in a film] herself," Boyle says. "There's something about them. They got on very well and shared that responsibility in the film very much."
It turns out that Patel and James have mutual friends, so it was easier to connect on another level. "It was great to work with someone so professional but also someone that I could have so much fun with," Patel says. "Lily was so generous and supportive of my journey as an actor. This was not only a daunting project, but it was my first film, so it was nice to have her support and to watch how she carried herself on set."
The heart of Yesterday's narrative is the story of these two characters who have grown up together"and who have an inseparable bond"but whose friendship takes a different turn when the extraordinary happens. "Whether you're a huge Beatles fan or not, this is the type of concept that anyone can enjoy," James says. "The film is about friendship, romance, family, success and music, which brings everyone together. It dives into what it really means to be successful and happy."
Introducing us to her character, James continues: "Ellie loves her vibrant, busy and hectic life in Suffolk. She is basically Jack's manager, driver and roadie, all in one whilst also being a teacher. They're inseparable; they've been best friends for their whole lives, but Ellie is also very much in love with him. So, when Jack becomes focused on his music, their romance is put on the backburner."
To get into character, James spent a bit of time in Ellie's work shoes. "I visited a school in Lowestoft and observed their teachers for a day," the performer says. "It was incredible to see the amount of passion they feel for the kids."
For Jack, Ellie is the keystone to his own happiness, even if he's a little slow to realize it. "Ellie is Jack's rock," Patel says. "They've been best friends since they were kids, and she's believed in him from the moment she saw him singing 'Wonderwall' at a school assembly. She knew he was special, not only as a musician but as a person. "As they've grown up, Jack has always been ignorant about the fact that Ellie has wanted more," Patel continues. "She supports him in the most brilliant way and hopes he'll open his eyes and see that they're meant to be together. Ellie is the complete antithesis to the world of popstars, record labels and Hollywood. She's a humble school teacher from a sleepy town in the east of England, and she's happy with that because she knows she loves Jack and that's all she needs."
The actresses was inarguably impressed with her co-star. "Himesh performed the songs of the film in such a pure and honest way," James says. "His voice is incredible and resembles the early Beatles. It's very heartfelt." She was inspired by Patel's progress through rehearsals and to the actual shoot. "Himesh is so genuine that he makes you want to root for him from start to finish. His performance is so natural and the confidence he had on stage as he became a rock star made the audience love him."
For James, working from Curtis' script under Boyle's direction was a dream come true "Danny was so good about capturing the feeling of the early Beatles," she says. "He brought back that spark in the music that the whole world fell in love with. Danny was full of energy and passionate about the project. He's a huge Beatles fan, so we all knew the story was in the perfect hands. Watching him visualize the story and work alongside Chris Ross with the camera was inspiring. I felt a lot of confidence in knowing that there were these magicians behind the camera."
It is a case of two for the price of one when you throw Curtis into the equation. There were only a handful of occasions Curtis was not able to be on set because of his charitable Red Nose commitments. But when he was there, he was an incredible support to the actors. "In true Richard Curtis form, the story made my heart swell and was hilarious," James says. "He's a master at capturing what's good and hopeful about life. I grew up watching his films; I know every word in Love Actually. Notting Hill may be my favorite film of all time, so to be in a film that Richard wrote and to be around him every day was a total dream. He had an intoxicating charisma and energy on set."
As Himself (Sort of)
In an instance of art imitating life, the story for Yesterday was drawn, in part, from superstar Ed Sheeran's rise to fame. "The film is vaguely based on Ed because he's a friend of Richard's," producer Bevan says. So, it's odd that Sheeran was not the first choice to play the role of a real-life star who, after seeing Jack on a local TV show, gives Jack his first big break, hiring him to be his opening act on an upcoming tour. "Originally that part was written for Chris Martin of Coldplay, but he didn't want to do it," Bevan says. "So, we went to Ed straight away." Sheeran luckily said, "yes." Still, during production he did seize every opportunity to rib the filmmakers about picking him second.
"Ed's the son I never had," says Curtis. "I had orange hair when I was young, and Ed's got orange hair. The truth is that in some ways this film was about Ed"insofar as it's an Ed that hasn't succeeded, comes from Suffolk and is engaged to a girl he was at school with, which is the same story as Jack. They're all sorts of ingredients from Ed's life that were in my head because we've known him for years. We were in Suffolk with Danny when Ed came over for supper and Danny said, 'You should be in the film. You should be the famous person who finds our not-famous person and helps him on his way.'"
Boyle remembers it well. "I went to a Hollywood-type dinner, I suppose, but where Richard lives in Suffolk," Boyle says. "Ed lives locally. Himesh himself was brought up in Cambridge, where his mum and dad run a shop, which is very close by. You've got a lot of connections." The director loved his brief anonymity at the party. "I don't think Ed knew who I was; I could see him Googling me as the evening went on. Thankfully, I hadn't disappeared! I heard him say, 'Is this the guy who's directing the movie?'"
This meal fell in the middle of the process of finding out whether Sheeran would agree to play himself. "He does have another career, you know," Boyle says wryly. "But it was like a skeleton or an X-ray of the idea. He's been through that movement in his career"a singer-songwriter playing local pubs in Suffolk and then being catapulted into unbelievable success and fame with a body of songs that has taken him there. Nothing to do with celebrity in any sense of the word, but actual songwriting graft and skill. It felt like a perfect way that he's used in the film, just as he is."
Once Sheeran came aboard, Boyle demanded the level of commitment he asks of all his performers: "I said, 'Ed, you've got to spend time with us rehearsing,'" Boyle says. "Knowing full well his success means his time is very precious. He did the rehearsal and took it very seriously; he took notes very well. He knows about songwriting, so when he says to Jack: 'How did you do that? I don't believe you,' you think he would know better than anyone that you don't just turn out a song like 'Yesterday' like that. Although apparently Paul McCartney did, but these miracles don't happen just like that. There's a lot of graft involved. Whereas for Jack the songs just seem to appear literally in 10 minutes. 'The Long and Winding Road' appears to take 10 or 15 minutes."
A major global music star himself, Sheeran identified with the challenges Jack faces when he skyrockets to fame. "It's important to find a balance between your career and personal life," Sheeran says. "It took me about eight years to find that balance, and it's what Jack struggles with in the film." And he was impressed with how Patel embodied Jack, and by Patel's musical talent. "I don't think anyone besides Himesh could have played the role of Jack as well as he did," Sheeran says. "I got goosebumps the first time I heard him sing 'The Long and Winding Road' during our songwriting-competition scene. That's when I knew it was going to be a truly special film. Himesh's voice is beautiful, and he did wonders to the songs." He pauses, "I don't know what his plans for the future are, but I think he should make an album."
Patel was just as dazzled by his co-star's acting ability. "Ed is incredibly present and spontaneous as an actor," Patel provides. "Every take we had together was different." In one pivotal scene, Sheeran challenges Jack to an instant songwriting contest, while the other members of the tour look on. For his song, Sheeran used one he wrote himself. "The song I sang in the competition scene is called 'Penguins,'" Sheeran says. "I wrote it ages ago and it never made it onto an album, so I thought it would be nice to use for the film." It's a lovely song, but after he performs it, Jack performs "The Long and Winding Road" as if he had written it in mere minutes. Sheeran, in the film, graciously admits defeat.
Although Sheeran had acted previously, notably in 2016's Bridget Jones's Baby and in a 2017 episode of HBO's Game of Thrones, the musician is the first to admit that the extent of his screen time in Yesterday is far greater than with any project he's done before. "Working on this made me realize how much of a longer and more-extensive process filmmaking is compared to making music," he says. Admittedly, he was grateful for Boyle's guidance and general bonhomie. "Danny had such a way of talking to everyone on set. Even if I made a mistake, he would tell me what was wrong in such a friendly way and made me feel good about myself."
And, although Yesterday centers around the music of The Beatles, the filmmakers thought they would be missing a major opportunity if they did not ask Sheeran, one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, to write a song for the final scenes of the film. But it almost didn't happen, and it took two attempts, years apart. "When I started writing Yesterday, I thought it would be a great idea to have, as well as all The Beatles' songs, one wonderfully romantic song at the end, which is ostensibly written by Jack," says Curtis. "I mentioned this to Ed, and he said, 'I'll write you one.' He came back two days later with this song, and it was just perfect and we all got terribly excited."
The song was "How Would You Feel?" Unfortunately, Sheeran's record company agreed that it was perfect, too, which is why it was featured on his album "Divide" and not in the film. "That was disappointing," says Curtis.
But all was not lost. Two years later, with Sheeran cast in the film, Curtis' dream to close Yesterday with a song by the artist became a reality. "I originally wrote that the last song Jack performs would be on stage"but, as with everything in the movie, things change," he says. Sheeran's beautiful song "One Life" now plays nearly at the end of the film when at last Ellie and Jack's love has a chance to blossom into reality, all barriers removed.
Ellie isn't the only manager in Jack's life. The second, and inarguably crazier, of the pair is Debra, Jack's Hollywood agent. "Ellie is the one that has that endless patience and devotion that is beyond the call of duty," Boyle says. "Debra represents all the bad side of the business. They are a wonderful contrast."
For the performer, the gig was an easy one to accept. "This was the greatest script I had ever read," McKinnon says. "I knew right away that I wanted to be part of it." It didn't hurt that it was a dream part for her. "I'd always wanted to play an agent," she says. "It's a fascinating job. The second I heard the role, I said 'yes.'
"Debra is Jack's agent who embodies all of the worst nightmares about Hollywood," McKinnon continues. "While Jack is trying to keep his life together, Debra sweeps in and takes over, creating all the chaos that comes along with being a musician. When Debra hears Jack playing The Beatles' music, she believes he's produced the greatest compilation of music of all time. She immediately sees dollar signs and tries to milk him for all he's worth."
She is, in other words, not a nurturer. "Debra is a terrible human being," Patel reveals. "Kate made her character terrifying, hilarious and utterly beautiful. It was exciting to watch her improvise each scene a little differently."
For Curtis, the character was particularly fun to write. "She's a greedy blonde," he says, laughing. "There is, as it were, the devil in the movie. She kept saying, 'I'm the villain.' I loved writing that part. I traditionally don't have villainous people in my films, but the first thing I ever wrote, which was Blackadder, was only villains so it was quite nice to once again get my teeth into a character who's rude almost all the time. As my sons call it, 'roasting.' She's a roaster."
Boyle was thrilled with McKinnon's deft ability to bring Debra to life. "Kate is one of the ace comedians," Boyle says. "She's also proof that if they get the opportunity, often they're amazing actors as well. She's not denying her comic ability, but she'd do improvs where we'd set up a scene with a particular purpose that Richard had written and then she would go off on one. She would just chuck out these comic ideas, but keep the essence rooted in the character, which is an extreme one she based on her own agent apparently. It allowed us to bounce off, without it feeling like a sketch show or stretching the plausibility within the story. She takes it very seriously, as comedians often do off camera; Kate's a serious professional. She focuses that skill, energy and talent. Off-camera, she's preparing, working at getting it as best as possible. It was a great pleasure to have her."
The feeling was mutual. "The way Danny chose the different camera angles for various shots was incredible," McKinnon says. "He developed a visual language that elevated the story. He had such a unique way of seeing the scenes and added a whole new dimension to the story." And working with a Richard Curtis script was everything she hoped and more. "Richard's way of telling this story was not only hilarious, but also grounded in so much heart, romanticism and kindness," she says. "His stories all represent the celebration of human joy and connection."
Most of McKinnon's scenes are with Patel, and just as Debra is in awe of Jack's talents, McKinnon found herself wowed by her co-star's. "I would not have wanted to be Himesh," she says. "He had to carry the weight of the legacy of The Beatles on his shoulders. Himesh not only memorized every line of every scene, but he also taught himself how to play two instruments beautifully. He breathed new life into the songs and made them his own. The fact that he managed to do that within the span of shooting the movie says so much about how focused, hardworking and even-keeled he is."
McKinnon also has a special connection to the Fab Four. "When I was young, I learned to play the piano by playing The Beatles' catalogue with my dad," she says. "'In My Life' was our mutual favorite and is still my favorite today. Their music has some sort of significance in everyone's lives." Discussing the premise of Yesterday, she reflects: "As a lifelong Beatles fan, I think it's a poignant notion that the world would be a worse place without their music. Imagining a world without The Beatles' catalogue is like imagining a world without peacocks or rainbows. We would survive, but it would be a whole lot less colorful."
No lead singer is worth his salt without his road crew, and no better roadie exists than Rocky. Well, some better ones, but none as charming. In the tradition of brutally honest best friends in Curtis' films"from Rhys Ifans' Spike in Notting Hill and Charlotte Coleman's Scarlett in Four Weddings and a Funeral to Gregor Fisher's Joe in Love Actually"Game of Thrones' Joel Fry brings to Yesterday a Rocky that is equal parts daft and delight. "Rocky is an old friend of Jack's who resurfaces and becomes Jack's road manager," Patel says. "Rocky's completely carefree, hedonistic and hilarious. He ends up becoming Jack's right-hand man on his journey."
Because Jack has no connection to the music industry and relies on his tight cluster of friends in a village in Suffolk for everything, he's in a bit of quandary when he's approached by Ed Sheeran to become Sheeran's opening act on tour. Jack finds himself in desperate need of a road manager, fast. And Ellie, sadly, is not available. "There's literally nobody free to work for him as his roadie…other than the most irresponsible and disastrous choice," Curtis says. "His friend Rocky is a semi-reformed drug addict. That part is played by Joel Fry with such glee and idiosyncrasy and height. That's a joy."
Fry initially tried out for the role of Jack and then, in a stroke of bad luck, ended up having to audition while seriously ill. "Joel is a fantastic musician," Boyle says. "The casting director said, 'You should see this guy. He's not very well at the moment, and we recommended he doesn't come in…he's so sick.' Joel came in, and he literally had the plague. He played some songs, did the best he could. The casting director had said she knew we weren't going to cast him as Jack, but we should see him for Rocky and get him in the film. What a call that was because he was beautiful, both funny and noble. It's that thing about comic characters; he's playing what my mum used to call an 'eejit.' But he is a wonderful, special guy as well. That Rocky was a lovely discovery and a lovely bit of comic writing. Really beautiful."
Fry found a certain philosophical wisdom in his character. "Rocky is a carefree person who thinks it's more important to enjoy life and see the world than worry about the small things," Fry says. "He doesn't stress about much, and I think a lot of people could use a bit of that mentality. As Richard put it, Rocky is 'dangerously relaxed.'"
Playing Himself (Sort of)
In one crucial scene that illuminates Jack's guilt about claiming The Beatles' songs as his own, he's scheduled to appear on The Late Late Show, hosted by James Corden"but before his appearance he has an anxiety dream where Corden confronts him about it. Corden, it turns out, is a friend of Boyle's and was game to do it. "I met James before he went off after Gavin & Stacey," Boyle says. "I was getting a stage award in London for directing Frankenstein at The National, and he was getting one for One Man, Two Guvnors. We were backstage, and I said, 'Enjoy your work very much. What you going to do next?' He said, 'I'm going to go to America and give it a go there.' And there you go. He went off, but he's retained this appetite for this work."
Although Corden has been in several Curtis' scripts, this is the only one in which he has survived the edit. This made Curtis a little nervous. "Rich said, 'You've got to keep James in the film because if I cut him out, he'll never speak to me again!'" Boyle says, laughing. Corden even let the film use all the elements from his show and set for the shoot. "We wouldn't have been able to afford to set up the scale of that show," Boyle says. "They staged this version of his show for us on a Saturday. It was all their infrastructure and team, and it's the only way that we could do it. We had to fly to L.A. the night before, shoot it and then fly back. It was our first day, and it was a tremendous performance by Himesh of 'Something.' James is terrific, incredibly skilled at that extraordinary, constant turnaround you have on these shows during a week. He's very quick at working and a good actor. He asks you what you want and gives it to you, no messing."
Corden was also, it turns out, hiding a little secret from the filmmakers. "James gives the impression of being so indiscrete in his garrulous chat show manner," Boyle says, "but he was very discrete because he was planning the trip with Paul McCartney around his home town of Liverpool for the 'Carpool Karaoke' thing. He never gave us clue. He didn't tell us that he was off. So, when I saw it I thought, 'Yeah, you were planning that as well, but you didn't let on.'"
The Ultimate Catalogue
Securing the Music Rights
Curtis and Boyle, both huge Beatles fans, would not have made the film without the blessing of the surviving members of the band, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison. From the strength of those relationships, and with the approval of the musicians and their families, the production was then able to move forward and secure the composition rights to The Beatles' songs for Patel to record for the film.
That didn't make one aspect of Curtis's writing process any easier: Of all The Beatles' iconic songs, which ones do you pick? And, even harder, which ones do you leave out?
What, No "Sgt. Pepper"?
Choosing Yesterday's Songs
Indisputably, it's the music and lyrics in Yesterday that help carry the narrative throughout the film. "The songs were chosen very carefully by Richard," music producer Ilhan says. It not only matters which songs were chosen, but the order in which they are heard. The music itself creates a narrative arc of Jack's journey. "The songs are very important," Ilhan says. "In that order, at that time, they tell the story."
For Curtis, selecting from the plethora of Beatles hits was no easy task. "We've tried to represent all sides of The Beatles' work"rockier sides, romantic sides, reflective ones," Curtis says. "I had an odd relationship with The Beatles' songs whilst I was writing the film. I was half trying not to listen to them too much because I was half trying to think 'What would Jack remember?' One day, Danny asked Himesh to name as many Beatles songs as he could, and it was tough. What you have to do is go back through the albums." Here, Curtis explains why each song was chosen.
"Yesterday": "Paul McCartney felt it was the most perfect drop of genius. It was such a miracle song that when he first wrote it, he thought he must have stolen it or dreamt it. In the film, it's the first Beatles song Jack plays after his accident, and his friends' reaction when he performs it is Jack's (and our) first clue that something strange is going on. Jack's friends claim to have never heard it before, and believe Jack wrote it. In that scene, you are looking for a pure-perfect song where everyone would be openmouthed on hearing it. So that's why 'Yesterday' went in. We then had Jack record a selection of Beatles songs"'She Loves You,' 'I Want to Hold Your Hand,' 'I Saw Her Standing There'"and it's that sense of early '60s Beatles joy when it's just him, Ellie and their friend Gavin [ALEX ARNOLD].
"In My Life": "This is the song that Jack plays on the local TV station, and it's the one that Ed Sheeran sees. We thought it would be lovely to have a sophisticated, perfect song and, strangely, 'In My Life' is the song that Ed played for Paul and Ringo recently. It's quite sweet that this is the song Ed hears. It's also meant to be a double hit that, at the end of the song, Ellie feels it's a proposal of love…for which it isn't.
"Back in the USSR": "On Jack's first night as Sheeran's opening act in Russia, he spontaneously decides to play a version of this song to grab the attention of a distracted audience not remotely interested in listening to him. Needless to say, it gets the crowd's attention. Very simply, we thought it would be a good song for Jack to sing in Russia.
"The Long and Winding Road": "While on tour, Sheeran challenges Jack to a friendly songwriting competition after a show one night. Jack 'writes' this classic in a matter of minutes. For the songwriting competition between Jack and Ed, they wanted something that was an instantly perfect tune. I thought 'The Long and Winding Road' was a perfect example.
"Penny Lane," "Eleanor Rigby" and "Strawberry Fields Forever": "These are all classic songs, but they become the most difficult for Jack to recall in detail, with only his memory as a guide. These are songs planted in the film to remind us that even though we know the songs, recounting the lyrics is quite a different matter. Five times I tried to write 'Eleanor Rigby' from memory, and each time I failed.
"Here Comes the Sun," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Hey Jude": "These are all songs that Jack records in L.A., with a little help from Ed Sheeran, as potential tracks for his upcoming album. Jack starts recording in L.A. And, with that, we wanted to bring a sense of breadth in there, so we included two of George's songs, 'Here Comes the Sun' and 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps.'" And "Hey Jude" provided one of the film's many comedic gems. "'Hey Jude,' is there for the joke, where Ed changes it to 'Hey Dude.'" It's during this recording session that Jack also tries to include some of his own music on the album. It doesn't go so well. "Jack slips one of his songs in there, and it clearly doesn't stand up to the brilliance of The Beatles. It's a reality check and bitter reminder of his lack of talent as a songwriter.
"Help!": For the launch of Jack's album, he performs this song on top of a pub roof, to a massive roaring crowd below. "At this point, Jack's going through a metaphysical crisis. He's with the wrong girl and doing things for the wrong motive; that's when he sings 'Help!' The song always was interesting for that reason. It was portrayed as a lovely, jolly song, but in fact it was a cry for help. John Lennon described it as his 'Bob Dylan' song. They were songs of despair as well as songs of exuberance.
"All You Need Is Love": "This is the song that represents Jack's realization of what truly matters. 'All You Need Is Love' is the song, and the message, Jack's forgotten that lies at the heart of the movie. After he plays it, he tells Ellie how he feels, and that he's made all the wrong choices."
A Fantastic Treat
Music Supervision and Composition
With so much important music in Yesterday, the filmmakers turned to the top-flight team of music producer Adem Ilhan and composer Daniel Pemberton. "I worked with Danny previously on Steve Jobs, and that was a crazy-good experience," Pemberton says. "He called me into his office one day and explained this whole film, which I thought sounded absolutely amazing." But Pemberton's first instinct was to decline the opportunity. "I told him I wasn't the man to do it," he says. "He wanted me to write the score, work with the actors, music direct, and I just thought he needed someone who has lived that life of a singer-songwriter, who understands performing. That's where Adem comes in."
Ilhan is a longtime friend of Pemberton who has been living the life of a singer-songwriter since graduating in 2004. The bass guitarist for post-rock band Fridge, he is also part of the electronic duo Silver Columns and has released a solo album. "Adem is an amazing singer-songwriter, a multi-instrumentalist and a very nice guy who I thought would work really well with Himesh and Lily…and everyone else on the project," Pemberton says. "We decided we would attack this as a team. Our approach was to create an environment that allowed the actors to grow and express themselves as singers, but also give the songs a bit of a twist. Because we are living in this world where The Beatles don't exist, we had to look at it through the filter of Jack; we were constantly trying to think about how that might work."
But there is more to the film's music element than The Beatles' songs. There is the matter of Jack's songs. "Yes, we also had to write Jack's rubbish songs!" Pemberton says, laughing. "Usually, I just write the score. Of course, I always try to get involved with the film right at the beginning, at script stage, but on this it was more than writing the score. It meant involvement with Jack's songs, which aren't as good as The Beatles'. If someone says, 'Write a song better than The Beatles,' you're like 'ah shit!' But if someone says, 'Write a song that is not really that good, but good enough,' you're like, 'yup, I'm your man!'"
The conundrum for the team was how to approach Jack's interpretation of The Beatles' songs in a world bereft of the massive impact they had on culture. "We were trying to be Jack trying to remember The Beatles," says Ilhan. "The big thing for me was, 'Do I listen to their stuff, or do I do it from memory?' I'm a Beatles fan so I know quite a lot of their songs anyway. That was the first port of call for me, to play them back to myself in my head and work out what would I do." In this respect, Ilhan had to mirror Jack's own musical journey. "You have to, to understand where Jack's coming from," Ilhan says. "And there have to be mistakes in the songs."
Ilhan and Pemberton also had to decide how these songs, performed by Patel as Jack, would sound. "Through this story, there are different filters that the songs go through," Pemberton says. "There are aspects that Jack does at the Moscow concert, where we took a phrase from 'USSR.'" The composer sings throughout this interview: "'Wo ho ho ho ho.' It's a very small phrase in the song, but Jack needed something for the audience to latch onto. They've never heard this song in their life, and they are not going to know the lyrics. They might not have got the chorus, but a 'wo-ho-ho-ho' they can get in two seconds. We have this device where Jack repeats that, and that's a way to get the audience on his side."
That moment that Jack creates in "USSR" connects to one of his own songs, "Summer Song," which Jack has repeatedly tried (and failed) to make into a hit. "Jack's using his experience of his old songs and linking it together with The Beatles' songs," Ilhan says.
This narrative trick helped Curtis to weave other characters into the story. "'Summer Song' is the one song that Jack's mate Nick likes," Pemberton adds. "His character isn't much by way of a musical connoisseur, so if he likes 'Summer Song' it's got to have a straightforward chorus that is so obvious he can remember it. The idea is that, if you go through Jack's story, he is taking elements of his song writing and feeding it into his Beatles' work. There's a weird arc in this where we are trying to look at Jack's journey as a songwriter, before he realizes he's the only guy who knows The Beatles' songs, and incorporate how he would approach those songs through that."
To that end, the team aimed to reinterpret these songs without losing the emotional connection that people have to them. And for the audience to feel what it would really be like to hear these iconic songs initially. "I thought about the experience of having 'Yesterday' played to me for the first time," says Ilhan. "The reaction and the idea of it moved me. The Beatles wrote some of the best songs ever, and it's quite compelling and moving to examine what it would be like to be the first person to hear them."
In addition, because Pemberton and Ilhan were working with Sheeran, one of the U.K.'s most lauded singer-songwriters, it was important to represent his voice in the film, too. "Ed's written a great song for the end of the film, so we worked alongside him on that," Pemberton says. "Ultimately, this film is a great example of the power of song. Music is something that connects with so many people; it can change the world. It's nice to be reminded of that in a time when it feels like that art form is being swamped by a more modern world of selfies and Instagram. To reconnect with the power of music is a fantastic treat."
We'll Do It Live
Sound Design and Recording
The recording of key Beatles' work was of paramount importance to the film, and Boyle decided to do it in the most challenging way possible. "It's absolutely normal with a film with a lot of live music in it to pre-record, and then have the actors mime their original recording on-camera," Boyle says. "I didn't want to do that because there are so many technicalities. It's virtually impossible to get music performed live to sound any good because of background noise. Going out of time, out of tune, so many different things that can go wrong. I was convinced by Himesh's performance in the audition that we had to record him live. I'd heard him step up in front of me and just play 'USSR,' and I thought his doing that was the film right there.
"That's the way these songs must work," continues Boyle. "Otherwise, it'll be great for hardcore Beatles aficionados, but for everybody else it will just be like a karaoke film. I hate when actors mime, even though they've worked out how to do it brilliantly these days. I feel it's like an act of miming dialogue. Why would you do that? You need to believe that this moment is happening to that person now for you to witness."
For Boyle, there was only one sound man in the business who could deliver the Olive performance he was after. That man was Simon Hayes, whose work on Les Misérables earned him an Academy Award® for Best Sound Mixing.
"To call Simon a 'sound recordist' doesn't do him justice," Boyle says. "He's a kind of engineer on a physics level. He gathers this army of people and technology, and somehow makes live recording possible. When you're playing live without a click track, timing changes. You can't use one take, and you can't just switch from one take to another. It's very difficult. So, you've got to make sure each version has been brilliantly recorded because that might be the only version that works in the film.
"The success of Simon's work is essential to the success of the film," Boyle adds. "Simon bringing the precision of the recording to these songs, and Daniel's arrangements all working through this prism that was Himesh, was the way to do it. They didn't force things on Himesh; they worked through him and let us bring him to people…which they did to an incredible technical level."
After reading the script, Hayes knew there would be challenges in achieving Boyle's vision, but he wasn't going to let practicalities stand in the way of perfection. "I counted 24 music cues through the film, from little busking scenes in the street corner to the big stadium gigs at Wembley, all of which we were going to record live, so it was pretty daunting," Hayes says. "Danny's approach is all about the performance; that's what we were there to catch. What we don't try and do with any of the equipment, or any of the technical sides of things, is stand in the way of that performance and that storytelling.
"It's been a huge responsibility, being able to cover all this live," Hayes adds. "You have various issues on the set, keeping everything quiet, but what you get is this amazing energy."
Hey Dude, Don't Be Afraid
Patel Becomes a Beatle
In addition to finding his character, Patel had to study The Beatles' songs, not only how to play them but how to perform them for a huge crowd. "Learning the songs was a daunting prospect for me," Patel says. "I had been teaching myself guitar for about 10 years, but there's only so far you can get when you teach yourself."
While the building blocks were there, Patel had a serious amount of prep and homework to do before stepping in front of the camera. Luckily, the actor was in the good hands of composer Pemberton and music producer Ilhan.
"Adem and I spent two months learning the songs," Patel says. "He was always supportive and instilled the confidence in me that I needed. It was fun to not only learn some of the best songs ever written, but also make them our own in a way. Adem instilled in me the confidence that I needed to do what I had to do"Wembley Stadium, Latitude, play to 6,000 people on Gorleston beach"crazy situations in which I get to do this thing I've always wanted to do, which is to play music in front of people. I did it, thanks to Adem and the amazing people that he brought to the team. Without his help, I wouldn't have ended up doing what I'm doing. That confidence has been something that I'll take forward with me."
Ilhan was impressed with Patel's natural musical abilities. "What we worked on was getting those things fine-tuned to particular songs," says the music producer. "He's got great raw materials for it. His voice is bright and strong, and he can play guitar, so we just shaped what was already there."
Yet, there's a massive difference between being able to sing and being able to perform in the sort of environment where one must do multiple takes. "The health of the voice has to be strong," Ilhan says. "But it's also about allowing Himesh control over the voice, as well as about how to play guitar and sing at the same time and working with his confidence and self-awareness of what his voice is and can be. It's got to feel second-nature and completely natural. Himesh worked incredibly hard, day after day, to get to that point. If everyone assumes that what they see on screen is natural, then that's job done.
"But a big thing we had to be wary of, especially in this environment, was that he's playing a character and a character has a role to do," Ilhan continues. "There are lots of ways we could work to make his voice stronger or more powerful"or with a greater range or more accurate"but with every step you go toward that you compromise the character of the voice. Himesh has a beautiful character to his voice; it's bright, and it cuts through very well. But remember he's playing someone who's not doing well. He's not got 'something'. That 'something' is missing, which becomes the songs. Even with the great songs, it takes a while for it to come through. We wanted him to come across as someone who could sing and perform"someone who had the potential to do this."
Patel was given very little time to ease into the task of singing for Boyle's cameras. The first two days of the shoot involved busking on the streets of Clacton-on-Sea, singing Jack's songs and performing "Let It Be" at The Reedcutters Pub in Cantley. "It was a bit nerve-wracking," Patel admits. "That's why I messed it up a couple of times."
The performer is referring to getting some of the piano chords wrong during a take of "Let It Be" as the nerves got the better of him"although that was perfect for his character. After all, wouldn't Jack feel nervous about singing one of The Beatles' most iconic songs for the first time, especially to a crowd who has never heard of The Beatles before? "It's true, especially playing this song that everyone should know, but they don't, and he does," says Patel. "He's almost waiting for someone in the audience to go, 'You didn't write that,' so he's bound to be a bit nervous."
That's quite a few plates for an actor to keep spinning: the performance of playing and singing the songs while being Jack at the same time. "It's a bit of a weird juggling act, but it's fun," Patel says. "You learn the song as best you can, and then make it part of your personal story. What does it mean to Jack to sing that at that moment? Why has he picked that song? Of all the songs he could remember, why has that one come into his head? Is it because it is famous or because it means something to him?"
If all that musical-prep work was stressing Patel out, he didn't let it show. Much. "Himesh did step up," commends Boyle. "He's a very modest guy, and he would only talk about his nervousness in performing. I always felt he was so relaxed during the songs. Whatever stress he was feeling about playing the main scenes, he home banked so much by the performance of the songs that it relaxed him in the rest of the role. He didn't get much time off. He'd be preparing the songs and practicing the songs while doing everything else films require of you. This was an endless call on his time and much repetition. But he was way ahead already because of his touch with the songs."
Patel considers it an honor to bring the music of the Fab Four to a new generation. "My mum's favorite song is 'Imagine,'" the actor says. "She fell in love with it when she first came to England, so I discovered The Beatles through her early in my life. This film serves as an introduction to a lot of young people who haven't had the privilege of listening to The Beatles. Both people who are diehard fans and those who are new to the music will appreciate the film for different reasons, but it affirms the magic of their music for all audiences."
Jack's Home Town
Another indisputable star of the film is Yesterday's principal location, Suffolk, and its borders. Central to Jack's emotional journey, it's where the film begins and ends, both literally and metaphorically. This is not the first time Curtis has set a story in Suffolk, but it is the first time he's been able to lens there. "I wrote About Time about Suffolk," the writer/producer says. "It all took place in a house by the sea, but we just couldn't find the right house, so we had to move the whole thing to Cornwall. It's quite nice this time we've been allowed to set it in the place it was written about.
"This is a place we know well," continues Curtis. "I write in a little room facing out toward the creek at the beach and the sea. To some extent, there's a lot of Ed Sheeran in the story, as he comes from here. We love the accents and the names. This is very much where I wanted to set the film. It's a little part of England that you wouldn't expect a massive popstar like Ed to come from, had it not happened to him. I also felt that I knew it. But what is interesting"when Danny came on board"is that he said we've really got to get to know it. He wanted to spend a lot of time here, hang around and get a feeling for it. In the process of his searching for perfect locations, it spread much further than the little world I was describing."
The film ended up being shot all along the east coast of England, starting with Clacton-on-Sea and reaching all the way up to Gorleston-on-Sea. "Danny wanted to understand Suffolk and whilst Richard showed him around, Danny went for the harder-edged 'Danny Boyle' Suffolk rather than Richard's softer side of Suffolk," producer Bevan says.
"Much of the story is set in the more rural areas of Suffolk with an obvious connection with Ed," adds Boyle. "There are very beautiful beaches around there, but they're not just picturesque; they feel a bit more interesting than that to me. It was wonderful to be able to put it at the seaside but not just picture it. I wanted to drag it more toward the towns, like Lowestoft in Suffolk and Gorleston in Norfolk, just south of Great Yarmouth. These amazing towns are a bit forgotten, really. Gorleston's got an amazing history. It was huge in Edwardian times, like Brighton. It was the place. Yet, it's fallen off the radar."
The locations Boyle chose had a quirkiness that juxtaposed Curtis' vision of picturesque Suffolk with an edgier undercurrent of Boyle realism, an example of which can be seen in The Reedcutters Pub scene where we see Jack play. "It's a lovely little pub which has this extraordinary sugar-refining factory in the background," Curtis says. "It becomes a more definitive version of what I originally intended."
The screenwriter's collaborators appreciated having a local tour guide at the ready. "I lived in a little cottage on the seafront in Walberswick," James says. "Richard has a house there and is basically the King of Suffolk, so he was able to let us into his world and show us around the beautiful town. There's a different p
ace of life and a sense of community in Suffolk that translated over to the film." For Sheeran, filming where he grew up proved to be a double-edged sword. "On one side, it's nice to have this little secret beautiful space," he says, "but it's also nice to show it off on a global scale like we did in the film."
Location supervisor Camilla Stephenson was tasked with finding locations that captured the realism Boyle was striving to capture. "Danny was very clear, from my first meeting with him, that he didn't want 'chocolate-box' locations," Stephenson says. "But he wanted to be true to the script, so we started looking at places on the east coast that had a harder edge"working docks, factory HQs. By choosing Gorleston, we've got an Edwardian seaside town that's charming but also has a real edge with very busy working docks. He wanted it real but didn't want it gritty. He absolutely didn't want anything grim. Danny wanted to see the beauty, but not the quaint, English village prettiness."
Two crucial scenes take place at the Pier Hotel on the beach at Gorleston-on-Sea. In a flashback scene that takes place before his accident, Jack and Ellie show up at the Pier Hotel for a gig, only to discover that it has been closed for three months. "Jack's been planning his running order and song list with great care and in the end, he just doesn't get to play one song," Curtis says. "A year later, when he's suddenly the most successful person in history, we decided we'd have him perform on the other side of the hotel on this balcony looking over this beach. He's never had a crowd of more than 17 people, and suddenly he's got a crowd of 5,000 people. We also loved the idea of it being on the roof because there's the reference to The Beatles playing on the roof of Apple when they played 'Get Back' and 'Don't Let Me Down.'"
Boyle elaborates, "Jack goes out on the rooftop and actually returns 'Help!' to its roots. It's a cry of despair, a cry for help, not just a catchy pop tune. Jack hammers out a cry of real pain with the band in a glorious-punk version. That is one of the lovely ways that Himesh not only rebirthed but reimagined the songs without them being forced; he was very honest and true to the story of his position and that time. This was all filmed at the Pier Hotel, working port behind with ships coming and going, giving a fitting industrial landscape to that song." And an elegant echo to the early lives of the Fab Four themselves. "The lads did also come from a great industrial port, after all," Boyle says.
Patel explains just how the pivot happens: "The Pier Hotel performance is a key moment in the film because it showcases the lie that Jack has been telling. Jack realises that he's lost Ellie, that he lied to his parents and is at a complete loss. When he steps out onto the roof, he's not only singing the song 'Help!,' he's screaming out for help during his lowest moment."
Return to Liverpool
Where The Beatles Were Born
The production returned to Liverpool for a few scenes where Jack flees L.A. on the eve of his album debut to try and connect with the spirit of The Beatles in their own hometown. "It's weird for him going to Liverpool because he's kind of stealing the songs," Boyle says. "But the connection that you have between a songwriter's gift and their hinterland"all the texture and culture that feeds into and produces the music. Jack just goes and piggybacks onto it. I guess you can forgive him because there is a danger that the songs will be forgotten, and he's returning them to the people. It felt right to return to Liverpool to film it in a way that made it look as though The Beatles had never existed. That's tough in Liverpool because they're very proud of The Beatles." He laughs, "We did have to do a bit of digital erasing!"
The filmmakers scouted Strawberry Fields months before production started, ear-marking the now-iconic location as a filming location, but when they arrived to shoot there, the fields, aside from the heavily graffitied gates, had literally been demolished. "It was poignant," Boyle says. "These memories are very specific to Liverpool. There's another scene where Jack hears my personal favorite Beatles song, 'Hello Goodbye' in the Mersey Tunnel. I think those things will only mean stuff to the people of Liverpool, but I'm proud of that. There's a couple of things in the film that will just be bewildering to the rest of the world, but they survive because the connection with the town is more important than comprehension around the world. So, they'll know."
Wembley, Latitude and L.A.
Additional Filming Locations
In addition to Suffolk and Liverpool, the production also shot at Wembley Stadium, the Latitude Festival and in Los Angeles, where Jack finds himself entering an entirely different world from the one he is used to. After shooting in cool Suffolk, the L.A. weather was a bit of shock to the cast and crew. "It was unbelievably hot," Curtis sighs. "We'd been down to Venice Beach, the Pacific Highway and the palm trees, The Beverly Hills Hotel and Sunset Boulevard. A definitive L.A. day. It was 40 degrees [Celsius] and we'd been shooting a taxi with a Russian Arm, which is where you have this huge camera mounted on a car behind that can go behind or beside or in front. So, we had been in a car in a heat storm."
The crew was in L.A. for seven days in which time they shot at the Cooper Wave House, the talent agency WME and the W Hotel. "Obviously, we associate L.A. with the movie industry, but it's a big part of the music industry as well," Curtis says. "That's the hub of Debra's empire, where Jack abandons himself."
The stunning Cooper Wave House, on Malibu Beach, comes to symbolize the radical turn Jack's life has taken. "At the start of the film, Jack and Ellie are walking down Frinton-on-Sea Beach in Essex, with its classic, British beach huts on stilts," production designer Patrick Rolfe says. "Suddenly, in Malibu, Jack's faced with these amazing houses on stilts. We're showing how much his world has turned upside down."
It's in L.A. where the "marketing meeting of meetings" takes place, in which Jack's new record company presents Jack with the concept, look, messaging and marketing plan for his debut album in a massive high-tech conference room. "The head of marketing of the record company is played by this wonderful comedian Lamorne Morris, who was glorious in a sitcom I love called New Girl, with the great Zooey Deschanel," Curtis says. "We were just so lucky. We got a really good performer in to do one day…in what I hope will be one of the best scenes in the movie."
That record-company scene was shot in a meeting room at the venerable talent agency WME, thanks to Boyle's relationship with the firm. His longtime agent, Robert Newman, is a partner there. "Robert, who's been with me since the start, got us to film in the 'marketing meeting of meetings' room," Boyle says. "This is this glorious example of power housing all these talents, all these agents, gathered together to try and change the course of history, literally in front of you. We shot it there and we had to shoot it very quickly. We could only get a day, and Lamorne was outstanding. We couldn't have done it without him because it's basically just a big speech from him with everybody just aghast and applauding him."
Adds Curtis, "Lamorne delivered in spades. He had a monologue that day and he monologued it about 50 times. He was brilliant. There were some funny props because they tried to design album covers, which Jack had suggested, but you can imagine how boring the cover of 'Abbey Road' is, which is just a picture of Abbey Road and how bad the cover of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' is because it's got a lot of peppers on it and hearts."
Morris was happy to do it. "Danny allowed all the actors to have a lot of freedom, and he trusted our judgment," the actor says. "It was interesting to watch how he adjusted the shots to make them unique."
That scene played through the roof when the filmmakers screened it for the execs at Universal Pictures. "When Universal saw that scene they loved it because they said they have meetings exactly like it," Boyle says. "It was funny when we sat in a cinema watching them watch the film. They went mad at that bit, roaring with laughter because we had these electronic blinds coming down and that's what they do in their meetings as well, to focus everybody, and add a bit of drama so it feels very important. That was a very entertaining ingredient in the film. It's a lovely bit of comic writing by Richard and a great performance by Lamorne."
When it came to Patel, his return to the City of Angels was a bittersweet one. "I was seven years old when I first went to L.A. with my mum, and I wanted to go to the Hollywood sign but wasn't able to," Patel says. "All these years later, we shot a scene at the top of the Hollywood sign with a beautiful view across all of L.A. I texted my mum saying, 'I got here eventually.'"
21st Century Mod
Channeling 1960s Style
The contemporary look of Yesterday is inspired by the 1960s when The Beatles rocketed to fame and changed the course of music history. The location at Gorleston-on-Sea, with is Ocean Bingo amusement arcade lit up in bold reds and oranges, harkens back to classic John Hinde and Martin Parr photographs of the era.
"We've tried where possible to keep it in the '60s vibe," production designer Rolfe says. "In the Suffolk element of the shoot, we brought back the Sgt. Pepper's colors, the faded look of Martin Parr beach world and John Hinde. Wherever possible, we tried to get it in without being too obvious. We used accent colors in cushions and curtains, trying to subliminally keep that feel. It gave Suffolk a kind of faded beauty, almost like a Wild West, a seaside town that has seen better days. We kept a slightly retro feel to the look and then used Beatles' references, and then found a way to bring that into the contemporary world, all while keeping that essence of the '60s."
When Jack transitions from the sleepy world of Gorleston-on-Sea into life in Los Angeles, the color palette and visual tone change. "In terms of his props, we tried to use a modern/retro feel," Rolfe says. "As Jack gets more into the groove of becoming The Beatles and gains in confidence, his look becomes stronger, the colors more vibrant. When he gets plucked out of his world and dropped into L.A., we could be a little bolder."
The Beatles' iconography proved to be a constant source of inspiration. For a press conference Jack holds for the debut of his album, Rolfe created a symmetrical blue backdrop behind him. "We found a nice reference from The Beatles in Japan, which had this lovely backing behind them," Rolfe says. "We are bringing that into our world." The color alone screams Fab Four. "We try to keep those colors going through in the domestic environments, choosing colors on the walls to represent those colors, but with the feel that they've been battered by age and the elements. We've taken it right back and dialed back the very vibrant color of their Sgt. Pepper's suits."
The Fab Four even inspired the look of the cover of Jack's debut album, "One Man Only." The double-album cover features both a selfie and a dramatic tight shot of the back of Jack's head. In fact, the images are a direct reference to a famous self-portrait Paul McCartney took in a mirror as The Beatles were beginning to take over the world, as well as one paying homage to John Lennon with the final image of the credits to the movie A Hard Day's Night.
From Drab to Fab
Jack's Style Evolution
References to The Beatles are also woven into the fabric of Jack's costumes, which become more sophisticated and dapper as the film progresses, and as he transitions from boy-next-door drab to sleek rising star. Jack's journey from his humble Suffolk beginnings to showcasing stadium concerts and rolling around L.A. was quite a trip for costume designer Liza Bracey. "We see a change in Jack," Bracey says. "He starts off just a Suffolk busker in a uniform of T-shirts and checkered shirts, but as the film progresses and he gets more into the whole Beatles thing…we make him take on a bit of a Paul McCartney look."
Although, to be accurate, there is no singular McCartney look. Over the decades, the icon's style has constantly shifted. "There's thousands of pictures of McCartney wearing all sorts of different clothes," Bracey says. "He doesn't do one thing, so designing for Jack, it meant extracting bits from everything that was available and putting it all together. It was our mission to find looks that hopefully have a sense of Paul McCartney about them."
Release Date: June 27th, 2019