Belfast Telegraph

'It was the piece of material that we had been looking for to collaborate together'

Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson work together for the first time since they got married on the big-screen adaptation of A Million Little Pieces. The director and the actor tell Laura Harding about adapting the controversial book and their working relationship

Relapse and recovery: Billy Bob Thornton in A Million Little Pieces
Relapse and recovery: Billy Bob Thornton in A Million Little Pieces
Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson

By Laura Harding

Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson sit side by side in co-ordinating trouser suits. Not deliberately co-ordinating, in the style of early-2000s Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, or a leather-clad David and Victoria Beckham, but just enough that they look aesthetically synchronised.

It is interesting that so much of the fascination with this couple, who married in 2012, revolves around the age difference between them - she is 52, he is 29) - when they seem so perfectly in tune.

It seems natural that the director and actor should work together again, a decade after the film on which they met, 2009's Nowhere Boy.

This time it is on a big screen adaptation of A Million Little Pieces, James Frey's controversial but best-selling book about drug addiction and recovery.

"I loved the book from the minute I read it the year it came out," Sam says.

"A friend of mine had given it to me and I was always excited about it becoming a movie, so when the rights came round, I jumped straight away on them."

She looks over at her husband.

"It was the piece of material we had been looking for to collaborate together," she says.

"We had been looking for something, saying, 'What could it be?', and this just felt like the perfect platform for both of us to work on together."

For the film they took their relationship to the next level, not only working together as actor and director but as co-screenwriters adapting Frey's 2003 book, which was sold as a memoir but notoriously turned out to be partly fabricated.

"We didn't initially plan to write it," Aaron says. "We wanted a writer to put on it, but they weren't available straight away. Sam just kept on with it. All these ideas were coming out so quick that it was like, 'I had better get this on paper now because I don't want you to lose it'.

"When you get the rights to something, you only have them for a small period of time - you only have them for, like, two years - so we just decided, 'Let's just stop everything and give it our all'. It has been a ride, it's been amazing."

Once they decided to jump in with both feet, they had to navigate the process of writing while not only parenting their two young children but with two different styles of working.

"For Aaron, it's a big pot of coffee and 10 hours straight," Sam says with a laugh.

"Then I would just come in every 20 minutes or so, just like, 'I've got an idea', and then I would wander off, but Aaron has that focus and concentration."

However, for the Avengers star, the input from his director wife was invaluable.

"The luxury was having the filmmaker already attached with all the ideas and the vision and what she wanted to get out of it," he explains.

"Once you've got that, you kind of have somewhere to go, plus the fact we had the book.

"We dissected the book, broke it up into the three-act structure and went from there. It was one of the most interesting experiences of making the movie."

They also had to debate how they would deal with the controversy that surrounded the book, which left many of its readers and champions, including Oprah Winfrey, feeling cheated or deceived.

"We had a lot of discussions about what was right," Sam says. "Should we incorporate the controversy around it in the film?

"We decided to absolutely not because when we spoke to James, he said, 'I wrote it in the spirit of art and I just wanted it to be the best book and I wanted it to be the best account of my experiences'. So, we just focused in on that and just stayed true to the book."

"The core of that truth is really James," Sam adds. "James is now 26 years sober and so our understanding of his journey through his account, as well as through the book, was really our guiding star."

It was in that spirit that they went with Frey to visit the rehabilitation centre where he was treated to make the story as intimate as possible.

"We both have friends who have been through addiction, the struggles of addiction, and have relapsed," Aaron says. "There are some that have been years sober and celebrating that.

"We spent some time at the facility that James went to and with the counsellors there and spent time with his friends and his brother. We really wanted to make it more of a personal story than the book."

That inevitably put pressure on Aaron as an actor because he is tasked with carrying much of the movie, including an opening scene which sees him dancing fully nude in a crack house before tumbling out of a window.

"I was wearing these different hats and it was just funny that by the time it came to making the movie it was like, 'Oh, we have got to do everything we set out to do now'," he says.

"In front of me I had Billy Bob Thornton, Juliette Lewis, Charlie Hunnam and Giovanni Ribisi - we had a great cast - so I felt a little bit of pressure then to deliver and go, 'Right, I had better hold this all together because if I suck, that would be awful'."

With A Million Little Pieces under their belt, is this the beginning of a collaborative screen relationship for the pair?

"In the dream, ideally, yeah," Sam says. "While talking about the film I am just thinking, 'What shall we do next? We should really do something next'."

A Million Little Pieces is out now

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