Ian Hart Gets Back To the Leader Of the Band

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 24, 1994

When the producers started auditions for the film “Backbeat,” they saw more than 100 actors for the role of the “forgotten Beatle” Stuart Sutcliffe, at least 50 actresses for the part of his German girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr and dozens of other actor-musicians for the other members of the Fab Five. But when it came time to cast the role of 19-year-old John Lennon, they saw only one actor – Ian Hart.

“Ian was handed to us by Christopher Munch,” said director Iain Softley, referring to Munch’s 1991 short film “The Hours and Times” that starred Hart as Lennon. “I loved Ian in it and felt he was perfect for `Backbeat.’  My concern was that even though the John in my piece was very different from the one (in Munch’s), I was afraid he wouldn’t want to play John again. But he was very enthusiastic about it after he read the script. And so Ian became the first `Beatle’ to sign with us. He was brilliant.”

“Backbeat” (at local theaters) isn’t so much a story about the Beatles as it is a tale of friendship and love. Back in 1960, Sutcliffe – not Paul McCartney – is the Beatles’ bassist. And though his true love is art, Sutcliffe puts his easel aside to join best friend Lennon when the group goes to Hamburg, West Germany, to play rock ‘n’ roll. There, the pair’s friendship is strained when Sutcliffe falls in love with German photographer Astrid Kirchherr.

“It’s a Greek tragedy,” said Hart, 29. “The story we’re trying to tell is universal. It’s a love story between a man and a woman.

It’s also a story about how that relationship gets in the way of the friendship of two men with a very strong bond to one another. It’s not a new story at all, but it’s timeless and fascinating.”

It also sounds like the real-life tale of what happened to John Lennon and Paul McCartney after John met Yoko Ono and Paul married Linda Eastman. But that’s another story all together.

Without his Beatles wig and brown contact lenses, the blue-eyed actor bears little resemblance to Lennon. In fact, Hart in both films bears less resemblance to Lennon than he does to John’s softer-featured son Julian.

“Personally, I don’t think I look like (John) at all,” said Hart, who like all the real Beatles, grew up in Liverpool. “In the film I might resemble him, but that’s the miracle of film. We have marvelous makeup people who transform us into whoever we’re supposed to be. And in this case, it was my job to be John. I’m very flattered when people tell me I did a believable job. But in real life, people don’t do double takes at me. I’m just another bloke.

“I could sit here and worry about being typecast, but that would be silly.  Yes, I have played John Lennon twice, but they were two completely different characters who happened to have the same name. One (film) wasn’t the sequel to the other.”

Still, he’s not taking any chances. The next time we see Hart on the big screen, it’ll be in an epic about the Spanish civil war.

Had he taken the advice of a high school guidance counselor, Hart might be working in a different field altogether.

“I was never good at anything as a kid, although I did pretty well in school for a while,” he said.  “I got good results until I was about 14.  Then I lost complete interest in (my studies). A career officer came in and told me I should join the army, which is what they told all the underachievers. I didn’t fancy that idea at all. I didn’t like the idea of fighting and killing.”

Instead of cutting his hair and enlisting, Hart signed up with the Liverpool Playhouse where, he added with a laugh, he never played any of the Beatles. He appeared in supporting roles in the British films “Zip” and “No Surrender,” but didn’t attract much attention until he starred in “The Hours and Times.”

“He gave a careermaking performance in `Hours’ not as an imitator, but as an actor,” said Softley, 37.  “He has great range and depth, and his performances exude power. A lot of actors are skilled, but very few can hold your attention and make you believe every word he’s saying. Ian can.”

Not bad for a guy whose earliest memories of the band came not via their films or songs, but from their Saturday morning cartoon series. When the Beatles broke up in 1970, Hart was just  5.

“I always liked their cartoon better than the Jackson Five’s,” he said.  “I enjoy their music when I hear their songs on the radio. But I never joined their fan club or wished like mad that they’d reunite. I was just sort of happy to let them be.”

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