ABOVE: Watch actor Jamie Blackley and author Gayle Forman on Global’s The Morning Show.
TORONTO – When Jamie Blackley first appears in If I Stay, he’s walking down a hallway in a leather jacket with a guitar slung on his back, as swooning cheerleaders spin around to stare.
“You know how when you meet someone and they just already are the person they’re meant to be? That was Adam,” Chloe Grace Moretz intones in a voiceover.
But the 23-year-old actor from Britain’s Isle of Man insists he didn’t inspire similar reactions from girls in high school.
“I’m not at all as cool as Adam,” Blackley laughed in a recent interview. “That wasn’t me in high school. Definitely not. I had terrible hair in high school. I looked like Jimmy Neutron… I straightened my hair every morning.”
In If I Stay, opening Friday, Adam is the lead singer in a rock band about to break it big, while Mia (Moretz) is a gifted cellist who dreams of going to Julliard. But when she and her family get into a terrible car accident, her future is changed forever.
While Mia lies comatose in the hospital, the story of her relationship with Adam is told in a series of flashbacks. She has an out-of-body experience and watches as her loved ones come to visit her in the hospital, realizing that she must choose between waking up to a life far more difficult than she ever imagined — or let go and die.
If I Stay is based on a best-selling young-adult novel by Gayle Forman. While the author joked that she’s gotten in trouble for making her readers cry on the subway, she said she ultimately hopes the story is uplifting.
“I don’t think I tell stories of tragedy. I think I tell stories of love,” she said. “Even though you’re full of tears, I hope that you leave the theatre with your heart feeling like it’s going to explode out of your chest. And yes, you’ve been through the tragedy, but it’s ultimately hope that I think you’re left with.”
The script was adapted from her novel by Shauna Cross and Forman was a consultant on the film. She described Blackley as “perfect” for the role of Adam, and was horrified to hear that he almost didn’t audition for the role.
“I couldn’t get a job back home for ages,” explained Blackley. “So when I got sent the script, I looked at the email and I just ignored it basically. I just thought there’s no point because I’m not going to get it anyway, so ignored it for weeks and weeks.”
After a bit of nudging, he eventually recorded an audition tape and screen tested with Moretz. He won the part — to Forman’s relief.
“Honestly, fans would ask me through the years, ‘Who could play Adam?’ And they would throw out all these actors and none of them seemed right. I had such a picture of Adam in my head,” she said.
“He had to have the confidence and be believable as a would-be rock star. He had to have that vulnerability too, as Adam has. He had to be a very good actor — there’s serious, heavy-lifting scenes. He had to have chemistry with Chloe. He had to be hot. And if that weren’t enough, he had to be able to sing and play the guitar.”
Blackley has been playing the guitar since he was 12, and croons and strums throughout the film. His bandmates were all played by real musicians from Vancouver, where the movie was shot.
“I’m not Slash or anything, but I can just about get by,” he said, adding that he’s never had a band of his own. “I’ve played in a band for a movie before and we did a play about the Beatles back home, so I’ve only ever really done it for work. I can’t write music, so I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.”
“This acting thing seems to be working out for you, so I wouldn’t worry about your lack of songwriting ability,” quipped Forman.
Music figures prominently in the film, which although shot in B.C. is set in indie rock capital Portland. Mia’s parents (played by Mireille Enos of The Killing and Joshua Leonard) are former punk rockers who adore Iggy Pop and the Clash, while Chloe favours Bach and Beethoven.
BELOW: Watch the trailer for If I Stay.
Forman confessed to being a lover of alternative music herself, with the Eels and the Melvins among her favourites. She said the film is essentially a musical and hopes fans enjoy the soundtrack.
She and Blackley also joked about filming If I Stay in Vancouver’s notorious former psychiatric facility Riverview Hospital, which is often rumoured to be haunted.
“The pipes would clank as soon as they started shooting, and then they would cut and it would go quiet,” she said. “RJ (Cutler, the director) would make peace offerings to the ghosts, but it didn’t work. The ghosts were like, ‘We’re so over this. We are jaded by Hollywood.’”
Blackley recently finished shooting a role in Woody Allen’s next film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone. He said he wasn’t allowed to say much yet about the untitled project but was thrilled to work with the “amazing” director.
“It was just really great and something I never thought I’d be able to do. I’d turn up at work and be like, ‘Wow, where am I?’”
Both Blackley and Forman are keenly aware that fans of the book have high expectations for the film, but they’re confident readers won’t be disappointed.
“I think the emotional experience from the book, ‘all the feels’ as we say, that completely transferred to screen. The characters feel like the characters in the book. They did not get ‘Hollywoodified,’ I’m really happy about that,” said Forman.
“And then there’s things you can’t get in a book, like the music really comes alive. Those band scenes, I was there for a lot of them being shot. They are so electric to see in person and all-encompassing on the screen… I think fans are really going to love it.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014