“I’d Got A World Famous Rock Star Writing Me Songs” – Interview With ORDINARY WORLD Director Lee Kirk

Director Lee Kirk is just about to release his sophomore effort, Ordinary World. The film is about an former rockstar, played by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, reflecting on the “path not taken”- of committing to his rock-god dreams, instead of settling down in the suburbs and raising a family.

Alistair Ryder spoke to the filmmaker about the autobiographical nature of the film and how his love of music helped bring the screenplay to life.

Alistair Ryder for Film Inquiry: You’ve said the movie was inspired by you realising that becoming a parent made you have no time for your friends or any of the “debauchery” that came before. Outside of this theme, are there any other ways in which it’s autobiographical?

Lee Kirk: I guess it’s autobiographical in the sense that when I first moved to L.A as an actor, before I became a writer or a filmmaker, it wasn’t working out so I had to face up to giving up that dream. I learnt about writing and directing, which marked the start of a new career for me. I guess in that sense the movie is autobiographical in that it’s about letting go of your plans and what you thought your life was going to be, which is pretty spot-on in the way it aligns to what happens to Perry [Billie Joe Armstrong’s character] in the movie.

Do you have any background playing music? If not, what was the inspiration that led to choosing a former rock star as a lead character?

LK: I don’t really have a background in music. I’m not a musician or anything, but I knew when I was writing that I wanted the guy to have a creative outlet and music seemed like the most fun for me, as well as the most exciting and most visual, so I could definitely have fun developing it. I was also thinking a lot about my twenties whilst writing, when I was fresh out of college as well as all the bands that were playing constantly on my headphones, so it just clicked that this project would be about a musician.

I didn’t know that I would have Billie Joe in the movie, I always thought I was going to have an actor, just one who could play the guitar and figure out how to write songs. But he received the script and he really responded to it, which was really exciting for me. From the minute we met and talked about it, I knew he was the guy to play the role. I thought with him in the movie it would be a real event, a real opportunity to watch him play against type and watch him have real fun in a role that nobody would ever expect to see him in, whilst playing to his strengths as a musician too.

"I'd Got A World Famous Rock Star Writing Me Songs" - Interview With ORDINARY WORLD Director Lee Kirk
source: Universal Pictures

Were the songs written specifically for the movie? What was the creative process in making them and what is their relationship to the story of the film?

LK: They were all written specifically for the film, which was a total thrill for me. I got to say to a world famous rock star “hey, I need a fast paced punk rock song, that kicks ass and has a spellbinding pace”, or that I needed a really heartfelt song. Then, he’d record the track in his studio, playing all the instruments, then send me the recording asking “how’s this?” I couldn’t believe my luck that I’d got this genius, Grammy-award winning icon writing me songs and asking me what I personally thought of them!

To his credit as well, there were a couple of times when I’d be asking him if he’d mind trying one more take in a different flavour and he’d always be up for it. I always liked the songs he sent, but after listening to them for a couple of weeks I knew I would need something different to fit the scene.

Every time I asked for another song, he always reacted with a “Hell Yeah!”. The best time this happened was when he sent me a beautiful little acoustic song, the centrepiece of the film, which was just incredible. He was an incredible artist to work with because he gave his all as an actor and a musician.

Were you a big Green Day fan before you decided to cast him in the role?

LK: I wouldn’t say I was a big Green Day fan. I had listened to them in the nineties, but I had lost track with them after that. But an interesting thing happened while I was writing the script, I got the chance to see “American Idiot: The Musical” and as I had lost touch a little with Green Day, the music in that show just completely blew my mind. I couldn’t believe that this was coming from the same band that wrote “Basket Case”.

In a form of synchronicity, my agent recommended Billie Joe for this role and I was psyched. I had just been reintroduced to the band and I’d become a fan again; after I saw that musical I immediately went and bought “American Idiot” and “21st Century Breakdown”, so being able to cast him in this role was just a perfect coincidence in my life.

And a number of the songs on their new album appear on the film, so it’s like you’ve helped to influence music history too!

LK: (Laughs) a little bit man, yeah! I’ve listened to a number of the new songs on this record and it seems like Billie Joe has lots of parallel themes being addressed in both this movie and the new Green Day album, so they make for interesting companion pieces.

"I'd Got A World Famous Rock Star Writing Me Songs" - Interview With ORDINARY WORLD Director Lee Kirk
source: Universal Pictures

Outside of Green Day, were there any other albums that helped inspire your writing?

LK: I’m a really big fan of Pavement, their albums “Slanted and Enchanted” and “Wowee Zowee” were big influences in my life. Outside of that, a lot of the big albums of that era were constantly playing in my headphones whilst I was writing this movie, it has taken me back to the feelings I had in those days and it was really helping to inspire me to create this character. Whilst re-writing the movie I did mainly start listening to old Green Day stuff too, to really capture Billie Joe’s spirit back in those days.

The movie was largely autobiographical in terms of the themes addressed, but I did look at a few other films and directors whilst writing. One of the major influences was Funny People, as that is another film about an older artistic guy in a crisis, reflecting on his prior successes. I’ve always been a big Woody Allen fan and I always love the way he allows his characters to tell the story, instead of any other artistic direction.

When making this film, I made a conscious decision to avoid flashy directorial decisions behind the camera to focus entirely on the actors, letting their performances help tell this story from their point of view. Luckily, I had an incredibly cast of actors to help me!

In the past few years, lots of directors of indie projects around the same size of Ordinary World have gone from making low budget projects to making a blockbuster straight afterwards. If you were given the keys to make a franchise movie, would you take them?

"I'd Got A World Famous Rock Star Writing Me Songs" - Interview With ORDINARY WORLD Director Lee Kirk
source: Universal Pictures

LK: It would have to depend on the film, but I think I probably would under certain circumstances. For me, it’s all about the script. If it resonated with me and felt like I had it in me to bring that story to life, I would immediately say yes. I certainly don’t have an aversion to making a bigger budget, franchise type film, I think it would just boil down to whether I thought I could do it. This is my second film and I grew up as an actor, so I’m still learning about filmmaking and this is all just part of my process of becoming a better director, learning what it is that works for me. But if anybody wants to offer me a big franchise film, I’ll read the script for sure!

Well, let’s just hope somebody at Marvel reads this and you’ll have work for the next few years for sure! Outside of that, have you got any future projects lined up, be they screenplays or stage plays?

LK: Yeah, I’ve got a screenplay I’m working on with a friend right now, that we’re almost done with and that we’ll hopefully be developing as soon as we finish. I also have a couple of plays that I have just given to my agent here in New York, that are currently being shopped around and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Originally my training as an actor was in the theatre, so this is really close to my heart and I would really love to get something on the stage. Then, coming off my love of working with musicians, I’m now working on directing a music video which I’m going to be filming in January, so that’s going to keep me busy too!

Ordinary World is released on VOD and in select theatres in the US on October 14. All additional release dates are here. 

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