With audiences (and award panels) going ga-ga for Hollywood musical La La Land, BBC’s flagship news show Today got in touch with Joe to find out how actors prepare for roles that involve playing piano on-screen. Actor Ryan Gosling has spoken of how he had to learn to play for hours, five days a week, to prepare for his role as a jazz pianist in the film. Joe was called in to help journalist Nicola Stanbridge see if she could too could get to grips with a piano co-star.
“When The Today programme’s producer writes to you saying ‘Can you help us?’, you know you must be doing something right,” says Joe.
Listen to the feature:
You can find out more about Joe’s work preparing actors to play convincing musicians in films, here. And to contact Joe about your own coaching, drop him a line here.
Joe’s latest opera misdemeanour has been his collaboration with the versatile Celinde Schoenmaker currently dazzling audience’s in the West End’s production of Phantom of the Opera. Joe has been encouraging Celinde to unleash “her soul singer within” – not that she means much coaxing. Like the Phantom, Joe hopes to lure her, and as many other operatic voices as he can find, across to the dark side i.e. performing in cabaret!
Joe often gets asked to help actors perform piano parts in movies, bringing them rapidly up to speed on how to master pieces, poise and performance – even if they’ve never played a note before.
As part of his coaching on the much-anticipated “Testament of Youth” (opening January 2015), Joe prepared Taron Egerton who had the tough job of learning four demanding bars of Chopin, from scratch. “Once he’d mastered it, he didn’t have to think about acting anymore because he was just so mesmerised by his own playing. He has since written to me asking for more lessons. He’s hooked.”
Joe coached Alicia Vikander, currently feted for her leading role in the forthcoming Testament of Youth, to ensure her piano-playing was totally convincing and heartfelt throughout the filming.
Joe commented at the time that “You never have to ask an actor to try it once more because they will just keep going until they get it right. Alicia Vikander was the best example of this. What a work ethic!”
Also during production on Testament of Youth Joe arranged his first ever piano “trio” for 6 hands. “Film is obviously a completely demanding art form, so even as ‘teacher’ I’m also learning new things as we navigate through the demands of the script and ‘the shot’. It’s never less than a blast to work with actors and directors at this level.”
The film opens on general release in January 2015.
Joe is the man who taught Jane Austen how to play the piano. Well, he certainly taught Anne Hathaway, playing the celebrated novelist, to play the piano in the film Becoming Jane back in 2007. Director Julian Jarrold wanted to ensure that the scenes where Jane plays her upright piano at home, were both lyrical and accurate. Joe worked with Anne intensively up to and during the shoot in Northern Ireland to make sure the musical scenes really sang.
Here’s a still from the film: