What do Mozart, Jane Austen, Vera Brittain and Eddie the Eagle have in common? Joe Thompson taught all of them how to play the piano!
Aneurin Barnard worked with Joe from scratch for his role as Mozart in the film Interlude in Prague (coming 2017). As well as learning how to play, they looked at how to look convincing and authoritative at the keyboard. With his fabulous singing voice, Aneurin is already an accomplished musician so the work focussed on creating and building a relationship with the piano.
For the 2014 hit film Testament of Youth Alicia Vikander (VERA BRITTAIN) and Taron Egerton (who later went on to star as EDDIE THE EAGLE) each spent many hours with Joe learning the piano from scratch. Those four bars of Chopin are still probably keeping Taron awake at night while Alicia just needed to look like she hated playing the piano. She was a real worker though playing the same thing over and over and over again. Kit Harington and Colin Morgan joined Taron for a fun trio version (six hands) of the Ash Grove (see clip).
In 2007 Joe spent six intensive weeks teaching Anne Hathaway (Jane Austen) how to play piano from scratch as well as how to “own” the keyboard for the charming biopic “Becoming Jane”.
“Annie would work for two hours at the piano without a break and then as a reward she would join me on the piano stool and sing show tunes. Her brother once popped his head in the room and said “Joe, I warn you, once you get Annie singing, she’ll never stop” and he was right. When I watched her on set, even i thought she was playing.”
For this film Joe did the trickier overdubs, even though the actress had it covered, so while you are watching Ms Hathaway you are hearing Joe. This film is Joe’s favourite to date, and he is especially proud of the hand and finger close-ups.
Joe also worked (for just two hours!) with the hilarious Jessica Ashworth on a scene at the piano where she had to be looking at the sheet music, her hands and James McAvoy at the same time. “I wanted her to look flustered and slightly out of control,” says Joe, “but I wasn’t expecting her to have me in stitches. The ultimate triumph was making the faultless James McAvoy corpse as he tried to remain aloof so that we had to start again. She was just too funny.”
Other film work
Joe has also collaborated with screen writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) as a music consultant (Joe was Morgan’s first-call theatre composer back in the day, on various student trips to Edinburgh), and with Hollywood film composer Rolfe Kent. It was while working with Kent that Joe conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Studio 1 of London’s world-famous Abbey Road Studios.