'Pirate Radio,' the immensely likeable new comedy by 'Four Weddings and A Funeral' and 'Notting Hill' writer and director Richard Curtis, features Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in a role that’s a welcome departure from the much heavier dramas he excels at.
In the new comedy flick, which opens Friday, Seymour Hoffman plays The Count, a quicksilver American D.J. who helps brings rock and roll to the masses aided by his eccentric British D.J. pals on board a pirate radio ship anchored far out in the North Sea in the 1960’s.
When young Carl (played by up and coming British star Tom Sturridge) comes aboard the old tanker, he discovers a freewheeling world of hippies, artists and freethinkers that transform his life in a heartbeat.
As the fast talking, quick thinking Count, we see a playful side to Seymour Hoffman (who’s mother is Marilyn O'Connor, the lawyer and civil rights activist) that has been under served in the dramas that have made his name, from his Academy Award-winning turn in Capote, to his work opposite Meryl Streep in Irish American playwright John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.
“I read the script and I thought it was really funny,” Seymour Hoffman tells IrishCentral. “It was also oddly moving, because rock and roll is actually that important. That’s the very subversive message of this movie, that these guys were the conduits to bring that art, that music, to the people. These were the guys who did it.”
Naturally the rock music of the period is an integral part of the film, and the screen comes alive with blasts of The Kinks, The Turtles, The Who and Jimi Hendrix, among many others. It’s the pop music of an era that Seymour Hoffman obviously loves, but don’t ask him to talk about it from personal experience.
“I wasn’t very familiar with the story of pirate radio in Britain in the 1960’s. I was born in 1967, so I was a baby around the time this film is taking place. But I do remember hearing all that music from the back of the car when I was six in 1973. Sitting there without a seatbelt on, with the people in the front smoking. Listening to all the music that you hear in this film.”
In the film the British government has secretly vowed to stem this “filthy rock music” with every means at their disposal. Belfast-born Kenneth Branagh scene steals as the Whitehall official on a mission to purge Britain of the scourge of lurid pop. The script also teams Branagh up with his ex-wife Emma Thompson (they divorced acrimoniously in 1995), although neither appears in the same scene. For fans of Branagh’s storied career, that reunion will be worth the price of the ticket alone.
For Seymour Hoffman, Pirate Radio’s message is as vital today as when the music was first recorded. In fact, for him it doesn’t matter if the vehicle is music, film, literature or theater.
“I wasn’t a big connoisseur of rock and roll growing up. I listened to the radio but I didn’t buy LPs. My brother was into all of that. I don’t know what I was doing I was just out playing. I didn’t even go to concerts. I only discovered all that in college really. But I know that music – any and all music – has the power to change your life.”
As the only American actor playing alongside a team of Brits, Seymour Hoffman is in his element in the new film. “I was outside the room in a lot of ways all the time. There’s something to be said for not belonging to that tribe. You have to get along with them and that’s why I took it. I’m much more of a loner like that, I mix myself between a lot of different kinds of people and cultures and I always have.”
Tuning in, turning on and getting away from it all is harder than ever in the era of Twitter and Facebook, Seymour Hoffman says. “That Twitter thing. I remember feeling like a caveman. I opened a Twitter account and I did it. I had never used it. My first thought was this is absurd. I don’t know what I’m doing. In fact when I hear the word itself I think even the word is incredibly boring.”
'Pirate Radio' opens nationally on Friday.