Back in the early 1990s, the artists Sam Taylor-Johnson (then Sam Taylor-Wood) and Henry Bond created a replica of the well-known portrait of Yoko Ono and singer/songwriter John Lennon from The Beatles. Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz took the original in 1980 not long before Lennon was assassinated. Instead of Yoko lying on her back with Lennon lying on his side beside her, it was Bond framing Taylor-Johnson's face with one arm, one bent leg resting on her belly. You can see both photographs here.
Nearly 20 years later, Taylor-Johnson directed her debut feature Nowhere Boy, which screens on SBS ONE at 9.30pm this Saturday, about Lennon's life during his teenage years.
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In the intervening years, Taylor-Johnson made a lot of conceptual video art that attracted substantial attention because of its scale, the involvement of celebrities and its sexual content and nudity. It is not always easy for people from other art forms to make the crossover into traditional film. Anthony Minghella, director of The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley, cleared the way for Taylor-Johnson, inviting her to work on a feature with him. He died before it could happen but they did make the 15-minute short Love You More, the beginning of which can be seen here. It screened at Cannes and Sundance, where it received an honourable mention.
Love You More made Taylor-Johnson desperate to make a feature and she approached the Nowhere Boy producers, not the other way around. “She literally wouldn't take no for an answer,” Robert Bernstein said in 2010. In the same article, she comments that, because of the parallels with her own life, she felt she could understand Lennon's creative mind and the effects of his turbulent background. (Taylor-Johnson was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 2011 for services to the arts.)
Taylor-Johnson is currently casting her next film, an adaptation of the steamy best seller Fifty Shades of Grey. (Charlie Hunnam was originally going to star alongside Dakota Johnson but has since withdrawn).
“Sam's unique ability to gracefully showcase complex relationships dealing with love, emotion and sexual chemistry make her the ideal director to bring Christian and Anastasia's relationship to life,” producer Michael De Luca told Deadline soon after hiring Taylor-Johnson for the gig. “E.L. James's characters and vivid storytelling require a director who is willing to take risks and push the envelope where needed, and Sam is a natural fit.”
He clearly values the sum of Taylor-Johnson's experience, just as Minghella did, and this terrific hour-long interview tracks her development. Not interested in listening right now or in anything cerebral? Look at this instead – the story of her romance with Nowhere Boy star Aaron Johnson told in photographs.