Being Bernard Sumner


John Simm speaks to us about the movie, his own band, and playing the New Order frontman...

John Simm seems the obvious choice to play enigmatic New Order frontman Bernard Sumner in the movie, and not only because of the natural physical resemblance. John also has music in his blood, from years growing up and performing as a musical double act with his father, to current bass-playing duties in band Magic Alex (who, although not quite achieving the heights of New Order, have managed to support Echo and the Bunnymen). For a man who is notoriously publicity-shy, 2002 could be his biggest year yet - after 24 Hour Party People, he can be seen starring in London-set rom com Miranda with Christina Ricci, due for release later this year. We caught up with John on the night of the Haçienda recreation:

How did you feel to be asked to play Bernard?
I was highly delighted to be asked to play. I'm a fan of New Order, I have been forever, and that's all I can say really. I can only just approach it from playing a character, because I don't want to do an impression of him.

After researching him, did your opinion of him change?
No, not at all. He's not a scandalous person. I've talked to a lot of people who know him, and they all say that he's a really nice guy. He's just a really personal, quiet kind of guy, from the interviews that I have seen of him, and from what I've known as a kid, from New Order. That's all I can go off really.

Has speaking to people that know him given you a particular insight?
I don't know, difficult question to answer really. All I can do is read about him and watch videos of him and try to get his voice right and try to get his mannerisms right. So I don't know, I just hope I do him justice, because I'm a big fan of his music.

Your dad's always your hero isn't he?

What's it like working with Michael Winterbottom again?
It's fantastic. It's a refreshing way to work if you're an actor, because he gives you a lot of freedom, and everything's really well thought out, and he does his homework on every character. He lets you improvise, which is quite scary at first, but once you get used to it, it's fantastic. It certainly worked on Wonderland. I've got a lot of trust in him, I trust what he does. A lot of the time you don't know what you're doing, whether you're doing anything any good. And that's why it's very difficult to do an impression of a character, even though they're still alive, because you've got to improvise and be quite comfortable with them.

What's it like playing a guy who's alive and still in recent memory?
It's quite difficult, because I'm a big fan as well. It was great. I didn't meet him, before we started, or during, for a number of reasons. I'm quite glad I didn't meet him half way through, because I would have changed it. I've studied hours and hours of interviews and I walked around all day with a tape recorder with his voice on it. But I've tried not to do an impression.

What kind of role did your father have to play in you developing your musical taste?
The whole thing, it was all down to him. He's a musician, so he taught me guitar, he took me on stage with him, we did the clubs together. The whole thing, all of it.

Did you not feel like he was encouraging you too strongly?
Your dad's always your hero isn't he? I'd seen him in the clubs playing guitar, thinking "I want to do that - if you can, I want to" so he taught me. I just grew up around music, playing Elvis and the Beatles, so it was a natural thing really. I'm his only son, so he's going to want to teach me, but I gladly took it up.

What does he think about your more successful acting career?
He was disappointed when I wanted to be an actor, I think. But he came down to see my band support Echo and the Bunnymen, at the Manchester Apollo. That was a great night for me because it was a huge gig, and I think he thought it was alright that I was doing both. He's fine with it now.

I don't think half the songs would have been written, if it wasn't for drugs

How did that gig come about?
They were heroes, they were on my wall and that. I met Ian McCulloch because he played a Scouser in The Lakes, so I went to a gig. I'd done an interview with Katie Puckrick that day and she introduced me and we got on really well. This was four or five years ago, and he's one of my best mates now. It was really mad, it turned out really well. And he heard the band and just insisted we come on tour with him, because he loved it.

How have you found adjusting from a position of admiring all these people to being part of them?
It's like a dream job for me. It's unbelievable, best of both worlds. It's like an amalgamation of my two lives. It's fantastic, I always think the best thing about being an actor, for me so far, with being successful is that I've got to meet these people. Quite often, they're a disappointment. Sometimes.

Who was the biggest disappointment?
It would have been Liam Gallagher I would have thought. But Noel was fantastic, I love Noel Gallagher, I think he's a cool guy. Often it's like when you meet footballers, they're always a disappointment. And most of the time with rock stars, they're a disappointment. But, like Ian McCulloch wasn't, we got on really well and he was fantastic. And I know Mani really well as well. I actually prefer hanging around with musicians to actors, to be honest.

How do they differ?
Just, don't know... couldn't put my finger on it, more rock and roll I guess.

Are you worried about anybody drawing a link between the drugs in Human Traffic and in 24 Hour Party People?
I couldn't give a monkey's if they draw any parallels. I don't care.

How big a role do drugs play in the story here?
Huge. Absolutely huge. This is about the birth of E and dance culture. I don't think half the songs would have been written, if it wasn't for drugs. Especially Happy Mondays. Yep, massive massive part.

Is the music thing a very serious part of your life, or

has it become a bit of a side project?
Well it is a massive part of my life, but it is a side project, I guess, because I'm an actor, and that's what I do. We've been offered contracts and stuff, but they've all said you'd have to pack in acting at least for a year to get on the road, and travel. I'm not prepared to do that, I don't think it would be a very good idea. But I've absolutely done everything I ever wanted to do really. I can't think of anything else I want to do. Played Manchester Apollo with my own band, and played it with New Order, so that's fine by me! The other thing I would want to do now is get a record in the shops, not arsed with the charts or anything, or making it... just as long as it's good - sounds like a cliché but it's true.

If you had to choose between music and acting?
I've been asked this question loads of times, and I think that I'm quite happy with how it's turned out. I've had the band experience and I've had the film experience. The film experience has been more successful and that's fine, I don't care. The band thing was always just a bonus, we did it just to do it and became bigger than we thought it would be anyway, so...absolutely more than happy with everything that's happened.

© 24 hours party people