Ceelo Green and Mark Ruffalo in "Begin Again"

Ceelo Green and Mark Ruffalo in “Begin Again”

*So real is the feel of “Begin Again,” you have to remind yourself you’re sitting in a theater and watching the performers’ lives unfold onscreen.

Having spent years covering the music scene, the drastic changes that left many an artist and record exec reeling was witnessed first hand. In “Begin Again,” Mos Def aka Yasiin Bev (Saul) gives MarkRuffalo (Dan) the boot even though Dan founded the record company they both work at, and Ceelo Green (Troublegum) is the artist that comes to Dan’s defense.

Keira Knightley (Gretta) is the singer/songwriter that lights Dan’s fire and AdamLevine  (Dave) is the cheating cad. Ruffalo, Knightley, Levine, James Corden (Steve) and director John Carney were in New York City recently for a press conference at the Crosby Hotel.

It is quite interesting that Irish director John Carney (“Once”) pulled out all the stops in capturing much of New York. Yet, a well-known director praised for his New York depictions was known to leave an important faction of New York out of his films. When Dan decided to record Gretta, he told her New York City would be her backdrop and that included “Harlem.” A scene with little Black ballerinas in training was impressive. But filming in Times Square took on a guerrila filmmaking aspect. Carney can now laugh about working without a permit. “That was the one true maverick crazy John Cassavetes madness of this movie,” he recounts, “where we did not get permits and did not get clearance, even from our first AD.

“I had written ridiculously, ‘They go to Times Square and walk around.’ And when people read the script [with the Times Square scene], they were like, ‘Ha! Yeah, that’s going to happen.’ I said, ‘No, it’s going to happen as long as we don’t tell anybody.’ We didn’t want to close [Times Square] down because it would look ridiculous. And we didn’t want extras pretending that they’re looking up at signs.”

Adding to the realism, Levine spoke about his encounter with some fans. “There was a scene where we shot when we were walking up into the apartment together and some girls asked me for my autograph. And then, we shot the scene where it was happening. There was no difference between reality and the shot.” This prompted Carney to say, “Life imitating art.”

“There was zero protection of anybody,” Levine recalled, “it was great because we were really immersed in all of it at all times. It felt real because it literally was shooting off of the street. It was amazing.” Carney concurred. “I’m still surprised we actually got away with it in New York,” he offered. “There were times when we were asking the paparazzi for a take without the [sound of camera] shutters.”

James Corden, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, and Keira Knightley at the Crosby Hotel in New York

James Corden, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, and Keira Knightley at the Crosby Hotel in New York

Shooting may have gotten a little bit too real for Carney when two of his stars started boozing it up. Corden told of his scheduling ordeal: Mark really committed to the alcoholism aspect of the film. My favorite part of shooting this film was when I was in a play at the time on Broadway. I would shoot in the afternoon and then get in a car and be whisked across town and do the play. And then, quite often, go back after the play and shoot. There was a great time when we were on the subway, shooting.”

“We didn’t have any lines,” he continued. “We were just doing the music and Mark said, ‘Man, you must be exhausted from just doing the play. You must really need a drink. And he was holding this Starbucks cup and I said, ‘Yeah, I could really use one.’ And he just passed me this Starbucks cup and it was a Vodka Tonic. And I really thought, ‘Well, this is the greatest moment of my life. I’m drinking booze with Mark Ruffalo, watching him film on a subway.’” Their cover was blown when the AD told Carney, “By the way, you should know Mark and James are both drinking alcohol.”

The filming experience was also gratifying for Levine, as well. “It was a dream experience,” he enthused. “This sounds really kiss assy, but I love these guys—all of them. It was one of those things where I don’t think it can get better than this. I might not make another movie, actually. There’s no way it can surpass this, in terms of how much fun I had. It was a blast. I hope there’s more.”

Keira Knightly spoke about another kind of love, the love that drew her to the character. “You can take it out of the music industry, and essentially what it’s about is people falling down in life and trying to pick themselves back up,” she explained. ”And whether that’s romantically or in a career, I think you can’t be an adult and not have felt that in whatever extreme way. So obviously, I completely understood where [Gretta] was coming from, the feeling of thinking you know exactly what’s going on and who you are and where you’re going, and suddenly finding you have absolutely no idea where you are and where you’re going or what’s going on. I don’t think you can be an adult and not have experienced that.”

The Film Strip could not let Ruffalo leave without asking about “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” where he plays the Hulk. “I’m still shooting it,” he said. There’s a lot more to it that we’re able to do because the technology has advanced since the last time. We get to do a lot more with the character of the Hulk and the performance of the character that wasn’t available to us the last time.”

“Begin Again,” opens in wide release this week. It also stars Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, Kena Onyenjekwe, Harvey Morris, Terry Lewis, Jaiden Kaine, David Pendleton, Dee Morris, and Niyi Oni. If you want to leave the theater with a warm feeling and feel like your money was well spent, this is the one to see.

Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected].