The Oscar-winning director says he knew instantly that he had to make this film. The challenge then became: Who could star?
Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon
June 28, 2019
When Danny Boyle finished reading Richard Curtis’s script for Yesterday, he knew, without a doubt, that he was going to direct the film.
“It doesn't happen every film, to be absolutely honest,” says Boyle on the line from London. “When you have that instant reaction, where you just go, "I'll do it," and you say it almost like you write it in blood. I wrote back to Richard and said, ‘Richard, it is just brilliant, so I'll do it.’”
And the premise is brilliant. Based on a story idea by Jack Barth, Yesterday finds struggling singer/songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) ready to give up his music career when he’s hit by a bus during a global power outage and knocked out. After recovering he casually sings the Beatles tune “Yesterday” to some friends, including gal pal Ellie (Lily James). The friends are astonished that Jack wrote such a beautiful song and he realizes that nobody in the world remembers The Beatles; it’s as if they never existed.
Suddenly, Jack has the greatest collection of pop songs to pass off as his own, and the world takes notice.
“The concept is extraordinary,” says Boyle. “It's a very simple concept, the kind of concept you think, ‘Oh surely that's been done before,’ but no, not like this. It allows you to take something that we are all incredibly familiar with, and it says your role in this film, you the audience, is that you've forgotten them as well, and this guy is gonna reintroduce them, and it's almost like an audience participation movie in a way.”
Finding the lead man: "There will be an answer, let it be"
Finding the right actor to play Jack was a challenge. Himesh Patel is familiar to U.K. audiences having portrayed Tamwar Massod for almost nine years on the BBC soap EastEnders, but at first glance he may not strike you as a pop star.
“The problem was, we had to find an actor who could play the songs in a way that wasn’t like a karaoke singalong,” remembers Boyle.
“I saw a lot of guys, very talented musicians, who auditioned for the part. They had to play two songs and Himesh came in and played “Yesterday,” and it was as though you were hearing the song for the first time, even though you knew the song. He played the songs pretty much the same as The Beatles played them. He's not reinventing the wheel or anything, but it’s like he’s a vase of clear water that you can see through, and you can hear the songs through.”
Related: Watch our favourite Beatles moments on film in this epic mashup
Securing the song rights: "We can work it out"
Even before casting Patel the filmmakers had to make sure they could land the rights to the Beatles catalogue. Boyle’s participation carried weight: He is, after all, an Oscar-winning director — his 2008 crowd-pleaser Slumdog Millionaire won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. But he notes it was Curtis’ script and the esteemed production company, Working Title, that sealed the deal.
“I saw a lot of guys, very talented musicians, who auditioned for the part. They had to play two songs and Himesh came in and played “Yesterday,” and it was as though you were hearing the song for the first time"
“Richard is, in Britain anyway, I regard him as a kind of poet laureate of romance in comedy,” he says. “And Working Title is the top company here in Britain. They did a deal with the Beatles’ Apple and Sony, who own the music rights. But obviously, when we finished the film, I wrote to each of the four group members, or their widows, explaining why we'd made the film the way we did. We got a wonderful letter back from Ringo, and a wonderful one from Olivia Harrison, George's widow, and an acceptance by the others to go ahead, and so it was rather wonderful actually.”
A musical rom-com "All you need is love"
While the film’s musical elements are garnering the most attention, Boyle reminds us that Yesterday is, at its heart, a love story.
“The Beatles were the great writers of love songs. Everybody says that love is mentioned 600 times in Beatles songs, and only 50 in the Old Testament or New Testament, or something like that. You can look that up online,” he says with a laugh.
“But there's something about that, and as Himesh gathers more and more of the songs he realizes how he has his own work to do on the romantic front. So, It's actually a love story, a slightly unusual love story, between Himesh and Lily James.”
Yesterday is a must-see for music fans.
No matter what type of music you’re into, everyone can appreciate the impact of The Beatles. Hear the songs again as if for the first time thanks to this comedy’s brilliant premise and Himesh Patel’s pure renditions.