‘The first time we played She’s Lost Control they had around 150 Joy Division fans there. I ran to my trailer and vomited. One guy said to me: “You had better be good!”’
Sam Riley, played Ian Curtis
After leaving the National Youth Theatre, I spent a year trying to be an actor then decided I wanted to be a rock star instead. I did that for three years with my band, 10,000 Things, but with moderate to zero success. We played in a pub called the Primrose in Leeds and, because of my appearance, they billed us as “Ian Curtis fronts the Rolling Stones”. I didn’t even know who Ian was. We got dropped by our record label and I ended up in a retail warehouse folding clothes and working in a bar.
I rang my old agent and said that I would do absolutely anything. Control had nothing to do with a deep love of the music of Joy Division – it was pure chance that they were looking for an “Ian” the week I rang. For the casting, I told work I was going to the dentist, but there were three auditions and I kept having to go back. My teeth never looked any better though.
My life was a mess in Leeds. I wasn’t in good shape. But I got the job on my 26th birthday and the movie saved me: just by coming to the set, having a purpose, being relied upon, being Ian. Samantha Morton, who played Ian’s wife Debbie, was incredible and led rehearsals. In one scene, she improvised and talked me into a corner. I burst into tears at the end of it. I thought, “Wow! This is acting.” I fell in love with Alexandra Maria Lara, who played the journalist Annik, and we’ve been together ever since, living in Berlin.
I think Anton Corbijn, the director, ended up remortgaging his house because when people heard his lead was some pub rock singer from Leeds, everyone wanted to run. I knew how much he was risking and didn’t want to make any mistakes. Before we started shooting, he asked me to do “the Ian Curtis dance” for him again. Some people were panicking over whether I would do it right.
The concert scenes were insane. In all my previous gigs, I had never had anyone in the audience look at me like that. The first time we were going to play She’s Lost Control, they had around 150 Joy Division fans as the crowd. I ran to my trailer and vomited. As I came out, a guy in his 50s said: “I saw Ian about 10 times. You had better be fuckin’ good!”
Ian was a torn personality: a young, married father and a rock star being pulled towards America and glory, dealing with epilepsy and the side effects of medication. He was just a boy. I wonder if that’s what I was like: confident on stage, insecure in life. Maybe that’s why Anton hired me.
During rehearsals, we went to see New Order play. That was strange. Backstage, all the actors playing band members sought out their corresponding musician – and I obviously couldn’t.