Opening in theaters today, “Jimi: All Is By My Side”
stars Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix, during the year the famed musician spent
playing in obscurity in London shortly before his breakout performance at the
Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Written and directed by John Ridley, the experiential indie
is framed around romantic relationships Hendrix had at the time with three
different women, played by Imogen Poots, Hayley Atwell and Ruth Negga.
Benjamin recently stepped back into the spotlight after a
long stint away to promote the film, as well as his reunion tour as half of hip
hop duo OutKast. He made time to talk with S&A about his role as Hendrix, his
acting and music career, and what’s next.
On working with writer-director John Ridley:
He’s really goal oriented. He had it mapped out, and I think
for this to be one of his first directing gigs he handled it really well and
gave everybody the confidence that they needed to make this happen. I think
some of the choices that he made as a director were really key and important
for this movie.
The movie is about the relationship between Hendrix and the
love interests in the story so even before shooting, he blocked out time where
we would actually get to know each other, go on small dates, go out to eat. We
spent as much time as we could before we started shooting. In this day and age
with filmmaking, most people don’t have that luxury. They just fully pretend
and I think that’s a great feat when people pull it off. But I think he knew I
wasn’t an experienced actor so I’d probably have to live it as much as I could.
So we would click on screen because by the time we started shooting, I knew a
bit about these women and I was cool with them.
On the challenges of playing the role:
The left-handed guitar playing. I think that was the
hardest. And also the voice preparation because I’m from the South and my
accent is thick and our vocal registers are completely different. So getting
prepared for that was kind of hard. John would make sure that I would speak
that way all the time. He would hold me to it. So a lot of times when I would
come around he would kind of check me on my voice and let me know, “That’s
not it. That’s not it.” So I think it was important to keep me speaking
that way so it would be natural on screen.
Giving an authentic performance:
When John approached me about the film, he had a certain
goal and was talking to me almost like a coach. He was just like, “Whatever
you do, just give me your interpretation. Give me your thoughts on Hendrix.
Don’t give me a caricature or an impression. Live it and own it.”
So I think we did that and some people will agree with it,
some people won’t. But it was wholehearted and that’s the biggest thing that I
can get out of it. Like when I’m filming, after a take I don’t go behind the
screen and watch what I did. I don’t watch playback because I’m not trying to
judge it in that way. I’m trying to live it and trust John to get what he
needs. So my job at that point is just trying to live a life on screen, and I’m
not really being nitpicky about it. I’m just happy that I had something to
concentrate on and something to be a part of and hopefully we did Hendrix
On criticism from the Hendrix estate:
We hoped that they would have been part of it. There were times
that they were contacted. They just had a different idea, probably, of what the
movie should be and I feel like they definitely have that right. It would have
been great to have them involved just for the good of it. But the story that we
were telling didn’t necessarily need that backing, we were just hoping that
maybe they would be cool about it. But there’s so many Hendrix stories that
need to be told anyway. I think there needs to be a lot of Hendrix movies made.
So hopefully there will be more.
How he identified with Jimi Hendrix:
Only from me being an entertainer myself and knowing how
artists grow, from not being outspoken individuals or natural performers to
pretty much giving it all you’ve got on stage and watching yourself develop as
And also, knowing that your stage persona is like an outlet from
your real life. So a lot of times your home or offstage life sometimes is a little
bit to the left of what you do on stage. Because it’s like being a kid and
being in your own fantasy world.
About his recent comments
that he doesn’t get anything from performing musically:
That was completely taken out of context. The thing about
not getting anything out of performing is, I wrote most of those songs when I
was much younger and in a different mind frame. That year when “Bombs Over
Baghdad” came out, the intensity was so strong that I performed those
songs differently. So I was trying to campaign these lyrics, I was trying to
campaign these thoughts, I was trying to campaign this movement.
Now, it’s almost like being a caricature of what that was.
So really, it is a true presentation. It’s a true performance, so it doesn’t
mean the same thing to me that it did back then. So that’s what I meant by not
getting anything out of it. I definitely get energy from the crowd remembering
those songs, but not so much me spewing these lyrics. Because it’s really, at
this point, like a recital.
Plans to work on other films, and other mediums:
I think we’re in that time where it’s open for you to do
everything. And I’ve always been involved in every aspect of my career, from
sketching the costumes that I wear on stage, to designing stage sets, to writing
my own lyrics, to writing video treatments. So I’m just going to keep that
progression going and I’d like to put my hand into being a producer and writing
behind the scenes in film as well. I can see that happening.
“Jimi: All Is By My Side” is in theaters today. Find our
review from TIFF here.