Sam Riley, played by Ian Curtis
After leaving the National Youth Theater I spent a year trying to become an actor, then decided I wanted to be a rock star instead. I’ve done it for three years with my band, 10,000 Things, but with average to zero success. We played at a pub called Primrose in Leeds, and because of my appearance, they called us “Ian Curtis fronts the Rolling Stones”. I didn’t even know who Ian was. We were dropped by our record company and ended up in a retail warehouse folding clothes and working at a bar.
I called my old agent and said I would do absolutely anything. Control had nothing to do with a deep love for music oath of joy – It was a pure chance that they were looking for “Ian” the week I called. For the casting, I told work I was going to the dentist, but there were three auditions and I kept coming back. My teeth have never looked better.
My life was a mess in Leeds. I was not in good shape. But I got the job on my 26th birthday and the movie saved me: just by coming to the set, getting a target, and counting on it, being Ian. Samantha Morton, who played Ian Debbie’s wife, was great and led the workouts. In one scene, she would improvise and talk me into a corner. I finally burst into tears. I thought, “Wow! This is acting.” I fell in love Alexandra Maria Larawho played journalist Annick, and we’ve been together ever since, living in Berlin.
I think Anton Corbyn, the director, ended up rearranging his house because when people heard his introduction was a rockstar singer from Leeds, everyone wanted to run. I knew how much to risk it and didn’t want to make any mistakes. Before we started shooting, he asked me to do Ian Curtis dance“His again. Some people were freaking out about whether I was going to do it right.”
The concert scenes were crazy. In all my previous concerts, I had never found anyone in the audience looking at me that way. The first time we were playing She’s Lost Control, they had about 150 Joy Division fans just like the audience. I ran to my trailer and vomited. When I walked out, a man in his fifties said, “I’ve seen Ian about 10 times. You had better be okay!”
Ian was a torn character: a young married father and rock star drawn towards America and glory, dealing with epilepsy and the side effects of medication. He was just a boy. I wonder if that was what I was: Confident on stage, insecure in life. Maybe that’s why Anton hired me.
During rehearsals, we went to see the play New Order. This was strange. Behind the scenes, all the actors playing the band members sought out the corresponding musician – Obviously I couldn’t.
Anton Corbin, Director
I moved to London in October 1979 to get closer to the Joy Division and 12 days later took what are now famous group photos on the Underground. There seems to be a conflict in Ian between his belief in himself as an artist and his insecurities as a man. I realized this not from direct conversations, but from observation. Likewise, Sam was in a difficult phase in his life. Control was almost written for him somehow.
I was by nature shy. As a photographer, I can beat that. However, working with 100 people, all of whom knew more about the film than me, was intimidating. Although friends told me I should make a movie, I couldn’t believe I could. I was the first director trying to portray Ian’s story: given the cult band’s standing, things could really go wrong. But I was emotionally involved in the band and thought that might give me a real way out.
Samantha Morton worked with me on a U2 music video, so I called her. Once we were on board, things started to open up. We filmed in Nottingham and Macclesfield over the summer. Thankfully, Nottingham still feels like the ’70s, and we shot outside Ian and Debbie’s actual home in Macclesfield. The walk Sam took to the action center in the movie was the walk Ian made every morning.
I never thought actors could play songs. I knew Sam was a singer, but that wasn’t why we gave him the role. They were adamant about singing and playing their instruments, so we recorded them playing live on set until we got a good shot. Everything felt real.