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Actor Feels “Pressure” To Play Jeff Buckley in Biopic

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When it came to filming the life story of iconic singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, it took two hunky actors to fill his shoes. While Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley was tapped to play the deceased "Hallelujah" singer in one big screen biopic, it was lesser known rocker and Broadway star Reeve Carney who will appear in another film about Buckley's life.

So how did all this come to pass? I caught up with New York-based Carney, who fronts his band of the same name and plays Spiderman on the Great White Way, to get his take on the project — and the competition. How is Spiderman going?

Reeve Carney: It's great, I really enjoy it. Apart from one movie, I wouldn't have considered myself to be an actor before I started this job. I was in The Tempest, which was my first job, and I only did it because Julie Taymor asked me to audition. She took a liking to me and thought I could pull it off so I tried it and I knew it was going to be hard because it's Shakespeare. I didn't really know what I was doing there, and then I started to get in the swing of being an actor. Spiderman is great for me because it never gets boring. Not only do I get to sing, I get to act, and I get to use my body every night. It's hard, and you've always got to keep it fresh, which is part of the great challenge of theater.

Us: Were you afraid of all the stunts?

RC: I was a little unnerved the first time I had to hang upside down from a 25 ft ceiling over a cement floor — that was a little unnerving. But once you get used to it, it becomes second nature. You don't really think about it, you kind of just have to be aware of your surroundings. I never feel in danger when I'm hooked up to the harness and the wires. The only times I feel any sort of danger are  when I'm not attached to wires and I'm walking on the stage like you'd do in any other show. It's sort of the opposite of what you would think.

Us: Were you nervous though when all the other people were getting hurt?

RC: Um, that was a momentary thing. When my friend Chris Tierney got hurt, there was a moment where I was. Everyone probably dealt with it their own way. It definitely was a shock to me, but the thing is, it wasn't a flying stunt, so it didn't quite scare me from the flying. It was just a shock. It was commonly misunderstood that Chris was injured during a flying stunt just because he happened to be wearing the Spiderman costume when he was injured. He wasn't actually doing the flying. He was doing a choreographic stunt, and unfortunately the tether wasn't connected properly. But it wasn't a flying stunt, so I wasn't really nervous about the flying.

Us: So now it's good, and you learned to do everything properly?

RC: Yeah. Nothing's really changed in terms of flying; it's just the public perception. Only the people actually in the theater know what's going on.

Us: Are you happy that it's such a success now?

RC: Yeah, I'm thrilled. It's great to have a job like this, to be able to perform every single night for a packed house. Standing ovations are always really nice

Us: Were you nervous when it was getting bad reviews in the beginning, like "Oh no, I'm in a bomb…"

RC: I never read any of it. I would try to avoid them actually. Some people would walk up to me on the street and suddenly everybody knew about the bad reviews because people would come up to me and say "Oh what show are you doing?" and then go "Oh I'm so sorry." That's the only way I really found out about negative reviews. That's just the way certain press outlets like to handle their business, so I don't really pay too much attention to it

Us: Tell me about the Jeff Buckley role. How did you land it?

RC: I auditioned. I met Jeff's mom Mary about three years ago, and that came through mutual friends. At that point, they weren't really writing a big film but she seemed to like me as a person and I definitely liked her a lot. We kept in touch, and when they were finally ready to start auditioning they called me. That was maybe about two months ago. But I first discovered Jeff when I was 16 years old. And the way I discovered him was I had someone come up to me and said "Have you heard of this guy Jeff Buckley?" and I said "No no, I hadn't heard of him" and he said "Man you look just like him, you gotta" and I was like ok. So I listened to him and they showed me his last concert in Chicago DVD. And I watched it and thought "Oh, that's funny, I could see how he looks like my older brother or something." I don't have an older brother, but he could have been my older brother. And so from that point on it was almost like, I do believe that things happen the way they're meant to and I'm really glad to be a part of this film, because all I want to do is honor Jeff's life and his legacy and hopefully introduce him to a whole new generation

Us: I know Penn Badgley from Gossip Girl is playing Jeff Buckley in another movie. Do you feel there's competition?

RC: I actually read that script, and they're very different films, so I don't see it as competitive in any way. They just have different focuses. One of the only similarities between the films is the fact that the characters are both named Jeff Buckley. It sounds funny to say, but that's really the only similarity. I'm just really happy to be involved in a film with a focus on Jeff's life and to be able to use his songs — that's what I was interested in, just because I have been a fan of Jeff's, and it's actually something I avoided because of the comparisons for years and years and years. I tried not to listen to him because people were like "Hey, you kind of sound like that guy" When you start drawing too many comparisons to something, I think it's good to head in the other direction. Now it's a great thing that I'm involved in this film because now I have a great excuse to listen to Jeff all the time, so it's cool.

Us: Do you feel this pressure to live up to him?

RC: Oh yeah. There's a lot of pressure and a lot to live up to, yeah. The only good thing here is that I'd probably put as much pressure on anyone else including myself as any other Jeff Buckley fan would put onto me. So I think I am still aware of that, I think it's a sacred responsibility to take on something this challenging. So I think, I definitely am aware of that, and I'll do everything I can to deliver the goods.

Us: When do you start filming that?

RC: I think we're aiming for November.

Us: Are you gonna take leave from Spiderman?

RC: I don't actually know. We're going to see how that works because it does shoot in New York. There will be a small stint in Memphis, which is obviously where Jeff passed away. So for that point in time I'd have to take a break from the show, but we'll see. It's very possible I'd be able to do both simultaneously. Nothing's set in stone yet in terms of the schedule.

Us: Have you reached out to Jeff's family or have you spoken to them? What have you been doing to sort of research and prepare for the role?

RC: Yeah, they reached out to me. I spent about two days with his mom, which was wonderful. I'm hoping I get to meet more of them. In terms of research I guess for me, it's been about immersing myself in as much of his as I can. Just trying to capture his essence from interviews and things. Part of the audition was an improv, where they asked me questions and I had to answer them as Jeff would. Thankfully I had done some research at that point.

Us: How are you going to manage the band on top of all of this?
RC: We spent a long time on the road playing dive bars and some theater openings for bigger bands, and a lot of times played for very few people. And then I got Spiderman. We've had less time to perform together, but now is more the foundational period steadying out our audience for Carney because we've already put in the hours and paid our dues, and many performances. I guess I'm just hoping that all of these opportunities can provide a set up for what my band might do in the future. Hopefully more people will know about us next time we go out. That's how I look at it.

Us: Did Bono and the Edge find out about the role? Did they give you any advice?

RC: I haven't had the chance to see them since I got the news. But I know that when we opened for them on the 360 tour the only cover song they did,  was Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," so I know he's a fan. I just want to leave no stone unturned in prepping for this role. It's such a great opportunity, and I can't screw it up. It'd really be a shame not to put in the work for something this potentially beautiful.

By Ian Drew for Us Weekly. To read more of Ian's blog, click here.

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