In Robert Luketic’s new film “21,” Sturgess plays Ben Campbell, a nerdy kid from MIT who counts cards as a high-stakes blackjack player in Vegas on the weekends. The actor, who came to the interview in tight dark jeans and snake-skin boots, grew up in Manchester, England. His role in “21” took him out of London, where he now lives, into the bright lights of Las Vegas.
“It felt like a big party. Everyone was pretty young on the set and we all just had a blast,” said Sturgess. The film, which chronicles Ben’s foray into gambling as a means of paying his medical school tuition, also stars Kate Bosworth as his love interest and Kevin Spacey as the leader of Ben’s blackjack team.
“I like how it’s about everyday people going against the system and coming out on top,” said Sturgess.
Before filming, the actor was completely new to the high-stakes world of gambling. “I played poker for matchsticks,” he said with a smile.
Sturgess is also a relative newcomer to the movie industry. “When I sort of started getting into acting it was all about theatre, really, and I was living in Manchester at the time, and we would put on plays, and write our own plays,” he said. “That was my experience, that’s what I was into, that’s what gave me that kind of buzz.”
Although he would consider professional theatrical acting in the future, Sturgess’s breakthrough was his role in the film “Across the Universe,” director Julie Taymor’s tribute to the Beatles. He awed audiences with both his acting and singing. For the young star, both talents are equally important.
“I have been writing music and playing music and been in bands since I was about fifteen. I’ve never had to separate the two,” he said. “‘Across the Universe’ was a sort of dream job because it was both kind of molded into one.”
Although Sturgess expresses an equal amount of commitment to singing, “21” draws him heavily toward drama. His young acting career has already placed him alongside experienced actors such as Ben Kingsley in the upcoming film “Fifty Dead Men Walking.”
Working with big-name stars is a highlight for the young actor. Of his experiences with Spacey on “21,” Sturgess said, “He was cool, an amazing actor, great guy, fun guy, but an intense guy when necessary... His films have been such a big part of my imagination.”
Despite the differences between Sturgess and his character, the actor felt a kinship with the role of Ben. “He needs a kick-start to think outside of the box and not live in a safe environment, which is so easy for all of us to do. And I think acting is what stops me from doing that,” he said.
Like Ben, Sturgess sees risk-taking as crucial to his acting abilities. “We can see why it’s so difficult to take life that extra step further. Sometimes you just need to be a little different or stupid or ridiculous or dangerous, and that kind of gets you to where you need to go.”