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Samantha Morton's musical obsessions

The actress, currently starring in the Joy Division movie ”Control,” explains how music affects her craft — and lists some of the albums that have inspired her most

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Samantha Morton
Mike Owen/eyevine/ZUMA Press

Music has played a notable role in Samantha Morton’s acting career: She’s appeared in videos by U2 (”Electrical Storm”) and the Horrors (”Sheena Is a Parasite”) and currently stars as the wife of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis in the film Control. In an extended interview for EW.com, the 30-year-old actress explains what it was like sharing the set with the real Deborah Curtis, reveals how she prepares for a difficult scene, and lists her all-time favorite discs.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is it about Joy Division’s music that you find inspiring? Could you name a song or an album that influenced you?
SAMANTHA MORTON:
It’s very, very hard when you’ve been involved with something, like I have been with Control. But I think their music is incredible. I think they were obviously a young band, just young guys learning to play their instruments and making incredible music. When I first heard it properly, it blew me away. And that’s before I had seen any footage of [Ian Curtis]. It’s like when you see a piece of art you just get floored by. You’re like, I get it.

Have you ever used that insight in your professional work? I know that’s kind of an abstract question, but when you’re moved by a piece of music like that, do you find it enhances what you do performance-wise?
Absolutely. I can’t act without music very well. I have to [make] playlists for characters. The days before iTunes and my little iPod, I used to have my tape player on set. And I would do mixes with pieces of music to act to.

How would you choose something to act to?
Like, when I was doing Minority Report, I listened to a lot of Boards of Canada and Chopin.

I love Boards of Canada.
Really? Do you see what I mean? It makes you emote very quickly. And if you’ve done 15 takes, and you’re not feeling anything, it’s really helpful to have music that makes you cry, or just puts you in a different space. So I have used Joy Division for that. I kind of became really obsessed with Joy Division for a while, and just listened to them all the time, so when the film came around, I was thinking, I don’t know if this is right because I have so much respect for him. I have some kind of weird respect for the dead as well. And also, I didn’t want to become part of his story, like, They made a film, and the film starred Sam Riley and Samantha Morton. And you’re like, Now I’m part of it. And I was really nervous and it was very important to me when I found out actually the film was based on Deborah Curtis’ book, Touching From a Distance, about their marriage. It’s not what I thought [at first]. I think it’s been handled with a huge amount of integrity and respect.

How was it working with Deborah?
I didn’t work with her. I didn’t want to mimic her, to copy how she walks and sits and eats. I just wanted to take it from the story, from the script. You know, it would have taken months and months of research, to spend time with Debbie, to analyze her. And also, she’s now an older woman, and I was playing her 25 to 30 years earlier, or whatever it is. She was really lovely. She would visit the set, but she was just kind of more on the production side, as opposed to being too on my shoulders about anything. She was brilliant.

Did you read her book to prepare for the role?
Oh, absolutely. Well, I’d read her book anyway.

And did you like it?
A lot. I think it’s incredible. I think there’s a lot in the book that’s not in the film, but [the film has] got to be really stirring, otherwise it could end up like The Decalogue.

I wanted to ask you about the video for ”Sheena Is a Parasite.” It’s a cool video, but it’s kind of intense. Why did you decide to take on that project?
I’ll do anything for [the director of the video] Chris Cunningham [who also did videos for Madonna (”Frozen”) and Bjork (”All Is Full of Love”)], because I trust him. Whatever angle he’s coming from, it’s going to be an experience.

What happens to your head at the end of the video? It seems to explode or something…
I really don’t know. Something to do with dead chickens, I think. It’s weird. You’ll have to ask Chris.

NEXT PAGE: Morton picks her all-time favorite albums