By Maureen Lee Lenker
June 28, 2019 at 02:00 PM EDT
Steve Jennings/Getty Images; Jonathan Prime/Universal
06/28/19
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  • Movie

There are a lot of famous musicians swirling about the plot of Yesterday.

Most obvious are the Beatles, whose music provides the impetus for the entire film when a freak event causes the world to forget they ever existed, except for aspiring singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Hamish Patel). But Grammy-winning, chart-topping artist Ed Sheeran also plays a large role, discovering Jack’s music (which is actually the music of the Fab Four) and taking him on the road as his opening act.

Sheeran hilariously sends himself up in the film, marveling at how Jack supersedes him as one of the greatest songwriters of all time and even having his own song “Shape of You” as his ringtone. But he wasn’t always the superstar at the heart of the movie.

Director Danny Boyle reveals that the original choice had a little more “Viva La Vida” flavor to it. “In the first script, it was written as Chris Martin, from Coldplay,” he tells EW. Boyle traveled to Los Angeles to woo Martin for the project, but the musician had recently completed a two-year world tour with Coldplay and wasn’t willing to jump back into a new endeavor when he wanted to spend some time with his family.

Sheeran was their next choice. “[Screenwriter] Richard Curtis knew Chris because they’d done something for Red Nose Day for Comic Relief, but he also knew Ed because they live near each other in Suffolk,” Boyle says. “We had a very fun moment with Ed where we said, ‘You’d be so good for this, you’re our first choice. We can’t think of anyone [else],’ and he goes, ‘Hang on, you’ve already asked Chris Martin.’”

Boyle says that was just the first moment of many in which Sheeran showcased his good humor and willingness to make fun of himself. “He’s very funny,” the director says. “He doesn’t mind having fun poked at him, which obviously the film does. But he comes with that as well. So he remorselessly teased us about being second choice to Chris Martin.”

In the end, Boyle thinks Sheeran might actually be the more poetic choice, considering how his own life story reflects that of the film’s hero. “The Jack Malik story is actually Ed Sheeran’s story,” Boyle muses. “He’s a small-town guy, who’s playing the pubs not very successfully, and then suddenly rises to stratospheric fame. And then completes a part of his journey by returning home to marry his childhood sweetheart from his hometown, which is the Jack and Ellie story, in a way. Except that presumably Ed’s songs are his own. [Laughs] But it would explain just quite how extraordinary Ed is about producing pop hit after pop hit.”

Yesterday is in theaters now.

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