Cobie Smulders On AVENGERS: ENDGAME Funeral Scene, SPIDER-MAN: FFH, & Her New Movie SONGBIRD - EXCLUSIVE

We talk exclusively to Cobie Smulders about her fantastic new movie Songbird, being part of Avengers: Endgame's most star-studded scene, and the Marvel Multiverse in Spider-Man: Far From Home...

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk to Cobie Smulders about Songbird, an entirely improvised new British movie from director Jamie Adams (Wild Honey Pie). Shot over the course of five days in Cornwall, England, it follws the story of Joanne Sykes (Cobie), the lead singer of The Filthy Dukes who leaves her has-been band to enrol in university on a Marine Biology course.

It's a funny, touching story, highlighted by a stellar performance from the actress who is well-known to comic book fans for playing the tough as nails Maria Hill in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers franchise, and this summer's Spider-Man: Far From Home

Smulders gets to show off a very different side in Songbird, and it was a pleasure to talk to her about making the movie, the challenges that came with improvising, her musical inspirations, and the importance of Indie films in a world dominated by big budget blockbusters. 

We also discuss shooting Iron Man's funeral in Avengers: Endgame and Maria Hill's role in the new Spider-Man movie. You can find Smulder's comments about her new TV show based on Greg Rucka's Strumptown graphic novels by clicking here. Thanks again to Cobie for talking to us. 

Songbird is set to be released in the UK on May 10th. Known as Alright Now in North America, it's available now on Video On Demand.

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You're obviously no stranger to big budget blockbusters, so what was it about Songbird that made you decide to join such a small scale project in comparison? 
 
This project is so near and dear to my heart. I met Jamie Adams, who is the writer and director, and it was just such an adventurous idea for me and it scared me because this film is completely improvised. We shot it over five days in Cornwall. I had to learn how to play the guitar, which I had never been very good at but I did my absolute best, and sing. It was all these things that were challenging to me so I was just really excited to try it. Quite honestly, when we were doing it – or at least when it was being pitched to me – I thought, 'There's no f***ing way we're going to be able to do this. This is going to be a mess and I'll just go and it will be what it will be but there's no way we're going to get a movie out of this. You can't shoot a movie in five days!' But we did, mainly because we had such an amazing crew, because Jamie Adams just won't quit and is so wonderful, and we all had a blast together. We all stayed in the same bunk house, we shot all day, we shot all night, drank pints after and got it done. It was such an amazing experience and, for me, I really benefited from this experience so much and, in a way, it kind of made me fall back in love with the process of filmmaking. Speaking to how you brought this up, which is big budget, large sets with big crews, lighting and sets...all of this stuff takes time, energy, money [Laughs] and we were able to have just one camera, go handheld, walk around and try to figure out what we would say next, try to be funny and find these moments. It was a really wonderful experience and I feel like I personally benefited from it so much as a performer and just as someone who is interested in telling stories and making movies.
 
You mentioned the movie being entirely improvised. Did you ever have any doubts about joining a movie  without a screenplay or was it pitched to you in a very unique manner where you knew where things were going to go?
 
I think when I'm playing a character where she's a mess like Johanne and she's struggling and trying to figure it out, it's certainly makes it a lot easier to just go, 'We'll figure it out, we'll wing it!' [Laughs] You know what I mean? I'm not playing some aristocratic, high end woman who is a lady of the manor. I'm able to swear, be a mess, and just say whatever comes into my head and be drunk most of the time – or pretending to be drunk but mostly actually being drunk – and that was how it made it easier. There's not a lot of dialogue that had to connect. I'm thinking now of doing all the exposition on things where you have to explain to the audience that this is what's happened and where things are going. It's more in the moment and more about the characters and their relationships to each other so I wasn't too fearful about this and Jamie wrote an outline so we had the broad strokes. Even within that, we'd say 'Let's do a scene in here, actually' and we'd have the freedom to change things as they came up. 
 
We obviously saw you sing in How I Met Your Mother but that was a very different type of singing to this movie - 
 
Slightly! [Laughs}
 
- but what would you say the main challenges were singing these lives songs which obviously weren't comedic in nature? 
 
It was the live of it all! And it was also this f***ing song on the guitar...they gave me this chord sequence that was just, oh my God, it was so challenging because I don't play guitar and I've always wanted to and I can rock the C and G chord like nobody's business but once you start throwing an E and an A in there, it starts getting a little bit choppy. They gave me some minors and I was like, 'I can't handle this' and then, on the day, I'm playing this guitar and singing but it kind of worked when watching the film because I was so vulnerable and this character was also in her most vulnerable place as well, so it all kind of worked out...I think! I felt like it helped and worked for me that she's at her most vulnerable moment right now.
 
Were there any musicians, in particular, that inspired your take on Johanne?
 
There was a whole long list of Brit Pop bands. A lot of Oasis and Jamie, our director, was hugely into that and still is. I listened to a lot of Eva Cassidy as she was folky and doing her own thing and I'm literally trying to remember the woman that was inspiring to Jamie. I listen to The Kinks a lot. I like to listen to Pulp and The Smiths and these ragey bands and that helped me a lot. 

[Editor's Note: I later confirmed with Cobie that singer in question was Sleeper's Louise Wener]

Songbird-1-4-24-1-1
 
Did working with an entirely British cast help when it came to capturing that sense of Johanne being a fish out of water? 
 
There was this whole thing where I told Jamie that I could do a British accent but I felt like, 'You have me here and I should just do myself because you could have hired anyone from this country to do it. Let me be American.' We kind of used my own backstory in that my mother was British, we moved to the States, and then I moved back because I wanted to check out where I was from and became this big Brit Pop singer and became a big deal for one album. 
 
The movie had a very tight production schedule so did you get the opportunity to do multiple takes or did you have to get it right the first time while improvising? 
 
We very much played around and there was a lot of experimentation happening. That was the nature of the movie as you keep shooting and keep shooting until you find something in the middle of it. I was very lucky that we had such an amazing cast that helped me do that because we were just like, 'Let's keep talking until we find something that feels right all of a sudden.' And then, because we were doing everything handheld, when we find it, we'd have to go back and find other coverage as the moment we wanted it to be, we'd have to flip back around and go, 'Right, he needs to react to this.' It was very much multiple takes, very messy, and very much finding it which was a lovely process. 
 
I've read that you were actually interested in Marine Biology before you went down the route of acting so did that influence how you approached Johanne's journey?
 
I think Jamie changed that because I am also interested in it but it helps when you are doing an improvised movie that you can talk about something you know about. If she had wanted to study chemistry or nuclear reactions, or whatever it is, I'd be like, 'Uh, yeah...science!' [Laughs] I know a lot about Marine Biology so I'm just able to talk about it!
 
We talked about blockbusters earlier and when you see movies like Avengers: Endgame making an insane amount of money, why do you think it's important that a movie like Songbird is still an option for moviegoers when there are so many huge releases in theaters these days?
 
What I think it comes down to is story and people's stories. I think some stories are played out on a major big screen with a lot of explosions and that's that story but I think there are more intimate versions of human connections that need to have their own moments. For a movie like this, when you're shooting an independent film, there's not as much money on the line and you're able to creatively experiment with dialogue, with moments, cameras, angles to find whatever it's going to be. Obviously, there's still a schedule but there are so many different stories and some work best with a green screen behind them and some work best on a smaller screen, watching them from home. 

Maria-Hill
 
Talking of Avengers: Endgame, you were present for that star-studded scene at the end of the movie, so could you tell us what it was like being on set that day and whether you were aware it was for Iron Man's funeral?
 
We were all aware that we were at the funeral. It was such a wild day. Oh my God, there were so many people and it was just so crazy. It felt like there was a bit of closure, that this was the end of a chapter, which obviously it was, and it felt great seeing a lot of old friends and meeting new people and seeing these groups. I can't remember when we shot it...maybe a year ago now. All of the Black Panther people were there and that movie hadn't even come out yet. Seeing all the Guardians of the Galaxy and all the characters from the Thor movies...it was just really cool seeing everyone together, being part of this, and being part of the Marvel world, I'm forever grateful, and I consider it such a blessing. It was a really magical day. 
 
The new Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer features Maria Hill watching on as we learn about the Multiverse so what, if anything, can you tell us about that and your role in the sequel? 
 
Well, I can't comment on the Multiverse...mainly because it's hard for my human brain to understand it! This movie obviously takes place after these major events have happened and Peter Parker is feeling the weight of this loss so we pick up after that. The thing I love about these Spider-Man movies is that they're about teenagers. There's a lightness in there and a comedy you get to play and, in fact, this movie with me and Sam Jackson's character Nick Fury, we got to be the most human that we've ever been in a film so that was exciting for us. 
 
Going back to Songbird, looking back at your time working on the movie, just watching the movie, it looked like you guys had a lot of fun, so what experiences stuck with you?
 
Like I said before, it was wonderful to be part of a group that was figuring it out together. There was no difference between the cameraman and the craft service person. In fact, they would change every now and again [Laughs]. One would get back to the bagels and one would get on the camera! It was just so wonderful and intimate and everybody was all in and helping out where they could. It was just so fun to make stuff up and really play around with it and, like you said, have fun. I think that comes across in the movie and we wanted to just entertain people and bring them in on our fun. 

This weekend, Songbird director Jamie Adams will be taking part in a number of Q&A sessions in the Cornwall area. Find out more about them by following the links below:
 
Falmouth Phoenix - Saturday 11/05 
Truro Plaza – Sunday 12/05
Dartmouth Flavel - Monday 13/05



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Joanne Sykes (Cobie Smulders) is lead singer of once popular 90’s indie-rock band The Filthy Dukes. They’ve been on the road since 1996, slowly but surely managing to play 150-capped venues. We find the Dukes at their last ever gig, and as the band falls apart so does Joanne; her boyfriend leaves her, and there’s little left for her once the group disband. She bumps into an old friend, Sara (Jessica Hynes) whilst drowning in her sorrows, and the night ends with Joanne drunkenly applying for university. University isn’t quite what Joanne expected – far less wild partying, and a lot more yoga and kale. Whilst there, she falls in love with the enrolment officer, Pete (Richard Elis). It’s far from smooth sailing, but will going back to university be the new start she needs; who knows, maybe she’ll re-discover her love for music.
 

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