John Legend learns to strum for movie role
John Legend, who plays only the piano, says he learnt enough to 'look like' he could play guitar in La La Land
For his first major screen role, US singer-songwriter John Legend plays - what else? - a musician.
In La La Land, he is Keith, leader of the band that recruits protagonist Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, thus causing obstacles in his relationship with his lover, Mia (Emma Stone). It is now showing in cinemas.
Legend, 37, also wrote the song Start A Fire that rockets the fictional band to stardom.
"I just tried to be as humble and hardworking as I could because I knew that it was a new experience for me," he said.
"I wanted to do justice to the character and to the film."
Legend was on the producers' wish list from the start, but they did not think they had a chance. After a meeting with director Damien Chazelle, he was sold.
He said: "It started with Damien giving me the idea of what the film was. And then he sent me the script. I thought it was great.
I don't put an album out unless I'm proud of every song. I have to creatively feel connected and proud of everything I put out.
"I felt like, if anybody could do it right, it would be Damien. I think he has a great musical sensibility and a great sense of how to bring that to film."
He decided to work with an acting coach and a guitar teacher to make sure he was comfortable portraying the character as he plays only the piano.
He said: "I just learnt enough to look like I could play guitar."
Legend realises that jazz is not as popular as other music styles but "it still is one very uniquely American art form".
He said: "What is so exciting about jazz is that it's unpredictable. There's this conversation going on between musicians.
"It can be chaotic, but in that chaos, you find so much beauty and humanity and that's what can make it so powerful."
Keith and Sebastian clash several times about musical integrity and sacrifices. Has Legend had to make such compromises?
He said: "I try not to be in a position where I'm sacrificing musical integrity for anything.
"I don't put an album out unless I'm proud of every song.
"I have to creatively feel connected and proud of everything I put out. In that sense, I don't ever feel like I've compromised my art for commercial reasons."
But the Grammy winner said he had made "some trade-offs", in which career was the focus, rather than relationships or building a family.
Legend said: "I'm at a stage now where I'm able to balance family and career pretty well. I'm in a stage where I'm not trying to make it into the business, I'm already there.
"But when you're trying to work your way up, it's hard to maintain a relationship and your career at the same time.
"So luckily I met Chrissy (his wife Teigen) after I'd already attained a certain level in my career and we could find a way to balance."
Now that he has a new baby girl, Luna, he finds himself singing more than ever at home.
He said: "I sing around the house. I sing more with the baby around now.
"I just make up songs about everything now and they're usually pretty terrible songs. They sound like a bad commercial jingle most of the time."
The seven-month-old baby has a favourite.
"I wrote a song called Dancing With You and it actually is the perfect song to calm her down when she's crying.
"So I'll just dance around the house with her and sing Dancing With You. It won't be on the album. You'll never hear it probably. It's Luna's song now."
He said on fatherhood: "Anybody who has kids knows you aren't the same after you have them.
"Part of it's just the joy and emotional significance of you and your partner creating this new being that reflects your love and commitment to each other.
"You see yourselves in that little baby. The sleepless nights, the energy that you put towards making sure your baby is happy and healthy and safe... it's kind of a draining thing but it's a very powerful thing.
"I think it's very life-affirming."