Interview: Imogen Poots is By Jimi Hendrix’s Side as Linda Keith


Fans of the late, great Jimi Hendrix probably think they know everything there is to know about him, although he really was quite an enigma to those who only learned about his music after he died in 1970 at the age of 27, just as his career started to pick up speed.

That’s why Jimi: All is By My Side is such an interesting addition to the mystery that was Hendrix. The new film from writer/director John Ridley, an Oscar-winner earlier this year for his screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, this biographical drama begins in the time when Hendrix was playing guitar with Curtis Knight and the Squires in New York’s West Village where he was discovered by Keith Richards’ girlfriend, Linda Keith.

Played by Imogen Poots, the 25-year-old actress who has been appearing in movies since she was a teenager but has just started getting noticed as a versatile actress capable of a variety of roles, Keith was pivotal to the early career of Jimi Hendrix, convincing him to go to England and finding him management in Chas Chandler, who helped put together the Jimi Hendrix Experience. “All is By My Side” does a good job showing how this relationship evolved and changed once Jimi starting dating another British model, Kathy Etchingham, played by Hayley Atwell (aka “Agent Carter” from Captain America: The First Avenger). sat down with Ms. Poots in Austin, Texas of all places, where “Jimi” received its North American premiere back in March, and we had a rowsingly fun conversation about playing Linda Keith, as well as talking about working with Terrence Malick and other observations the actress has about the film industry. I really feel like this has been a great year for you, between “That Awkward Moment” and “Need for Speed” and now this.
Imogen Poots:
Cool. Yes, it’s been fun!

CS: I also thought you were great in Michael Winterbottom’s film “The Look of Love” from last year. I’m a big fan of both Michael and Steve Coogan, so it was nice seeing you really breaking out from what they can do together.
Oh, thank you so much.

CS: I’m generally a fan of this era of British music, the Stones, Jimi and it’s a really amazing story of how your character, Linda Keith, was involved in that scene. Did you know anything about her or about her role in Jim Hendrix’s career when you first got the script?
I wasn’t aware of Linda and it’s interesting, because I actually tried to research her as much as I could, looking at documentaries and stuff, and there’s actually not a lot on her. I think that was actually a choice that she made to kind of remain apart from it. When I started to look into stuff, I realized how poised she was, and it was such an interesting way to be, because there was such chaos around that time with all those musicians, and yet she maintained this calm demure way about her.

CS: We generally knew that she was a model and that she was dating Keith Richards, and you might assume she’s a groupie, but she was actually very smart, the fact she discovered Jimi Hendrix and found him management. Recently, there was a PBS documentary about Hendrix after this movie was already done, and she was in it. Did you get a chance to meet her at all?
No, John spoke to her and she sort of gave him her blessings, but I think in a way I would have loved to have met her, just to have spoken about stuff and gotten to know her. But at the same time, I understand once you get involved, you’re involved, even if you’re not physically present. I think it was actually very cool and gracious what she did, because I don’t know how I’d feel about if some person (was playing me), it’s difficult. The good side of it is that in the screenplay in no way is she ever portrayed or presented as being anything in being very instrumental in Hendrix’s career and an extremely cool girl. (laughs)

CS: Before I saw the movie, I knew it was about Jimi Hendrix – I’d known about it since Toronto but didn’t get to see it there. When I first heard you were in the movie I wasn’t quite sure who you played, but it’s a pretty key role. I don’t think people realize that we spend almost as much time with her in the first 45 minutes as we do with Jimi.
Yeah, that’s nice, but it’s also like if you look at something like the Coen Brothers’ movie “Inside Llewyn Davis,” I thought that such an interesting movie, because here’s somebody and what does success mean? Does success mean that the audience supports you and that’s how you’re successful or is success inside yourself as an artist. Do you push yourself? Do you have a hunger to do it? All those elements, I loved that movie for that, and I felt there were parallels between that and the Hendrix (story), because in this movie, there’s the idea of whether you’d be able to navigate that path without Linda. It would have been a different path, because really, when he met Chas Chandler from the Animals and he became his manager, Linda brought him to London and that’s where he ended up dying. It really is an important role and I’m glad you feel that way.

CS: They have an interesting relationship because she was dating Keith and there wasn’t anything deeply romantic between them, but you feel like there was an underlying love between them. She obviously cared about him very much.
Yeah, 100%. I think there was a maternal instinct there, too, and she brought him to her country and then ultimately he went off, but I think what was so wonderful and interesting about their relationship too, is that do we see anything sexual between them in the movie? Not really. It would almost pollute it. It’s a very innocent friendship, isn’t it? Haley’s character Cathy suddenly provides an insight into what was Jimi really like with women. There are question marks obviously over some aspects of it, but with Linda, there’s something very specific.

CS: I was surprised that her boyfriend Keith Richards wasn’t in the movie more
Obviously, we couldn’t find somebody who looked like him. (laughs) No, I know you’re right, but in a way, it’s kind of important to decide… there are a lot of characters still. Andrew Loog Oldham in there and Chas Chandler. Even the cutaway to the audience where they had a Roger Daltrey lookalike. I think John really wanted to focus on Jimi and just on Jimi and Keith’s guitar is in there anyway.

CS: I was impressed that Linda was the inspiration for “Ruby Tuesday,” one of the Stones’ biggest hits, so she clearly had an impact on a lot of musicians of that time.
Yeah, I think so. I think that much happen and I think what’s very obvious is that he really, really respected her. I don’t think she would ever bullsh*t him. Apparently, she was the first person he did LSD with, so it’s wild.

CS: John’s a pretty amazing screenwriter, but I think this is his first film as a director? (Note: Actually it’s not.) What was that like since this is pretty ambitious project even as a writer to tell the story.
It’s funny. First of all, your immediate thing is to sit down with the filmmaker and you go through the script and maybe make some changes, but the screenplay was so solid and so rich, characters and what a fantastic story. Actually, it was one of those opportunities to sit down in a room with Andre, and just have so much fun reading through the scenes, because we had time to do that, first of all, but the writing was brilliant. If you’re saying fantastic lines, then it’s such a thrill, you can’t really go wrong. In terms of his direction, he’s a very specific guy. He’s pretty pedantic in a great way. The record covers that we’d have in the red house, they were very true to what may have actually been there – they were very thought out. The art direction, before we even started shooting, John was showing us, “This is what the set is going to look like,” and I love all that. It really gets you into a terrific headspace. He’s a very accessible and patient man, so we had a really good experience .

CS: I’ve heard about this movie since Toronto, but I haven’t really heard much about it since then and Andre is quite amazing. I really feel like he pulled off Jimi Hendrix based on everything I’ve seen online and in archival footage.
Isn’t he? He’s so charismatic. I totally agree. You’re right, and I think that’s because in every way I think someone else might make Hendrix bigger, he made it smaller. There’s a gentle quality to Andre that I think he brought to his portrayal of Hendrix. There’s a naivety there and an innocence, and a big, big wide-eyed curiosity, and I think that Andre feels that himself.

CS: Jimi was so big on stage, but every time I’ve seen interviews with him, he was quieter.
Yeah, yeah, which is often the way with performers. They shy away from it and then they can just go downtown.

CS: Not really a question but I actually got to work with Andrew Loog Oldham about 20 years ago…
No way! Wow!

CS: Yeah, he’s been down in Colombia for a long time and I’m amazed he’s still alive and kicking.
Isn’t that wild, though?

CS: After doing “Need for Speed” earlier this year, where do you see your career going as far as doing bigger movies versus these smaller films?
You know, I can certainly say for sure that this movie is so important to me, both emotionally and artistically and all those things. I found it an extremely fulfilling experience and that’s what you look for in any project. The size of the movie is certainly irrelevant, it’s more what’s the material that you’re working with and I think going forward, in terms of doing bigger films, like absolutely on board doing something if it’s right and if it feels right to be doing it artistically. There may well be some limitations with that beyond the size of the film, so it’s taking that all into account I think.

CS: Considering how strong your performances are in this and Michael Winterbottom’s “The Look of Love,” do you feel you can relate better to the ‘60s and ‘70s and feel connected to those times?
I do! I’m not kidding around here. The ’70s, I’m very nostalgic for that time…

CS: Even though you weren’t alive in those days.
No, I was born in ’89, so I missed them, but I really, really love that time. Obviously, if you’re playing someone from a past era, you’re wearing costumes and clothes and all those things inform your performance. If you’re an actor, it’s a different time, but also, films like that are wonderful films to talk about. There’s a lot to say and a lot to speak of.

CS: You’re working with two filmmakers who don’t make a lot of movies, Terrence Malick and Todd Field, and I was curious what the Malick experience was like, because no one has any idea when he’ll be done doing his thing.
I know. To be honest, if I can spend my life working with Terrence Malick and Todd Field and Peter Bogdanovich and filmmakers like this, that would be a real treat. Working with Malick, honestly, was one of the greatest moments so far with work and with life, because you watch “Badlands” on your couch when you’re 13 years old and you’re like, “Wow, this is crazy” and then you see the man behind it who still has the best complexion I’ve ever seen. (laughs) It’s a treat. I think in terms of that, the whole industry with a big capitol “I” just falls away and it just becomes about what it should be and what it can be. Being around someone like that is so electric.

CS: I got to talk to Sissy Spacek a couple of years ago…
Oh, Wow!

(Note: Feel free to comment about how much Ed seems to be name-dropping to try to impress Imogen. It was totally subconscious, honest!)

CS: She was talking about the early days and telling me these great stories about how all the actors would carry the paint and chip in.
And that should be the case. I feel like right now a lot of the guys in the camera crew, especially in the studio would be like, “Imogen, just don’t even try.”

CS: Right, they’re all in the unions now and they don’t want you to touch anything. It was fun to hear stories of how it was back in the ‘70s when it was so different and those movies turned out amazing.
Oh, how cool, though. I know, I know. I get really weary and scared about the future of film, because are people listening anymore? I know it’s a different time but it mainly has to do with technology I think and…

CS: I almost think that movies these days are more…

CS: I don’t know if I’d say “disposable,” but we just had the Oscars a week ago and I feel that people are already moving onto other movies. Last year was such a great year for movies, but I feel that in two years, no one will be talking about them.
Right, right, I know, and you can’t differentiate now. It used to be… I was reading this interview by (Truman) Capote, portraits and observations, and there’s a great interview with Marlon Brando. It’s called The Duke in his Domain and I thought, “What an amazing thing,” because there’s so much time there for that interview and you’ve got a real insight into what Capote made of the factor. Reading that book with Monroe and these timeless figures, I’d be flicking pages and “I’ve got to read this, it’s about Pablo Picasso!” It’s so rich, this book of interviews and anecdotes with people you really cared about and I really wanted to read about them.

CS: And now it’s like someone walks in and asks questions for three minutes and then they move onto the next person.
Yeah, yeah, and people actually care? So there’s a big question mark with that, too, whereas with Capote’s interviewees, there was such incredible talent in the figures he was meeting.

Jimi: All is By My Side opens in select cities on Friday, September 26. Look for our interview with writer/director John Ridley very soon.