Taylor Swift energetically paced the room of her West Hollywood hotel on a recent visit to Los Angeles.
“I’m trying to outrun the jet lag,” she said with a smile, looking far from ragged in her matching purple sweater and skirt. Before landing in L.A., she’d flown from Australia to London, then on to Nashville on her way back from the latest leg of her “Red” tour.
But Swift, 24, is nothing if not game to be front and center for every facet of her career, so she committed to the schlep to L.A. for a Directors Guild of America screening of “One Chance,” the film that’s earned her a second Golden Globe Award nomination for her original song, “Sweeter Than Fiction."
The Weinstein Co. movie, on which “American Idol"/"X Factor” kingpin Simon Cowell is a producer, is the lightly fictionalized story of singer Paul Potts, the British cellphone salesman who became a worldwide sensation through his 2007 appearance on the first season of Cowell’s U.K. reality competition, “Britain’s Got Talent.” He ultimately won singing opera, even though the round-faced bloke with the chipped-tooth grin hardly fit the stereotypical image of the strapping, heroic operatic tenor.
The video clip of his first appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent” has generated nearly 120 million views on YouTube, and after winning the show he took home the grand prize of about $250,000 and delivered a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II. He’s subsequently released four albums that have sold millions of copies worldwide after overcoming a crushing lack of self-confidence and a string of monumental mishaps.
“When you’re watching the movie, at times you sit there and you can’t believe it really happened,” Swift said. “It’s a true story that seems like a fairy tale — and I loved that. If you watch a fairy tale, there’s an element of fiction to it, but pairing it with the truth — a real-life story with this fairy tale feeling — was something I found to be unique and really beautiful."
Swift said she hadn’t known much more about Potts beyond the popular YouTube clip of his first audition singing Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” aria.
“I’d seen the viral video, so many people had seen that and were moved by that,” she said. “But I never had any idea how much of the story we never saw."
The film has played in the U.S. mostly in film festivals and limited engagement screenings, and is set for a broader release later this month.
It traces Potts’ passion for opera since boyhood, an unconventional fixation that made him a social outcast, then follows him through his experience traveling to Venice to study opera at a school where Luciano Pavarotti served on the board of directors.
Potts eventually sings for the master, but the result is far from what he’d hoped for. Returning to his job managing a shop called Car Phone Warehouse, Potts suffers one setback after another until he stumbles across the notice for the new talent competition. The notoriously crusty Cowell is one of three judges, yet Potts manages to melt Cowell’s heart with his initial performance.
“There were a lot of different, obvious ways to go with the concept of the song,” Swift said of “Sweeter Than Fiction.”
“One of them,” she said, adopting an artificially callow voice, “was ‘I want to achieve my dreams and I’m not going to stop till I do.’ "
Instead, she wrote “Sweeter Than Fiction” from the perspective of Potts’ girlfriend, Jules, whom he marries well before entering the “Britain’s Got Talent” contest. Her unflagging support of her husband’s dream through thick, and mostly thin, is what got Swift’s attention.
“This woman stood by him and worked at this pharmacy and supported him while he was at one point unemployed … with this crazy dream that he wanted to be an opera singer,” she said. “And no matter what, she never told him to stop. She unselfishly supported him throughout the good and the bad. I just found it to be beautiful. It’s this amazing story of love after the butterflies are gone, when it really has to be love and support. That’s why I chose that story line.”
Swift collaborated with Jack Antonoff of the band fun. on the movie’s end-credits song, which has something of an ‘80s Brit-pop feel.
“I really wanted to work with Jack Antonoff on the song because he does an amazing job of walking this line between very current-sounding music and shades of nostalgic-sounding music,” she said. “You’re transported a little bit back to late ‘80s and early ‘90s, which a lot of the story takes place. That’s what we were going for."
Swift said she also connected with the theme of Potts’ perseverance, despite others — his father included — suggesting he abandon his dream and settle into a more realistic career.
“I really connected with so many different things about the movie,” Swift said. “There’s this line in the movie where she always reassures him and says ‘One foot, then the other.’ That’s been the way I’ve always approached my career.
“I’ve never had crazy, crazy goals,” she said. “I’ve never put down a list of things I want to achieve by a certain time. It’s been lots of ‘one foot, then the other.’ It’s stepping stones: Once you get one foot firmly on this stone, then you put your foot on the next one.
“I think that’s been sort of the joy of things like getting a Golden Globe nomination on my birthday,” she said, noting that the Golden Globe nominations announcement came down Dec. 13, the day she turned 24 and just a week after she learned she was nominated for four Grammy awards connected to her “Red” album, including album of the year. “When you don’t see them coming, those surprises are that much sweeter.”