As “Pirate Radio” opens today, American audiences will have a chance to tune in to a phenomenon that occured in Britain 40 years ago: pirate, or illegal, radio operators went out on ships into international waters in the North Sea to operate their rock and pop stations. The movie creates a composite of that movement, turning it into one big boat of lusty rock ‘n’ roll lovers, including one American import The Count, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The role is somewhat reminiscent of his performance in “Almost Famous” as Lester Bangs, but the outsiderism of The Count can be more attributed to feeling foreign an almost completely British crop of characters.
“There’s something to be said for not belonging to that tribe,” Hoffman said in an interview this week in New York. “That”s why I took [the role]. I”m much more of a loner like that. I like the peripheral, and mixing among different people and cultures.”
Hoffman, who was previously unfamiliar with the backstory of “Pirate Radio,” said that the music selections of the film brought him back to his own early childhood. Born in 1967, the actor was essentially born in the same year that the story is set.
“I listened to that music, y’know, sitting in the back seat with no seat belt with someone smoking up front with the radio on,” he said, noting that, “Rock ‘n’ roll really is that important. We wanna say the arts are important, but really sometimes it’s more important than anything else. These guys were the conduits to bring the arts to the people.”
The double-disc soundtrack to the motion picture tries to be a conduit, too, to fans new and old to late-’60s rock, R&B and pop. That’s the essence of the film: it too acts as a vehicle to expose that particular era of popular music, revealed in the trappings of a dramatic and funny circumstances. There are dozens of tracks featured in the film itself, from The Who and The Hollies to Martha Reeves and Dusty Springfield to David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, co-stars alongside Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Rhys Darby and Nick Frost.
That being said, the 42-year-old actor admitted to never being much of a hardcore music consumer as a kid. “I listened to radio. I didn’t buy LPs. My brother did all that. I guess I was out playin’,” he laughed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the more important “essences” in his life. “Music”s like water, like air. I respect it like I respect like blood in my body. That’s the point.”