We're not talking about reincarnation here, but Ian Hart has been John Lennon before. The 29-year-old Liverpudlian delivered a head-turning performance as the brilliant Beatle in Chris Munch's 1991 short feature, The Hours and Times. In that little-seen film about a supposed affair between Lennon and Beatles manager Brian Epstein, Hart looked and sounded uncannily like Lennon, but he needed some convincing to tackle the Beatle legend in the first place. ''I didn't want to do it at all. It had reached saturation point, the whole Beatle thing,'' says the actor. ''When I was a teenager, I thought, 'Surely to God we haven't got to talk about something that happened 25 years ago!''' However, judging by his indelible return to the role of Lennon in BackBeat, Hart has gotten comfortable standing in Lennon's Beatle boots.
Two years after starting out in British television at 17, Hart joined The Liverpool Playhouse. Along the way, he appeared in small British films (Zip, No Surrender) before doing The Hours and Times. Impressed by his performance, BackBeat coproducer Finola Dwyer recommended Hart to director Iain Softley. ''What I was looking for was a sense of somebody who has a kind of hard exterior, who is reluctant to show emotion,'' says Softley. ''I think what's remarkable about Ian's performance is that the attitude of the character seems to be the same throughout the film, but we actually know that internally he's changing.''
How did Hart go about portraying one of the most familiar figures in pop history? ''I just sat in me bedroom with a guitar for ages playing 'Twist and Shout' till I felt comfortable with it,'' he recalls. He also listened to Lennon's voice for hours, using an electronic guitar tuner to find the pitch of the Beatle's vocal tones, then matching his voice to the original. ''I'd watched A Hard Day's Night 17 times, but I wasn't trying to impersonate him,'' Hart maintains. '''Cause I would fail if I did. It's John Lennon, and everyone knows how he speaks, and how he moves.''
Despite that obstacle, Hart, who is actually balding and blue-eyed, impressed his toughest audiencethe people who knew Lennon. A meeting last month with Lennon's first wife, Cynthia (now 54), was ''kind of weird,'' he says, ''but she was very positive towards me, and very emotional about it. She felt very much like I hit the nail on the head.'' John and Cynthia's son, Julian, 31, told the London Evening Standard, ''Mum said to me on the way to see the film that tonight I was going to meet my dad. I was blown away by it.''
But Hart's hardened hometown (where he lives with his girlfriend, movie production assistant Lynn Currie) is none too impressed. ''We shot (BackBeat's) very first scene on the very first day in my own street,'' he says. ''I'm standing with a wig on, my ears stuck back with glue, brown lenses in, and lifts in my shoesI'm less than comfortableand a friend goes, 'Seen (our pal) Jake? Where is he? Have you got his number?' And I said, 'Can't help you now, I'm doing a film here!'''