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John and Paul in VH1's 'Two of Us'


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A sentimental Beatles journey with John and Paul in VH1's 'Two of Us'

Monday, January 31, 2000



This much is true: On April 24, 1976, John Lennon and Paul McCartney happened to be watching "Saturday Night Live" when, to their glee, producer Lorne Michaels made a tongue-in-cheek appeal to them, along with their ex-bandmates.

"Lately there have been a lot of rumors to the effect that the four of you might be getting back together," said Michaels, who invited the Beatles to reunite on "SNL." And if money was the sticking point, he was ready with a breathtaking offer: $3,000, to divvy up as they wished.

John and Paul, chortling at this gag just a few blocks from NBC, almost stunned the world by showing up for the broadcast.

That they didn't, that the Beatles never played together again, that the 35-year-old Lennon wouldn't live past 40 -- these and other what-might-have-beens lend the new VH1 movie "Two of Us" enormous power.

But even without knowing what you know, you wouldn't want to miss this sentimental journey. Nor do you need to be a Beatles fan to care. The subject of "Two of Us" is even bigger than the Fab Four: friendship in all its complexity.

Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg from an exceptional script by Mark Stanfield, this sometimes joyous, sometimes wistful film premieres tomorrow at 6 p.m. and is repeated at 8.

"Hope you don't mind me surprisin' ya," says Paul (played by Aidan Quinn), who impulsively has popped in on the reclusive John (Jared Harris) at his Dakota apartment.

"It's too soon to say," John bristles.

"Two of Us" makes an artful guess what happened then (McCartney wasn't consulted in the making of the film).

We see the long-estranged John and Paul spar, reminisce, catch up. They get stoned, then get the munchies and John makes popcorn. They marvel at the bona-fide nine-figure offers thrown at them for a Beatles reunion.

They noodle at the piano. They meditate. In silly get-ups, they take a stroll in Central Park and, retiring to a cafe, sip cappuccinos. They watch "Saturday Night Live."

For one day, they come together. And their history comes with them.

"So we're alone," says Paul on learning that John's wife and son are out of town.

"Yeah," says John warily. "You, me and everything between us."

Quinn, speaking from his home in New Jersey, heaped credit on the script.

"If these had been completely fictional characters I would have wanted to do the film almost as much," he said. Then he laughed. "Maybe more. The fact that this was about the Beatles gave me some trepidation initially."

Quinn makes no pretense of looking like McCartney. But he confessed that, when shooting began last fall in Toronto, he fantasized that he could be transformed.

"Then I had the epiphany that it would mean plastic surgery and liposuction." He settled for contact lenses and a wig. "Once I gave up the dream of looking and sounding exactly like Paul, playing him became a lot easier."

While the 40-year-old Quinn came along too late for Beatlemania, he includes himself as a fan.

"But I had no idea of the extent of Paul's contribution," he said, "particularly in keeping the group together during its later years."

In the film, Paul radiates that keeping-it-together style, even as John blasts the silly love songs of Paul's hot band, Wings.

"Who are you, really," John storms, "if all you're concerned with is makin' other people happy?"

But Paul retorts, "Why can't making people happy be a part of who you are?"

Quinn hailed Paul's "largeness of heart and willingness to get ripped apart by this man he loves. But he defends himself. He's no wimp. He never was."

Speaking from London, Jared Harris recalled seeing the Beatles as a toddler. "I couldn't hear a thing, and loads and loads of screaming girls were pulling each others' hair. It was just horrific."

Beyond that, he was burdened with few preconceptions. "I knew Ringo was the drummer and didn't sing much." But for several weeks before production commenced, he and Quinn buried themselves in Beatles books, interviews, newsreels and music.

What did Harris learn about John? "That he was very volatile, that he could be many different things in the course of a day. I thought, 'That's good.' I could almost be a different person in each scene."

The research was essential. "But to make your character live, you've got to chuck away the stuff that doesn't spark your imagination."

Imaginations took flight in a wonderful scene where John and Paul board a freight elevator for the Dakota's roof. Apart from specifying that John suddenly grabs Paul and kisses him, the script left the actors to wing it.

During what becomes a full-minute elevator ride, there's horseplay, loopy banter and that out-of-nowhere smooch, which leaves Paul sputtering, "Just 'cause Yoko goes away doesn't mean you have to stop brushing your teeth!"

Filmed their third day before the cameras, the scene, Harris recalled, "was the first time we went, 'I think we're gonna pull this off.'"

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It's the only part I remember and I may be hallucinating it.

Right when they are about to go to SNL, John yanks an old acoustic from the wall, strums it, then declares "eek.....i'll have paul tune it'.

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