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In Conversation with Sing Street’s stars Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna

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Back in May, upon its theatrical release I was rather vocal about my unconditional love for John Carney’s indie sensation Sing Street You can read my review here. With his latest cinematic effort, the talented Irish writer/director behind acclaimed Oscar-winning musical Once (2007) and recent underrated music drama Begin Again (2013) has in fact crafted a sensational piece of filmmaking.

Based on events from his personal experience as a teenager in 80s Dublin, moving from a private school to a public one due to his family’s financial hardships, Carney’s film is a romantic tale that genuinely and effortlessly captures young love and the dream-like quality that defines the indomitably adventurous spirit of youth. 

day_25_21We met with two of the film’s young breakout stars, the multi-talented Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna upon the film’s release for home entertainment and had a lovely chat about real life versus fiction, deleted scenes and what’s it like to be part of such a great film as their first foray into acting.

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Conor, the hopeless romantic dreamer protagonist, whilst Mark McKenna portrays Eamon, the nerdy and multi-talented musician who forms the Sing Street band with Conor. After a rough patch adapting into the new school where he gets beaten up by a bully and the headmaster priest, Conor catches a break when he meets the beautiful and enigmatic Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and it’s love at first sight.

Director John Carney said he wanted to do something that was personal rather than just another musical story for the sake of it. When asked whether he felt some pressure in portraying Carney’s personal experience, Ferdia comments that he wasn’t necessarily affected by that aspect of the film.

It just made it special because in a way the story felt personal to me as well. There were a few similarities between our lives. Both John and I had that experience of playing in terrible school bands but I think the relationship with the older brother was the most important element and a huge inspiration.”

day_7_39Both actors agree however that Carney’s real life experience was mostly an inspiration for the story and that he never wanted them to actually play their real counterparts.

Ferdia reveals that the filmmaker actually would joke about how the film mirrors his life up until the point Conor talks to the girl and things start to actually get better, meaning that he actually wasn’t that brave in real life. – “It’s important to underline that John always said this film was a little bit of a fairy tale about what he wished he’d done when he was fifteen.

Mark adds that the real-life Eamon (his character) visited the set quite a bit and that he met him a couple of times but Carney never meant for Mark to mimic him. – “It’s a film about teenagers so John simply wanted us to do what teenagers do. The only thing I knew about Eamon was that he actually loved rabbits and I’ve heard some funny stories about that. He used to hide the rabbits in his house in random places and then call his friends over and the rabbits would just come out of nowhere and he’d pretend to know nothing about it.

day_1_40The young Irish actors were fans of Carney’s work before going to their first audition for Sing Street. They also confirmed how their director wasn’t concerned with rigidly following his screenplay and that he left them rather free to improvise since the audition process.

Ferdia reminisces about his first audition. He was just given a summary for Connor and when he read it, the part immediately felt right for him. – “I met John the second time I went in but he didn’t have us acting too much. I played music and had a general chat and it was not until the screen test that he got us to do a proper scene. I think he’s very confident he can get people who aren’t actors to act. I don’t know what it is but he’s just great at working with people who haven’t done it before.

Mark adds that from the day he met the rest of the cast with Carney for the first time he just knew it wasn’t going to be a strict kind of set. – “A week before shooting John called a lot of us in to do a scene just to get us comfortable around each other and he was there looking at us and pissing himself, laughing. He would never tell us we did something wrong and try to manipulate our reactions because he knew that’s what teenagers are like.

day_1_23The atmosphere on set was clearly fun and laid-back throughout the shoot, despite Carney having to keep a bunch of first time teenage actors under control.

We immediately felt comfortable around John, which was really a nice thing. He was just really one of the lads, always having a bit of a laugh.” – says Ferdia.

John is like a 16 year old at heart.” – Mark Chimes in – “My very first day was really funny. I did the scene where Eamon meets Conor for the first time in his living room and plays all the instruments. It was our first day on a film set and we got really excited and just kept laughing throughout even when the cameras weren’t rolling.”

When asked whether they had a favourite moment during production, Ferdia confesses to have really enjoyed the reshoots because he’d suddenly become a bit more of an actor. – “I’d gone off and audition for other things so I’d gotten into the zone more and by the time I was back for the reshoots six months later I felt I’d matured so much as an actor. I dived back into the role and started to appreciate that side of things besides the fun we had during the main shoot, especially since we filmed more serious scenes and romantic ones like Conor and Raphina’s trip to the island.”

day_25_49Mark instead has fond memories of the scene where someone steals his character’s bike, which was also during the reshoots. – “It was actually improvised on the spot, which proves how John is always thinking. He hadn’t told us about it, there was no plan for it. We were supposed to do our lines and play some music and then he just asked someone to steal my bike and yelled at me what was happening so that it made our reaction so hilarious.

Ferdia reminisces about being thrown off by Carney’s love for improv on multiple occasions as well. – “I remember being embarrassed on my first day with Lucy as they practically scrapped the script and she would take me by surprise by not following her lines. I didn’t really know her yet so I felt mortified as I wasn’t sure about how to react but John got what he wanted from my natural reaction.”

Both young thespians have some funny revelations about scenes they liked but that were left on the cutting room floor.

There was a great scene I really liked although probably it makes sense it was left out. It was about Conor’s dad teaching him a Kung Fu move so that he could protect himself from the bully. It was fun to see Aidan Gillen in full karate costume and then Conor awkwardly trying to replicate it at school on the bully.” – says Ferdia.

day_35_17Mark liked a scene where the boys steal the camera they’re going to use for the band’s music videos from the school. – “It was really goofy with us running away to avoid getting caught and Ben (Carolan, who plays Darren) was stuck on top of a wall, cause he was scared to jump.”

To wrap up our fun chat, the boys talk about their future plans and despite their young age, they both sound mature and well grounded.

Things worked out so well for us. We’ve been really lucky. It was just the perfect film ever to come around. I feel like we’ve skipped some steps of the ladder. That doesn’t happen really. Nobody gets cast in their first film in the lead role and in a great film that everybody loves. I’d like to do both music and acting but I’m just working it out and taking it nice and slowly. As human beings we want everything now but I’m trying to constantly remind myself that I’m only 16 and I’ve got so much time ahead of me.” – notes Ferdia.

Mark continues – “You can’t just sit around at home and waiting for someone to contact you. You need to do something about it. The uncertainty of the acting career can be scary but at the same time you may not be working on anything substantial for years and then suddenly that one thing comes along that changes everything.”

And on the possibility of him and Mark continuing to collaborate on the music side of things Ferdia concludes: “We’d like to work on something together musically, it’s in our mind but we don’t want to promise anything, we just kind of want to go with the flow and don’t force things. Over the last two months we’ve been caught up in a crazy press tour for the film and now we’re going off and doing other things. We were thinking of doing a Sing Street Band kind of thing but it wasn’t happening naturally so we’re not moving forward with that but we’re super proud of the movie and we might do a little reunion gig back home soon.

Sing Street is out now on Blu-ray/DVD and Digital Download.

SingStreet UV BD retail 3d o-ring packshot

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