Sing Street, the coming-of-age-in-‘80s new wave musical, made big waves when it premiered at Sundance this year. Directed by John Carney of Once fame, and distributed by The Weinstein Company, the film is filled with breakout performances, namely by the two leads Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton. Here, V caught up with the actors at this year’s festival, and got all the details of the film.
Did you play music before this film?
FERDIA WALSH-PEELO Yes, I was playing music all the time. I’d never done acting before.
So this is your first movie. What was the audition process like?
FWP Well, I went to an open casting in Dublin, and I just, it was just crazy. I actually turned to my mom and was like should we leave? She said, “You will not. You have to queue up now; we have come all the way here.” So I queued up for five hours to go in for this audition; mummy went off and did the shopping; and then, obviously it went great. I just went in and sang “Blackbird” by The Beatles.
Did you have to do a lot of musical research for the songs in the film?
FWP I didn’t know much of it. It was all hugely new to me. Before the movie jumps, it was just loads of ‘80s videos, kind of Duran Duran and all these ‘80s bands. I never come across ‘80s stuff—I was only 14 at the time, and I had only really dipped into that kind of music because I had been doing classical music up until I was like 12. So it was all very new to me, and a huge learning curve.
Do you have any favorite songs from that movie or that era?
FWP One of the bands I ended up just loving was Hall and Oats. I listen to loads of Hall and Oats, and they have a wide range of stuff from really pop-y to kind of acoustic. From the movie, the song that I like most has to be “Drive It Like You Stole It,” and the prom scene so that was great.
The movie takes on this type of magical part at [the prom scene], the peak, when you see the band and the costumes, and it comes into a different era than the ‘80s. It’s a very ‘50s setting and sort of Back to the Future. What was your favorite part of the filming process?
FWP Probably the prom scene. Shooting the music video was really fun. We got together with all of the lads and we just played the songs. We didn’t have any script. There were choreographed dancers. We were all in ‘50s gear. We just got to hang out in suits and sing “Drive It Like You Stole It” all day, so it was basically the dream. We just had a great time.
Were the original songs written for you or were you guys involved in that process?
FWP We weren’t involved in writing the music. I was in the studio with Gary—they had already written the soundtrack—and they had sent them over to me and I just learned them. They were changing stuff in the studio obviously, and I was in Windmill Lanes for like a week and a half recording the soundtrack. Gary Clark was a great person to work with: he always chipped in. You could see him just scribbling down something in the studio and he’d come in 10 minutes later and be like 'try this, try these words.' It was quite challenging for me at some points because you know it stretched me vocally and kind of musically. That’s what I wanted.
Had you seen John Carney’s movie before? What was your relationship with him?
FWP I actually hadn’t seen Begin Again until well after I’d met John and Anthony. The people that worked onSing Street had worked on Begin Again, so they were all just telling me to go see it. It was still in cinemas when we had preproduction. So when we were just rehearsing and stuff, we just headed up to see it and I loved it as well. I am just a big fan of John’s movies; everything I have seen has been brilliant. I got on great with John. He is such a character you know? At first it takes a while to get used to him, and get into his humor, but now it’s a relationship that has grown for everybody. He makes sure that you know you feel comfortable around him and that you get on with him and you develop a friendship. It’s just a great surrounding for me, especially for my first film.
What was the dynamic between you and the band? Did you know anyone in the band before?
FWP No, we didn’t know each other. We met pretty much just on set. It was very last minute. Some people were cast very last minutes, like a few days before the shoot. So that was mad. We were all totally different people put in the same situation; we all had that one thing in common, which was acting. Since then, we have become really, really good friends because we shared this experience together.
Now are you going to do more acting or what is next for you?
FWP There are so many options. I’m only 16 and I’m taking a year off school. Music is a big part of my life, but acting is definitely something I am going to. I have definitely been bitten by the bug, and have discovered my love for it. If I hadn’t done Sing Street anyway it might have been a bit later, but I definitely love it. I’ve got to be careful I think, but it’s going to be good. Hopefully it will all work out.
Are you looking for another musical or kind of a more narrative?
FWP I doubt I’ll land another musical, but I’d be open to doing another one. Sing Street 2 maybe.
What music did you listen to prepare the role? You’re the only one who doesn’t sing in the movie!
Lucy Boynton My music knowledge I would have to say was not too sharp before ending the film. I mean I have my taste, but my taste is much more Beatles and Dylan than ‘80s pop and all that. So I got a pretty education from John. Also listening to a lot of the classics like Hall & Oates, The Cure, and Duran Duran, and all that.
Did you have any favorite songs from that era before you did the movie?
LB I’ve always been a Hall & Oates fan, I have to admit. But I was thrilled to hear that they were on the soundtrack in the end.
Were there any kind of style or fashion icons you had that inspired that kind of looks you wore for your character?
LB We were looking at a Madonna a lot, actually, just to get the big shoulder pads and the beads and the hats and everything, and the big hair.
Yeah, there was one specific look that you wore on the bus—very Desperately Seeking Susan.
LB That was my favorite look. I loved that. The costume and makeup obviously so entitle the formation of that character. Especially because Raphina hides behind her costume and hides behind her makeup. I mean, in the ‘80s, fashion was pretty enhanced for the day, pretty extreme. Bringing that all up and turning up the volume on all of it.
What was your relationship to John Carney? Had you met him before you did the movie?
LB No, actually I hadn’t met him, but I had seen him once before. So, when the script came through, I was very familiar with him and his work. And then Begin Again came out the summer that we were all auditioning.
LB A month into the audition process I saw Begin Again and I mean, fell in love with that movie, so it was kind of added inspiration. I was like, “Oh God! Now I’ve really got to get this role now” because John Carney is an absolute genius.
How did you get along with the cast?
LB I spent more time with Ferdia in the beginning. I was coming back and forth from London, and we had some opportunities to hang out and watch some films. The first scene we shot was the first scene where our characters meet. So it was still in this period where we were still trying to get to know each other and it was still like a bit awkward. It worked really well for that scene. And then of course when you’re filming you’re in such close proximity every day, from morning to night, and we all became so close so quickly. And I think that really translates in the movie. You can really see that on the screen: everyone’s chemistry. It was so, so, strong, and you can’t really replicate that.
Did you pick up any musical skills from filming?
LB Oh my god, I wish I could say that. But no, only very intense jealousy. Especially of Mark, who is just a musical prodigy.
How did you feel watching it for the first time with an audience?
LB Sundance was the first time any of us had seen it with an audience, so that fact—I mean the standing ovation was unbelievable. You obviously hope that the audience will appreciate all the small, nuanced moments that we really do and that they’ll love it as much we loved making it. And to really feel that from the audience, to hear them laughing when they are supposed to laugh...
What’s coming next?
LB Well, I just wrapped a film called Let Me Go and we were filming that in London and Vienna. Later this year I have a film called February coming out and that’s a horror film. So slightly different things. And then another film called Don’t Look Twice. And then back to auditions.