Ferdia Walsh-Peelo was just 14 when he was cast as the lead in “Sing Street,” the new musical film by John Carney, the writer-director of "Once." But Walsh-Peelo brought a wealth of musical experience to the role. He performed as a boy soprano in “The Magic Flute” and was in his first band at the age of 11. He spoke recently to Here & Now's Robin Young about the film.
Interview Highlights: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo
On his love of acting coming later than his love of music
“I think I would have discovered I loved acting if I hadn’t done 'Sing Street,' it was just something that had come earlier than I expected and I was so driven with music that I didn’t even have time to think about that. It was just music every day, every minute that I had. Performing music and acting kind of go hand-in-hand as well.”
Your attraction to music made you perfect for this character, didn’t it?
“Absolutely, I was so driven from music from such a young age. I had a band when I was 11 in school, so by the time it came to shooting 'Sing Street,' I’d already been through a few terrible bands and I’d already experiencing that, and I was busking loads, I busked a lot, you know, singing on the street for a bit of pocket money and spent a lot of time shooting terrible music videos as well, so I mean I experienced all of that and it was – and I think that was why John really wanted a musician, and especially why he really wanted me because I think he saw that in me, you know.”
You’re a generation removed from the ‘80s, so what did you think about it?
“Not too much, to be honest with you. When I was starting out I hadn’t quite got around to the ‘80s yet. I was playing lots of different kinds of music and that I was sort of in the ‘60s when I was about to do 'Sing Street' kind of music-wise and fashion-wise and I was playing with a band and we were playing lots of skiffle music and really that kind of vibe.”
So you were playing music from almost half a century ago?
“Absolutely yeah, I definitely wasn’t playing pop music. I was really influenced by kind of, music from Tennessee, kind of skiffley country music, not very country, more bluegrass I want to say. But I mean, that’s where I was kind of being inspired, and I just had to kind of skip a few generations to learn about the ‘80s for this film.”
For the film, your character assumes numerous personas inspired by famous artists from that eras, it feels like you were taking a walk through musical history.
“Yes, I mean, it absolutely was. It was a huge learning curve. John was always sending me over music videos and things like that, but those bits are great actually because it’s like a more extreme version of what actually goes on in school because I know, I was definitely doing that in school. I was definitely coming in like every few days with a different haircut or different hairstyle. I was probably going down the route of John Lennon or you know young John Lennon, which was basically like Elvis inspired, you know like leather jackets, greased-back hair, I looked awful. But it was just all part of finding who you are and finding your own thing and that’s what the film is about as well. It’s about Connor finding who he is and finding his own voice, and it’s very interesting because, especially in the ‘80s, it was so – that happened a lot more because it was so extreme. Pop music and there was so much stuff going on, it was the first time that people tackled the thing of kind of guys wearing makeup and the first time people challenged the whole kind of sexuality thing. I think in Ireland also, because it was a little bit set aside from the other parts of the world, but we’re still getting those music videos in and all that kind of pop stuff that was coming over from the U.K., so it was such a bizarre time and it’s so strange to look at it in the film. Eighties Dublin is just mad and everybody’s poor because it’s a recession also.”
But with television, it was kind of like they were hostages looking out into another world.
“Yes, absolutely, and that’s what it was like, I hear. I feel like an ‘80s expert now.”
John Carney said that it’s difficult directing young people because he cannot have them draw on previous experiences.
“Yeah, he did say stuff to me like, ‘you know how you’re chatting up a girl at the bar, just chat to her like that,’ and I’m like ‘John, how many times have I chatted up a girl at the bar?’ But you can get what he means by that. Yeah, we’ve all felt love in some way, you know, not necessarily towards another girl, but you know you can imagine what it would feel like.”
Songs In This Segment
- “Drive It Like You Stole It,” written by Gary Clark, performed by Sing Street
- “The Riddle of the Model” written by John Carney, performed by Sing Street
- “Mary’s Prayer” written by Gary Clark, performed by Danny Wilson
- “Brown Shoes,” written by John Carney, Gary Clark, Graham Henderson, Carl Papenfus, Ken Papenfus and Zamo Riffman,performed by Sing Street
This segment aired on April 21, 2016.
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