ONCE An Interview with Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, and Director John Carney
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May 16, 2006
Every once in a while there comes a film that unexpectedly surprises you with warmth and has a lot of heart because the story really stands out as opposed to the actors or the cinematography. Thank God for independent films! There’s a film coming out on May 16th called “Once” that folks will see as an Irish musical, but it’s more than that. It’s about the love of music and the people who are making it. The characters you see on screen are as real as any one you meet in the street.
According to the production notes, “Once” is the inspirational tale of two kindred spirits who find each other on the bustling streets of Dublin. One is a street musician who lacks the confidence to perform his own songs, while the other is a young woman trying to find her way in a strange new town. As their lives intertwine, they discover esch other’s talents and push one another to realize what each had only dreamt about before. “Once” is their story.
Glen Hansard is a musician with the band, The Frames, as well as actor, who hasn’t been on the big screen since “The Commitments”. Marketa Irglova is new to the industry yet her performance speaks a lot of volumes. She met Hansard when he was visiting Prague, and they began playing together and eventually collaborated musically, which resulted in the release of an album, “The Swell Season”. In speaking with blackfilm.com, , Marketa Irglova, and Director John Carney talked about putting this lovely and magical film together.
So your attempts at being a folk-rock singer failed; is this where your film career emerged from?
John Carney: Well, I come from a reasonably musical family. My older brother was a music lover and made it his thing to go out and discover weird bands in the '70s and '80s that no one else knew about; he brought their [recordings] home and exposed his younger brothers, myself and Kieran, to this obscure music and so we had a piano and he brought a guitar and it was put under the bed and I wasn't allowed to play it but I went and played it when I wasn't suppose too. Like at 2 o'clock in the morning, I played his guitar.
So I always played music. Then I met Glen when I left school and I joined his band and we played in The Frames for a few years. But basically I got bitten by the whole film thing and I went off to try and seek my fortune as a film director in Ireland which is kind of an odd thing to do at the time because it was pre-Irish Film Board. There was no money and it wasn't state subsidized and it had just Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan; they were the two lads and they had their houses up in Dalkey overlooking the hills and it was like I want to be (shut up) if you want to fit so it was a funny time.
I made a couple of films and myself and Glen met up a number of times along the way. Our paths crossed and we said we should do something together; you know, "I'd love to use a couple of your songs in my film" or I would take him and say, "I'll shoot a video for you or your band. Is there someway we can kind of share what we done and let our two artistic endeavors kind of cross over?"
But it never happened and there was never anything to do together so I came up with this idea simply of a busker and an immigrant in what is kind of a musical because I wanted to try and do something that would get this musical thing out of my system because I love music and I'd stop writing scripts and go off and write at the piano and stuff for like three hours. I'd waste three hours or four hours a day just playing Billy Joel songs at the piano and I would be like "what the hell I just wasted hours doing that. I got to put this into
How did you get started, Glen?
Glen Hansard: Well I have this uncle in my family who was a very charismatic character. my mother comes from a family of 13 kids and he was one of the younger of the 13. He was like this amazing guy and it was a very working class family and he had this character, he did a bit of acting and was a musician and all the girls loved him. He was very good looking. He had the kind of, he had gray hair, all the family loved him, the women loved him you know. He was kind of a hero of all to of us young boys.
At one point during our lives, he disappeared and my mother was like "Yeah he's gone away," and it turned out he had taken a car and driven it across Europe filled with something illegal and had gone to prison in Turkey for many years.
His nice guitar got left in our house and his car which is a four door amazing Ford Explorer had been left in our garden and I was kind of wondering where he was. My mother kept stopping me from taking the guitar because I would just take it out and have it on the floor and be like [strummmm noise] and I just really enjoyed the sound of it and
It was really nice guitar like a Gibson Hummingbird, a beautiful instrument, because she thought I would wreck it but after a year of slapping me on the wrist and putting it back she realized--my mother was a real Leonard Cohen fan-- maybe it would be a good idea if she'd teach me "Bird on a Wire" and when he get out of prison and come to the airport when all the family was there to greet him, there would be his nephew with his guitar playing him a song as if to say you been a good influence on the family so that was kind of how it happened. I learned to play bird on a wire on the guitar. I taught myself at the
How old were you at the time?
GH: I suppose I was about 9 or 10 and I went the airport and of course as he came through, it was a big deal, he came through the arrival stall and the first thing he said is "my fucking guitar" [laughing] because it was wrecked because obviously I've been dragging it around the flat because I had no idea that you keep this thing precious. But it was a completely anti-climatic because he took me into his band and I played music with him. Then at the same time my school teacher advised me to leave school at the age 13 which was a couple of years later and take on take on the goal basically of being a street
What gave you confidence he could actually act; he's an act but not necessarily an actor?
JC: Well being a director I original took I would get some else actually I original thought I would get Cillian Murphy to do the role because I know him and he can sing and he quite a good singer. I thought you would do the usually thing get a good actor who could half sing and maybe train his voice which is one way of going which it certainly became clear to everyone involved in the film that we should do it the other way around we should get some who can really sing and half-act and I'll trust that I could do something magical with that and I really didn't have to do much.
I knew Glen for long time and really being a director you know there's a million different styles of acting. When you look at a person, you decide to employ a certain approach and style and really directing a non-actor or someone who acted a little is really knowing them and knowing their personality and putting them into a situation where they're comfortable to read your lines and bring this character to life. So while directing I was wondering would I place the camera full on. An actor can take different directions but I kind of just knew him. I figured he would be great by the end of the day.
What gave you the confidence?
JC: He didn't have much [laughing]. Glen said "if I'm rubbish just sack me on the first day." [Talking to Glen] You were worried.
GH: I was terrified for a few reasons. I didn't want to suck for his sake and I didn't want to suck for mine. I'm a really comfortable person behind a guitar but in front of the camera it's a whole different ball game and I didn't know if I could do it so I really needed him to tell me the truth.
Am I'm rubbish? Are we pulling this off? Is it going to work because if it isn't then let's just pack it in because I thought really when they choose me, John was just jumping on the nearest person.
I was thinking that if John had really wanted me to play this role me would have really asked me at the beginning and maybe I'm the rebound but then again at the same time it made a lot of sense. This would be something where I was dealing with my mates. And it was a big deal with loads of people telling me this and that. It was a very obscure scenario which I never felt attached too at all. Where as John was like "Look let's just do it and if it's shit we'll just shelve it; if it's brilliant we'll sell a few DVDs to make the money back." That was the logic so we basically had to look at it with an open mind.
You describe this as a visual album. How hard was it to translate that; you might have it in your head but music is such an interpretive thing How hard is it to get that on the screen?
JC: Well I put "Singing in the Rain" and "The Star is Born" in the top 10 films of all time because they are films. If it's a Sunday morning and it's raining and I stay in I put on the scene from "Singing in the Rain." Or the scene between Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons in "Guys and Dolls" just to hear a song because it's like an album. So you
I'm not a great fan of musicals. There are only certain ones I like. So I wanted to make a modern day musical. I wanted to try and figure out how do you take a younger audience that don't like those films which can't accept people breaking into songs, sitting back and watching a film and leave the cinema after watching eight or nine songs in their entirety. So it quickly became clear to me these would be the tools. I would film it on tape. I would film it with un-actors. Make a really small little story. The story was really secondary to the visual album-ness of the project.
So it was always something that I wanted to do and address where you leave the film unaware that you just watched all these songs but you're like, "Well it didn't seem like we were [watching a film with all these songs."].
Can you guys talk about the relationship between the songs and how they evolved?
JC: Basically it was collaborative. I liked the idea of being able to go to the songwriter for the musical. With the Gershwins or Harold Arlen, the music was there.
Most of the time the songs were given to you and you wrote a story around song. But I like being able to go to Glen and say what do you think of this for a scene or idea for a character and he would take it and come back with a lyric or a title or a song and give me a song that he had written ages ago. So there's kind of a scene and a song here where we bounced off ideas. The skeleton of the story was in place: guy meets girl--she's this, he's this. He becomes broken-hearted. They come together. Didn't we Glen?
GH: Yeah it was great. John came to me and said I need a song called "Once." He said "It's the only part of the film where we are going to suspend reality; we're going hire a crane which will cost us five grand so we need to get it fucking right." We knew he needed a song for when Marketa [Irglova] walks down the street and we will have her
We were acting during the day and we were going back to the flat and basically picking up the guitar and going "we need this and this and this" and we still hadn't finished this song. It was a very creative moment. We'd finish in the evening and basically go back pick up the instrument and start to work on the next song. So it was very
How different is this music from the music you do as a band?
Glen: That's the beauty of it. It's actually the same. Some of the songs that are in this film are actually on The Frames record. It was one of those things where I just wrote a bunch of songs because that's just what I do and then for the film John wanted specific other songs which me and Marketa went off and tackled. For the most part that's just what I do. John made a point last night that if anyone doesn't like the film it's because they probably don't like the songs. John's like, "that's cool because that gets me off the hook." These songs suck so I don't like the movie.
JC: That's how a musical should be. The only musicals I hate are the ones where I hate the music.
ONCE opens on May 16th, 2007
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