Interview: ‘Sing Street’ Stars Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna Talk About Music and Tales From the Set

Sophia Ritchie ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna in Sing Street. Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company.
John Carney’s newest film Sing Street is about to get its wide release, unleashing a torrent of 80s style and Irish charm on American audiences. Loosely based on the filmmakers own experiences growing up, the film stars Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (as main character Cosmo) and Mark McKenna (Cosmo’s bandmate, Eamon) as young rockers who start a band to survive school and impress girls, but get a whole lot more than they bargained for. Walsh-Peelo and McKenna stopped by the Eliot Hotel in Boston to discuss their favorite tales from the set and the trials and tribulations of shooting a movie when you’re still a teenager.
In Sing Street, it’s really about the relationship between-
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo: Cosmo and Eamon.
[laughs] Yes, and Cosmo and his family. What is your relationship like with your own families?
FWP: Terrible. [laughs]. It’s really good, nothing like Cosmo’s. Cosmo’s having a shit time at home, but I have a great time. I’ve got a family who have been supporting me all my life, a family of musicians who are all kind of in the same industry who understand me. It makes it so much easier for this year. I left school last year, I’m taking the year off, and I don’t think I’d be able to do that without my family and them understanding the situation I’m in, it’s great. I have a great relationship at home.
Mark McKenna: My mum and sister are very not very acting or musical, but my Dad is very music-oriented. My parents are really laidback. When I was 15, I said I wanted to be a musician-
FWP: They were like…okay, Mark.
MM: Yeah, like, ‘Alright.’ And then when I went for Sing Street and said, ‘Oh, I want to try acting,’ they were like… ‘Okay, yeah.’ And then I got Sing Street, they were like, ‘Holy shit!’ But yeah, I’ve always had a very supportive family. They were just very, ‘If you wanna go for it, go for it.’
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna. Photo Credit:
EM: What was it like filming with a bunch of guys your age?
MM: The whole cast is really close. In Ireland, the way you become close is just making fun of each other all the time. That’s just how you make friends. You walk up to someone like, ‘Hey,’ and they say, ‘You’re a prick.’ And it’s just like…yeah. Okay.
FWP: Yeah, it’s pretty horrible. [laughs] We became really tight, it’s very strange. Sing Street was so special for all of us. The guys are the same age, and we share this experience together, we’re all kind of…we’re all so drastically different, but we have this thing to share and it keeps us connected.
MM: We were shooting a scene, and we didn’t know each other at all at this point, this was our first day. [Conor Hamilton] made up a story about [Ben Carolan] being afraid of the extras in the movie, and it was just the funniest thing.
FWP: [Carolan] was like twelve when we were shooting, and he was trying to be a rough lad, but he was still, like, twelve.
MM: Once you feel comfortable laughing at someone, that’s when you feel like friends, because if you weren’t friends with them, you’d feel like an asshole laughing at them.
FWP: Its the best way to make friends. For this film, the first time we got to meet each other was doing costume fittings. Seeing people look so strange and exposed, you start to realize who they are. You see them on their bad days and good days, and you become close no matter what because you see the person behind the character.
MM: The first time I met Ferdia we were in costume, and they were just taking photos, doing lighting tests. We didn’t know each other or know what to say, and Ferdia just asks, ‘So what’s going on?’ And I have no idea. Just kind of stood there.
FWP: It was really awkward. The first thing Mark ever said to me, and this is so classic Mark, he just… ‘What are you into for music? Do you know the 1975?’
MM: They’re like…the band.
Jack Reynor, Mark McKenna, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton and John Carney. Photo Credit:
The MTV era was a big part of the movie. Did any of that music get turned on for you?
FWP: Definitely! You know that song, ‘Pop Music?’ It’s terrible, but I love it! It’s so bad it’s pure art, it’s brilliant.
MM: I really don’t like that song.
FWP: There’s nothing to that song, but it’s so 80s. Even just the music video, with these shots, was so 80s. It’s just that kind of thing.
Director John Carney has made movie musicals before. Was that really intimidating?
MM: It wasn’t intimidating. John isn’t one of those people. John’s very cool about those sorts of things. He never told us, ‘Oh, you have to do this, be this.’ He said, ‘you’re a teenager. You’re playing a teenager. You don’t need to act, just be a teenager who plays music,’ which is what we are. He didn’t have to lock us into a room till we went into character.
FWP: He’s like a big kid.
MM: Someone would tell him we’d have to do a scene, and he’d just be like, ‘Yeah, five minutes.’
FWP: Me and John were playing this old 80s football match game…John got everyone to be quite, people thought we were shooting something. But no, me and John were just playing this football game. That’s the kind of guy John is.
MM: At the scene on the pier, John was teaching us games and magic tricks. People would sayd, ‘John, we have to do a scene,’ and he’d say, ‘Hold on, I’m showing them a magic trick!’ I won 30 euro off John.
FWP: He bet him he couldn’t do a drumbeat, but Mark’s a drummer, so he did it.
MM: He said he’d give me a tenner if I got it, and I got it, and he was just like, ‘Shit.’
FWP: Those two days on the pier with all the lads, just being there, soaking up the atmosphere…
MM: All the chemistry you see onscreen between the band was literally just us. The train scene, they just had the camera on and we just talked to each other.
FWP: A lot of the group scenes were like that. Some were half and half, real and script.
Mark McKenna, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and John Carney. Photo Credit:
EM: Knowing that John went to Synge Street, from a musical background. Was there pressure to represent Carney’s childhood story, or was there artistic distance?
FWP: I wouldn’t say I was playing a version John Carney by any means. Would have been a totally different movie. John always looks at the movie as inspried by his own life, and a lot of his own relationships, like the one he had with his older brother. That’s kind of what made it really personal for John.
We just never thought about it too much. The information was there, but there wasn’t anybody putting pressure. The atmosphere on set made it so easy.
MM: You just read the script.
FWP: It wasn’t like Jamie Foxx playing Ray.
Were there any other films you kept in mind or watched that influenced the feel of the movie?
FWP: A lot of the film is combined with loads of things, some of the moments are really John Hughes vibes…We definitely had that in mind when we were shooting. You had that feeling on set. It’s that kind of heart, even films like Back to the Future had, that uplifting soul.
MM: One of my favorite comedy directors is Wes Anderson, and I channeled that a lot. That Wes Anderson dry comedy, or like a character who really thinks he knows what he’s doing even though he’s only fifteen, like Rushmore.
FWP: Lucy and I watched The Royal Tenenbaums, in preparation of the film. Terrible bonding time. We mainly looked at music videos. Tons of 80s music video. A music video has everything of its genre, the music, the sound, the vibe from it, the whole look. The whole feeling. It’s like that for every generation.
MM: Every genre can be really summed up by that.
FWP: Even just people in the videos. Watching Talking Heads, they were so quirky.
MM: People writing about issues of their time, you really feel what they were going through.
EM: There’s a major juxtaposition between the big fun music scenes you got to do together, and the more personal, singular scenes. How did you guys handle that dramatic juxtaposition?
FWP: I really enjoyed both. I suppose the scenes were it was more intense and personal? The scenes that weren’t those, hanging out with the lads shooting music videos, that was like a break for me. THis is the day to have crack, there’s only a few lines-
MM: Crack means fun.
FWP: Oh, yeah, I did that again. [laughs] We just had loads of fun. There were like breaks. The other days were really fun as well, but they were work. I’d come back from set like, exhausted. That scene on Dawkey Island, that was my first day back on reshoots, and I just came home that day so tired. I’d never been more tired in my life. I looked like shit. It was mental. But that changes. It wasn’t too hard because they were break days. Those days were long too, but there was good crack. The scenes with Lucy [Boynton] I still think were also just fun days, I had a great time with Lucy. It was the ones where I’m on my own, or the really heavy ones with Jack [Reynor].
Jack Reynor and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in Sing Street. Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company.
Lucy has a line, “The happy sad” line. What does that mean to both of you?
FWP: It’s not very good advice, to be honest, to just let go of yourself in the depression and sadness.
MM: I think it’s like, you’re happy, but aesthetically you want to look really sad and deep and brooding…he loves his life, but he wants to sad and dark…That was the Cure’s aesthetic, really. They looked really dark, but their songs were kind of happy, y’know?
In your guys’s eyes, if you had to pinpoint the most important theme of Sing Street, what is it?
FWP: The one that sticks with me is…the relationship between a teenager and music. At first, music is Cosmo’s way of impressing the girl, a bit of therapy in this crazy new school. Something to focus on. But it becomes much more than that, especially with someone who continues in music. It starts off like, ‘I’m gonna form a band, girl’s will love it,’ and that’s great, but then it becomes something that you find refuge in, like Cosmo does in this film.
Teenagers…get transported to a different place, whether you listen or write it. I think that relationship is really important, and its something I take away from the film. John always deals with it in his films, and its a really important concept. That’s what music is to musicians: forget about writing a good song, when a really comes down to is personal life. It’s therapy. This is my place, where I’m kept sane.
This interview has been condensed from its original form. Sing Street opens in theatres on April 22nd.

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