'The only way to properly make it was to not give myself a safety net' - Jack Reynor
With its mix of music and offbeat romance, Sing Street is set to be the new Once. Chris Wasser talks to star Jack Reynor and director John Carney about thier film set in recession-hit Dublin in the 80s
Published 11/03/2016 | 07:14
A peculiar, accidental brand." That's how John Carney himself describes his movies. Given the Irish film-maker's more recent cinematic fare, from the Oscar-winning Once with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, to the rather lovely Begin Again with Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, it'd be difficult to argue with him.
At the heart of each of these acclaimed films was a touching and, occasionally dysfunctional romance. They were both set on the streets, they both tugged on every one of our heart-strings and they were both more than a little musical.
Sing Street - Carney's tale of a schoolboy who starts a band to impress a girl - carries on the "brand". Already a critical hit on the festival circuit, it tells the story of teenager Conor Lawlor (newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) whose parents have fallen on hard times in 1980s' recession-hit Dublin.
Pulled out of his private school, and thrown head-first into the turmoil that is daily life at Synge Street CBS, the talented young fella soon encounters the beguiling Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an aspiring model who lives across the road. Conor asks Raphina to star in his band's music video. The only problem is he doesn't have a band - not yet, anyway
Co-starring Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy - and featuring a collection of original tunes courtesy of Carney and former Danny Wilson front man, Gary Clark - Sing Street is every bit as wonderful as you've heard.
That's unsurprising. The global success of Once (later adapted for a Broadway stage musical) has meant that Carney will always get a chance to pitch his best ideas - and occasionally follow through on them. He's still a tad modest about the whole thing.
"The good thing that Once did for me is that it's given me a chance. That film was so beloved that people will let me in the room to pitch a new project," he says.
"It doesn't mean that I'm gonna walk out with a cheque in my hand. However, the film - particularly in LA - was such a loved movie that I'll always get into the room, I think, because I always will be the Once guy. I'm not complaining."
Another Irish talent ascending the Hollywood ladder is 24-year-old Wicklow man Jack Reynor, who stars in Sing Street as Conor's elder brother, Brendan.
The last time I crossed paths with Reynor was in 2012, on the promotional trail for Lenny Abrahamson's critically-acclaimed drama, What Richard Did. It was only his second proper film.
Within months, he'd been offered a lead role in Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction, opposite Mark Wahlberg. Last year, he appeared in a big-screen adaptation of Macbeth, alongside Michael Fassbender.
Someone's done alright for themselves, then.
"When we met last I remember that, that week, Steven Spielberg had cast me in the DreamWorks film, Delivery Man," says Reynor. "He was the one who pushed Transformers over the line for me as well.
"That was the most surreal moment of my life, getting a phone call from my agent, the day I'd arrived in LA, an hour after I'd done the tape, saying, 'Steven Spielberg just watched it and he's cast you in a movie'.
"It was like I went from relative obscurity to the focal point in the blink of an eye.
"I remember driving back to the apartment I was staying in out in West Hollywood, and I couldn't ring my family - I couldn't do anything.
"All I could do was just neck a double shot of Jameson, and I lay down and fell asleep straight away, man. I woke up two hours later and realised that it had actually happened, and that it was real, so I rang my family and they flipped out. It was insane.
"Even at that time, I didn't realise what was coming," he says.
"If you had said to me, by the time February 2016 comes around, you'll have made another nine films, and work with some of your favourite actors, the most unbelievable directors, and you're gonna go to the most incredible places in the world, I probably wouldn't have believed you. But it's happened. It's mad."
Perhaps the key to Reynor's success is that he never did have a back-up plan. It was, as far as his career was concerned, all or nothing. "People always say 'safety net'. Like, go to college, get a degree under your belt, then go and mess around with the acting," he says.
"I was very conscious that the only way I would really be able to properly make it in the industry was if I didn't give myself a safety net, if I put it all on the line, and basically went, 'This is it, it's do or die, I am giving myself no other options, I can only make this happen'. That is key."
Hence, for Reynor, there is no difference between working on, say, Sing Street and filming Jungle Book: Origins, the Andy Serkis-directed fantasy epic, due next year and featuring a cast that also includes Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett.
"The way I look at it - whether I'm doing a movie that's $400,000 or a movie that's $150 million - when I'm doing a movie, I'm doing a movie," he says. "My approach to it is the same.
"There's never been a better time for Irish films than right now. There's a lot of voices out there, a lot of really interesting people with very unique ideas, and I've been blessed to work with some absolutely phenomenal Irish film-makers over the last couple of years."
Ah yes, but we need to talk about Star Wars. Word has it that Reynor has been shortlisted for the part of a young Han Solo (a role made famous by the great Harrison Ford) in a forthcoming Star Wars spin-off movie, due in 2018. What's the deal, dude?
"The deal is there is no deal right now, but what I will say is this - I loved Star Wars growing up. Han Solo is one of the most iconic characters of all time, and whoever plays that role, it's gonna be a big deal for them and for their lives," he says.
"If I end up being the guy who does it, I'll be f***ing delighted about it."
Indeed, that would change this young man's life forever.
"Yeah, I know, man. That'd be the one, wouldn't it?"
Sing Street is released in cinemas next Thursday