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Sunday 22 April 2018

Busking to Bond: Lightning strikes twice for 'Once'

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova attend the
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova attend the "Once" Broadway opening night at The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on March 18, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images)
Glen Hansard and Oprah Winfrey at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York City on June 27, 2012.
John Meagher

John Meagher

At first glance, Dublin singer-songwriter Glen Hansard and fiction's most famous spy, James Bond, have little in common. But there is a bigger connection than you might think.

Hansard starred in the low-budget film Once and won an Oscar for his trouble (for Best Song, 'Falling Slowly'). Now, after a highly successful, award-winning run in Broadway, the stage version of Once will have its European premiere in Dublin's Gaiety Theatre before transferring to the West End where one of its producers is Barbara Broccoli.

Broccoli, daughter of legendary 007 producer Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli, has worked hard to keep her father's franchise alive. She has a formidable reputation in showbiz and it's said she knows a good thing when she sees it.

So, when she ventured to the Bernard B Jacobs Theater in Manhattan to catch the story of a budding romance between buskers on the streets of Dublin, she wasted little time jumping on board. Now, she has helped make sure the production crosses the Atlantic.

Dublin writer-director John Carney had the idea for Once in the late 1990s, but struggled to get the project green-lit. Hansard agreed to write the songs for the film and Cillian Murphy was slated to play the lead role. But when Murphy dropped out, Hansard stepped into the breach after much persuasion from Carney. Czech singer Marketa Irglova was cast as Hansard's love interest.

Recorded in a matter of weeks and shot using domestic camcorders, Once was made for around €130,000 -- a pitifully small amount by the lavish standards of Hollywood.

After being shown at the influential indie festival, Sundance, word-of-mouth started to build and the movie attracted the sort of critical plaudits that most directors can only dream of. The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips declared it to be "the Brief Encounter of the 21st century" and "it may well be the best music film of our generation".

Hansard and Irglova were feted by Tinseltown and their Best Song win provided the 2008 Academy Awards with its most touching moment, when host Jon Stewart invited Irglova back on stage to finish her acceptance speech after being initially cut off.

Dublin playwright Enda Walsh managed to retain the soul of the story when adapting it for the stage. It achieved decidedly mixed reviews when it opened off-Broadway, but when it debuted on Broadway the teething issues had been sorted out.

It won eight of the 11 Tony Awards it was nominated for.

Now, with director John Tiffany in tow, Once is expected to be a major West End smash. It will play at the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road, which has been home to Willy Russell's Blood Brothers for the past 21 years.

Once's creator, John Carney, meanwhile, has his hands full with several projects. What are the chances of Carney being asked to take on the Bond franchise?

Irish Independent

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