Sunday 18 November 2018

Ones to watch: the young Irish talent from 'Sing Street' taking the movie industry by storm

Young acting talent from surprise Irish box office hit Sing Street taking the film industry by storm, writes Ed Power

Newcomers: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna star in John Carney's 'Sing Street'
Newcomers: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna star in John Carney's 'Sing Street'
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton in John Carney's 'Sing Street'.
Percy Chamburuka
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna
Ben Carolan
Conor Hamilton
Lead Actors Ferdia Walsh Peelo and Lucy Boynton
Lucy Boynton

It's the feel-good movie everyone is talking about. Sing Street is a heart-warming tale of young love, rock 'n' roll escapism and interesting fashion set in 1980s Dublin and featuring a break-out cast of young acting talent.

Having received rave notices when it debuted at the prestigious Sundance Festival, the film - from Once director John Carney - is on course to become a box office phenomenon.

It also looks set to make stars of its leading players.

Critics have gushed over Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who impresses in his first screen role, while Londoner Lucy Boynton lit up the screen with her moving turn as an aspiring model.

There are also memorable appearances from newcomers Kelly Thornton, Ben Carolan and Mark McKenna.

"It was a great movie to make," John Carney said recently. "I got to spend a sunny summer in Dublin with a bunch of kids who had never done a film before. We had enough money, enough days. Usually you are under the gun every day. This was different. It was a lovely shared experience."

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo

Ferdia with mum Toni at home in Ashford last week

The Wicklow-born actor excels as Cosmo, a bashful young man who starts a band for the oldest reason in the world - to woo a girl.

Born in 2000, he showed early potential, performing as a soprano at Wexford Opera House aged just 12.

The third of four siblings, Walsh-Peelo has long dreamed of a career in show business. He certainly has the lineage.

His mother Toni is a soprano too (and a teacher at DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama) while his two brothers and sister are all classically trained (one of his brothers is a touring violinist with Kodaline). Father Mick, meanwhile, is the presenter of RTE's Would You Believe?

Ferdia demonstrated his talent when he was chosen among hundreds of try-outs for the part of Cosmo. Director Carney described the young star as a "puppy searching for a treat".

"I heard about the open audition and went to it," Walsh-Peelo told the Irish Independent. "I was queueing for hours, but even that was fun. I wasn't really expecting anything to come out of it - especially not the lead role - but I felt it was worth going along.

"After a couple of auditions, it was in my mind but I tried to put it out of it. At one stage I was on set and I had gotten the role but I was the only person there who didn't know! I couldn't understand why they kept getting me in to read with different girls, but they were looking for the right female lead.

"I know I was very lucky. I happened to be the right person at the right time. If I had been a year older or younger it probably wouldn't have happened. It's all been very jammy," he said laughing.

"I'm just really enjoying this time. This whole process is very new to me. I'm not thinking of the future really. I will be busy with Sing Street until the summer probably and I'm auditioning for stuff. I still have a huge interest in music.

Lucy Boynton

Lucy Boynton

Of all the Sing Street cast, Boynton is the one who should arguably take success in her stride. She has, after all, been here before on countless occasions, having clocked up her first screen appearance aged 12 alongside Renée Zellweger in the period biopic Miss Potter.

Now aged 22, she plays Raphina, the glamorous would-be model Cosmo has set his heart on impressing. Born and raised in London, she is the daughter of an editor and a travel writer.

"Pretty much all my life I've been the youngest person on set," she said last month. "I would be going to set aged 13, 14 and be surrounded by 24-year-olds. I was very mature and had a work ethic. But it was strange going back to school after that. I learned early on to keep the two worlds separate. Unless you're in the industry, as a 12-year-old you're just not going to understand it. At times, I definitely resented going back to school and having to do homework.

"This was a special project," she said of Sing Street. "The chemistry was amazing and there was an infectious energy. Everybody became very close. There was a feeling that 'God, we're really making something wonderful here'."

Kelly Thornton

Audi Dublin International Film Festival 9.jpg
Actresses Kelly Thornton. Picture: Brian McEvoy

Prior to Sing Street, the 18-year-old was best known from RTE's underwhelming Wexford crime drama Clean Break.

She has long dreamed of breaking into the entertainment business and, as a child, would even pester her mother to move to Los Angeles (her mother was unswayed).

For all her ambition, her entry into acting came about largely by accident. She was walking down Grafton Street four years ago when a woman approached and asked if she would be interested in trying for a part.

She eventually secured the lead role in Life's A Breeze, an off-kilter comedy directed by Lance Daly and starring Pat Shortt, Fionnula Flanagan and Eva Birthistle.

"I am not looking for fame," said Thornton last year. "Of course everyone wants recognition for their work, but because that kind of label gets put on, it doesn't mean that you are looking to be a big star."

Ben Carolan

Ben Carolan

One of the unknowns plucked from obscurity by Carney, Carolan's first brush with the spotlight was as an eight-year-old on The Late Late Toy Show.

He went on to appear in stage productions of Paddington Bear and Oliver Twist. In Sing Street he charms as the enterprising Darren, who agrees to manage Cosmo's band as well as helping assemble the line-up.

Mark McKenna

Actor Mark McKenna attends Samsung and The Weinstein Company Present the SING STREET Party during The Sundance Film Festival 2016 on January 24, 2016 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Samsung)

In addition to demonstrating his potential as an actor, Sing Street allowed McKenna showcase his musical chops.

The 19-year-old Dubliner is a student at BIMM music college in Dublin and the son of a musician. "He would have loved to have been in something like this when he was growing up," he said recently. In Sing Street he plays multi-instrumentalist Eamon.

"I was in Dublin Youth Theatre and Portmarnock Youth Theatre... I didn't really want to go in the direction of stage acting… I knew what I wanted to do," he said.

Despite his youth, he had little difficulty in adjusting to Sing Street's 80s musical milieu. "I was a big fan of the music of the 80s," he said last month. "Hall and Oates, Scritti Politti, The Blue Nile... all of those."

Percy Chamburuka

Percy Chamburuka. Photo: Facebook

When casting for Sing Street, Carney was looking for actors with musical as well as screen experience.

He found the perfect combination in Chamburuka, who has a parallel existing as an aspiring young rapper. From Tallaght, in Sing Street he plays Ngig, a member of Cosmo's pretend band that becomes thrillingly real.

Conor Hamilton

Conor Hamilton. Photo: Facebook

Hamilton was on the way to success long before Sing Street, having won attention with songs posted to his YouTube channel.

The 18-year-old from Glasnevin has music in his veins. His father fronted his own band while his younger sister is a trained soprano.


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