With a mostly teenage cast, one of director John Carney’s biggest tasks was to find the right young actors who could carry his film.
Carney decided to use non-actors for the main characters.
“I wanted it to be very natural. So we just did a big open call and saw everybody from around the country who thought they could play an instrument,” he says.
Auditions were held over a six-month period to find the lead actors who would play protagonist Conor, his love interest Raphina, and the rest of the young band Conor forms after he is transferred to Synge Street School. Thousands of young hopefuls showed up with their instruments. They had to do a song, an interview, and act out a scene. Funnily enough, most of the actors the filmmakers ended up choosing were some of the first people they saw. “You know very early when a kid is amazing,” says Carney. “You then start writing the part around the kids that you like.”
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who was chosen to play Conor, comes from a musical family with a background in opera and Irish folk music. He had been a boy soprano, toured with the Opera Theatre Company for The Magic Flute, and was a classically trained pianist.
“When I got there the queue was so big,” recalls the 16-year-old. “I was with my mum and I said I wanted to go home. I was literally lining up for about five hours.”
After the audition, Walsh-Peelo got called back to a hotel with five other potential leads, and auditioned with different girls. “We didn’t hear from them for a while, so I went off to Spain with my family on holiday. Halfway through we got a call saying I’d been re-called, so I had to book a flight and fly back, which was definitely worth it!”
Once chosen, Walsh-Peelo began working on vocals once a week for a month before the studio sessions, where all the film’s tracks would be recorded before filming commenced.
To get a realistic eighties sound, Carney recruited the former frontman of eighties band Danny Wilson, Gary Clark, to write most of Sing Street’s original songs. To match the evolution of the band’s sound, Clark had to write them in various styles as they get inspired by the likes of Duran Duran, The Cure and Elvis Costello. “Each song is based on different styles of songwriting and of singing from the eighties,” explains producer Anthony Bregman.
Some of Ireland’s top session musicians were brought on board during the recording process, but for the songs that happen early on in the film, they had to play badly.
“We were sitting in the studio and John was saying, ‘No, it’s too good. Mess it up. Go faster. Go out of tune. Go out of sync.’ It was really trying to bring these great musicians down to the level of believability of kids who don’t know how to play,” says Bregman.
While Carney was having a great time reliving the eighties tunes, making the film was a historical music lesson for the young cast. “It was really awkward because John kept referencing these amazing films and songs,” says 21-year-old Lucy Boynton, who plays Raphina, and didn’t know what Carney was talking about half of the time. “He’d say ‘For God’s sake Lucy, where have you been living? What’s wrong with you?’ And I’d say, ‘I’m so sorry, I wasn’t born in the eighties!’”
Five other great music films YP recommends:
- Pitch Perfect (2012): An aca-awesome comedy about songs and sisterhood
- Sister Act (1992): Whoopi Goldberg is a lounge singer who pretends to be a nun to save her own life
- A Hard Day’s Night (1964): Starring The Beatles themselves, nuff said!
- School of Rock (2003): Jack Black tries to get his fourth-grade students to win the Battle of the Bands
- Love & Mercy (2014): A biopic about The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson
Sing Street opens on June 9