Audiences and critics alike are embracing writer/director John Carney's Once, the incredibly touching story of two strangers (played by Glen Hansard of The Frames and newcomer Markéta Irglová) brought together through music. Although tired from being on a lengthy publicity tour promoting the independent film, Carney, Hansard and Irglová spoke enthusiastically about the processing of bringing Once to the big screen.
Why were you interested in doing a musical?
John Carney: “To work with Glen.”
Was that the entire reason?
John Carney: “That was one of the reasons. But I wouldn’t have done it with anybody else. I can’t think of, really, any musicians that I know in Dublin that I’d say, ‘Would you write some songs and get involved in helping in this film?’ There’s no music, really, that I like that much. Also, I just love musical numbers in films. When they have them, I think they’re great so it’s an attempt to do something modern but, you know, influenced by Gene Kelly movies and Singin’ in the Rain and Guys and Dolls. Films that I love, and to do a modern take on that.”
How easy was the collaborative process between you and Glen?
John Carney: “It’s nice, actually. One’s a musician and one’s a filmmaker. There’s no competition. You get competition if you’re trying to co-write a song with somebody or you’re trying to write a screenplay with somebody or be co-directors or something, but because we’re in different things, it’s like nobody’s trying to win any arguments. It was a very kind of cathartic, collaborative, organic kind of experience of two people coming together.”
Glen, how easy was it for you to pick up on the tone of the film?
Glen Hansard: “I got it immediately. John gave me 20 pages in the beginning and just asked me to go meet him for lunch and just discuss this idea he had. His initial pitch to me was, or his initial thing to me was, ‘I have this guy, Cillian Murphy, who’s interested in playing this part. I’ve got this idea and if you want to go, I want to make a film of a busker. You were a street musician for years. I want you to write me the songs…’ Which for me was great because as a songwriter, as a guy in a band, getting someone who wants your songs in a film is always a brilliant, great chance, a great opportunity.
He gave me 20 pages of the script and I thought the characters were really believable. I thought the snapshot of Dublin was really fair. I thought the fact that there was an immigrant to Dublin, to me it just kind of gave this very, very warm portrait of Dublin. Ironically Dublin is being a little bit, at the moment, we’re a little bit unfriendly to the people that are coming into the country which is surprising because, as the Irish, we should be much more welcoming because we’ve been welcomed all over the world. There is a kind of a tension at the moment and I thought even subconsciously John hit a tone there that was quite political, but without ever being consciously political. I thought that he created a very, very warm, in 20 pages, very warm portrait of a guy and girl that meet and have this kind of a multicultural relationship where… What was the word you used? The language?”
John Carney: “Malapropisms.”
Glen Hansard: “Malapropisms where there’s difficulties with the way they communicate with each other. But the one thing they have in common is that they love music and they can both play. She can play her ass off and this guy is writing songs and she brings something huge to his life. She basically inspires him to go back and find his girlfriend - and they don’t kiss. So for me it was like, ‘This is brilliant. I love this. I’m absolutely behind it.’ I guess I then recommended Mara [Irglová] because I knew Mara, because he needed the Eastern European woman.
Mara was cast and the whole project is moving forward now, Mara was contributing music to it, too. We were there, we were there! It was all f**king moving along. There was a producer involved, John had a really clear idea of what he wanted to do, and then Cillian pulled out. That kind of put the kibosh on the idea. The idea kind of fell then and the producers pulled out, and John was left with the basic structure. It’s kind of a rough shooting period. Is that fair to say?”
John Carney: “Yeah.”
Glen Hansard: “Basically it’d gotten as far as a rough shooting period and everything was kind of at the point where we were about to make it and Cillian pulled out. John was, for about a week, just kind of scratching his head, I guess. Then he came back to me and said, ‘You know what? It just hit me. This is a musical. I’m much better off having musicians who can half act than actors who can half sing, so will you do it?’ I was like, ‘F**k, I’d never thought of it on that level.’ And then I thought, ‘F**k yeah, I’d love to do it.’”
So when you were looking at those first 20 pages of the script you never thought about the possibility of actually acting in the film?
Glen Hansard: “No, not at all. I mean, I just don’t have an actor’s bone in my body. I don’t have an actor’s ambition at all. I was in that film years ago [The Commitments] and didn’t particularly enjoy doing it. I never had any desire to go back to it. I don’t really like those kind of guys you meet who are kind of ‘in entertainment,’ who can do a bit of acting, play a few songs. I like the idea you are what you are. You’re a craftsman; you stick to your guns. For me, I was always a musician.
I never wanted to get into the area of filmmaking. Even though I love making videos and making little short things at home with my Super 8, I never ventured into the area where John has been. John kind of left The Frames when he was 21 and basically made his feature film on a f**king High 8 camera, which was like incredibly brave. Whereas I just didn’t have that. I’m a musician and that’s what I do first and foremost so when John said, ‘Will you play this part?’ my first fear was that I’d let him down. I was terrified of not being able to pull off the character. John said, ‘Trust me, I’ll get a performance out of you. What I need you to do is I need you to give me performances of your songs that are as good as you can be.’ I was like, ‘Well that’s not a problem. I can definitely sing the songs.’”