Ferdia Walsh-Peelo hums along Sing Street

Interview: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo on Sing Street

Writer-director John Carney takes a look back at his roots in Ireland’s ’80s indie music scene with the help of a first-time actor born in the year 2000

By Katherine Monk

“I wasn’t aware the film was really about him,” says Ferdia Walsh-Peelo of director John Carney’s ‘80s-set musical Sing Street, in which the young Irish actor takes on the role of an aspiring musician to make friends, come of age, find his ego and ultimately – inevitably — to get a girl.

“I didn’t know that until after the movie and press started coming out. Journalists were really interested in that, which I was surprised at,” says Walsh-Peelo of the parallels between writer-director Carney (who made a similarly semi-autobiographical film with Once), and the central character in Sing Street. “But probably just as well I didn’t know,” says Walsh-Peelo.

“I think John probably thought it would have put pressure on me on-set so, I think it worked out for the best.”

For a guy who’s been on the planet for  all of 16 years, Walsh-Peelo already has the voice of a seasoned professional. On many scores: His interview skills have been well honed after Sing Street premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past January to positive reviews, but Walsh-Peelo is also a singer.

And it was most likely his musical skills that won the first-time actor the starring role as Conor “Cosmo” Lalor, budding rock star.

“Before Sing Street, I had never done any other acting. I had just done music for a long time. I just kind of walked into this through an open casting,” he says. “I didn’t feel huge pressure on me because at the time, I didn’t realize the scale of the movie. And I was new to the whole industry and it was also just such a novelty, and a great atmosphere, so it didn’t feel like a lot of pressure, even though in retrospect, I guess there was. They were all depending on me.”

Walsh-Pinto laughs. “That was the great thing about John. He was always cracking jokes. He made me feel very comfortable.”

The other thing working in Walsh-Peelo’s favour: The character of Cosmo turned out to be a lot like him.

“Well, it’s a coming of age movie, and at the time,

“At the time, he changes throughout the film and he’s kind of figuring out who he is and finding his voice, and finding his confidence, because at the start of the film he’s a bit immature and at the end, he’s this confident young man, kind of,” he says.

“That’s the change in the film, and the music side of the film I could absolutely relate to and the big brother relationship with Jack Reynor, who plays Brendan, I found that was absolutely realistic. I found I have the same relationship with my older brothers.”

“I think it was a big risk to take, to cast someone who had never acted as the star in your movie. That intrigues me. But obviously, he was looking for something fresh, which is what you’re going to get when you cast people who’ve never acted before.”

Walsh-Peelo pauses. “But really it was the music, and the experience of playing in terrible bands from a very young age, that I could really relate to. John captured the great moments of what it’s all about. It felt so real.”

Sing Street Cast Movie

Sing Street Fighters: Ferdia Walsh-Pinto, Lucy Boynton and the cast of Sing Street, directed by John Carney.

Walsh-Peelo talks about the things that aren’t even in Carney’s script: The band sitting around and talking, sharing a joke, conspiring for a laugh. “It’s funny. I could tell which moments were real – just us having a good time — and which ones weren’t when I was watching the film. And the ones that are real are really special and the thing is, with a band, some guys really want to play, and some guys just want to monkey around and have a laugh with their mates. And that’s the kind of tension you usually have with a band of 15-year-olds, because you have to practice, and some would rather go for chips.”

Ask Walsh-Peelo what it’s like to play an insecure teenager, and replies: “Well, it was new enough for me.

“I think have have always been confident because I have been performing since such a young age. I had never had people put me down outside of my older brothers. I’ve always had people encourage me. So that was the part that I really enjoyed: Bringing that confidence level down a bit.”

He laughs. “It was fun,” he says.

“But there were some tricky days. Obviously, the tough emotional scenes are quite hard, especially having never acted before. The dramatic scenes are deeper than the rest of the movie because most of the movie is just really fun: Shooting the music with the band.”

By the end of the shoot, Walsh-Peelo says he finally got comfortable with the camera and the acting, which is why he hopes to continue. Yet, he says there will never be another first-time, and he feels fortunate it was a musical soul mate like John Carney who showed him the ropes – and where his eye line was.

“I think it was a big risk to take, to cast someone who had never acted as the star in your movie. That intrigues me. But obviously, he was looking for something fresh, which is what you’re going to get when you cast people who’ve never acted before.”

Walsh-Peelo says he learned a lot from the experience. “It’s a totally different way of expressing yourself than music. They go hand in hand, but I learned a lot just from doing it loads, and for two months, getting into the zone of the character. By the reshoots, I really got into it because by that point, I was auditioning for other things and starting to really think about different characters – and really, how to pull it off with a camera in your face. And that’s hard. It’s a real skill, but the other actors taught me a lot, like Jack Reynor, and the young guys in the band, because they are so passionate about it.”

The other this baby from the year 2000 learned is that the ‘80s created some true novelties. “I had never really encountered ‘80s music before,” Walsh-Peelo says. “It was

so over the top. For the people who lived through it, it was normal. But it seemed like a really fun time. Music wasn’t taking itself so seriously. Pop music anyway wasn’t taking itself so seriously. And a lot of it was terrible.”

Walsh-Peelo says he watched a lot of music videos to get a feel for the gold lamé and hairspray. “In Ireland, there was a recession. So it was the shits. So I’ve been told. But then you watch She Blinded Me with Science. And so many others, and you hear this strange British accent. And you see people experimenting with gender and sexuality.”

Walsh-Peelo says it was a memorable ride. “I had never put on makeup before. But I was only 14, so it was new to me… Now, my mom’s always going on about me wearing eyeliner in the house.”

Walsh-Peelo says the future right now is unmarked, and wide open. “I’ve taken the year off from school, and I have many opportunities. But I don’t want to lable anything or put myself in a cage right now. I’m enjoying the ride.”

Any words of advice from John, who went through a similar voyage when Once turned him into an overnight star?

“Yes. He had lots of advice. Mainly, he said, don’t try to be cool. You’ll always look like a twat.”

Sing Street opens April 22 in select cities.


Top Photo: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (left)  and Mark McKenna (right) star in Sing Street, courtesy of Elevation Pictures.
THE EX-PRESS, April 18, 2016


1 Reply to "Ferdia Walsh-Peelo hums along Sing Street"

  • joan Monk April 19, 2016 (5:39 am)

    The trailers are a new addition/addiction to watch. New movies to see that seem worth while watching.

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