For two talented actors/musicians on the brink of absolute stardom, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna certainly don’t walk into a room with an air of that greatly abhorred sense of entitlement and overconfidence that plagues many Hollywood newbies. Making themselves comfortable as they sat down, both young actors tackled questions with clarity and intelligence, evoking the sense that they were two ordinary Irish lads at heart. And they would be that, if you ignored the fact that their performance in Sing Street involves the two teenage boys’ first stabs at acting, in which they prove their potential to captivate audiences with stellar performances.
Writer/director John Carney’s latest film, Sing Street, which hit theaters April 15, captures the life of Conor “Cosmo” Lalor (Walsh-Peelo), a slightly self-conscious teenage boy living in ‘80s Dublin, as he copes with having a dysfunctional family, alongside his older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor). When he sees a beautiful girl named Raphina (Lucy Boynton) after school with his soon-to-be band manager, Darren (Ben Carolan), Conor musters up the courage to speak to her. After learning she’s a model, he asks her to be in his band’s music video. The problem is that his band doesn’t actually exist yet, forcing him to recruit band members such as quiet multi-instrumentalist Eamon (McKenna).
Like Carney’s other cinematic feats, the film is a heart warming, delightful account of the power of music as an instrument for joy that acts as a diversion from the struggles of everyday life — all the while paying homage to the essence of ‘80s music culture.
In order to capture this essence, Walsh-Peelo had to become familiar with the time and culture of the film’s setting.
“I was kind of learning new things … I didn’t know much about [‘80s music], so I had to kind of dive into it and learn and watch a bunch of music videos to learn about ‘80s culture and ‘80s music,” the 16-year-old said. “There’s no better way to kind of learn about ‘80s culture than to make a movie about it, because you have to immerse yourself and learn about the kind of time and that era … It was all a big learning curve for me.”
Walsh-Peelo also shared his thoughts on the role music plays in the lives of the characters in the film, especially for his own character. He described how this facet of the story highlights the transitional period that marks young people’s lives.
“My favorite kind of relationship in the film is the relationship between … the characters and music, and especially Cosmo and music, because first he forms the band to get the girl … but as the film goes on, it becomes more than that for him, I think,” Walsh-Peelo said. “It becomes sort of his way of escaping from his world, which has really, kind of, just turned upside down for him, and he finds refuge in [music].”
The young actor/musician deemed his character’s relationship with music as a hallmark of Carney’s films, emphasizing the bond founded on music’s ability to change a person’s life.
“At home, with his guitar, songwriting — he’s just transported to another world and that’s what [Carney] loves to capture in his films because that is a huge relationship in teenagers’ lives because, you know, they’re going through this kind of funny time,” Walsh-Peelo said. “It’s just their way of escaping, I suppose — being brought to another place.”
Similar to Walsh-Peelo, McKenna commented on the relationship between his character, Eamon, and music, describing how Eamon uses songwriting as a way to connect with his father, a musician who lives in and out of rehab. Although McKenna said he could not relate to his character’s personal experiences, he did express the strength of his bond with music.
“I can personally relate to … music as a form of self-expression because I study songwriting in college, so I have to write songs a lot,” McKenna said. “You don’t want to be writing about the same thing over and over again, so you need to kind of explore yourself in a way.”
Elaborating upon the process of shooting the film, Walsh-Peelo expressed how his involvement with the darker scenes of the movie, particularly the ones that include his and his brother’s struggle to cope with their family’s dysfunction and his frightening encounters with the school principal, helped him grow as an actor and made him realize how much he enjoyed being on set.
“I think John left the tough scenes toward the end of the film because … I was learning as I was going, and toward the end of the shoot, we started shooting, kind of, the rougher scenes with the principal and the ones at home, the ones with [Reynor],” Walsh-Peelo said. “They were definitely harder, but I enjoyed them in a totally different way from the rest of the shoot. I was becoming a lot more into the actual acting side of things, rather than just being on set and having fun … So it was more like me immersing myself into the character, and that’s when I started to realize that I love doing this.”
Dwelling on the process that led him to landing the lead role in Sing Street, Walsh-Peelo also emphasized the gratitude he felt for being granted such a monumental opportunity, especially given the young star’s experience was purely musical prior to being cast in the film.
“I was so lucky with this film because, you know, I was so driven on music, but this film kind of sought me out, you know?” Walsh-Peelo said, laughing. “I did hear about the open casting and I went, and it was pretty jammy.”
McKenna expressed similar thoughts towards earning a role in the film, remarking particularly on how it has affected him personally. Despite all of the extraordinary steps he has taken so far in his life, he has yet to make a significant leap of faith, in terms of his acting and musical career.
“I definitely have, kind of, paused certain aspects of life, but in terms of a leap of faith, I don’t think that’s happened yet,” McKenna said. “Whether I’m prepared for it yet or not, I don’t know, but when it comes to that, I will be willing to do anything.”