In 2007, an independent movie called Once transformed the Irish movie industry. Writer and director John Carney’s tale of two musicians finding a bittersweet love on the streets of Dublin went global, winning a Best Song Oscar and inspiring God knows how many YouTube covers as well as a smash hit musical. Carney’s latest movie Sing Street might just replicate this runaway success. This story of young Synge Street Christian Brothers pupil starting a band in 1980s Dublin in order to impress a girl is garnering nothing but praise at the various film festivals it has graced these past few months.
Conor, played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, is a young man whose parents, strained financially and emotionally, pull him out of his middle-class school to attend a much more affordable institution in Dublin’s city centre. While struggling to settle in Conor spots a girl, Raphina, loitering on the street outside the school gates. He approaches her and lies about being in a band and needing a model for his music video. Now he needs a band – a motley crew of classmates is assembled – and songs – his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) offers to educate him on the finer points of 1980s music. Raphina, played by English actress Lucy Boynton, is Conor’s muse and motivation. It’s Boynton’s first major role, after supporting parts in television shows like Endeavour and an impressive child acting CV. Boynton took some time last month to talk to us about her blooming career and taking on the Dublin accent.
Boynton’s career kicked off when she was mere 12-years-old. She as the young Renée Zellweger in biopic Miss Potter in 2006 and from there went on to secure parts in Ballet Shoes opposite Emma Watson and starred alongside Dan Stevens in Sense and Sensibility.
The initial reaction from her parents to their daughter becoming an actress was one of early acceptance. They “had seen it coming. When I was 10-years-old, I did a school play, and we had this fantastic drama teacher Helen Kay.” Ms Kay “made acting seem like something so much more interesting than it had ever been portrayed before – as more of an investigation into people and how they work and empathising with someone and then trying to emulate that.”
This profound connection to her, beg our pardon, craft, infuses most of Lucy’s answers. She takes the time to learn from her co-stars, saying that the cast of Ballet Shoes – Julie Walters and Watson who she describes as “incredible women” – offered her a great insight into the value of good manners and getting to know all the staff on set.
She is effusive when talking about Jack Reynor, the What Richard Did actor who epitomises Rising Star with rumours of a Star Wars casting attaching to his Google Search results. “He’s an extremely special human being and an inspiring actor. He’s so phenomenal and he’s so good. He’s grounded and sure of himself and level-headed. I feel very lucky to know him,” she says.
She is full of praise for John Carney too, speaking with an obvious warmth. “The main thing I appreciate about John is just the spontaneity that he has and he has this infectious energy and enthusiasm and love for what he does.” Carney often changed the script the morning of shooting, encouring a free-wheeling atmosphere among his cast. Considering the movie is such a fresh representation of youth it is an approach which paid off. When the band Sing Street take up their instruments, they’re having fun.
At first Lucy was a bit thrown. “That was quite terrifying as the projects I worked on before were the opposite of that and you get your dialogue done and you do it in a certain way. Whereas with him that was all challenged and thrown up, we did a lot of improvisation.” It’s a process she enjoyed. “I think that’s only really possible with a director like John who you have total trust in and total faith in. You can trust him to get the best performance out of everyone.”
When it came to the role of the simultaneously spiky and dreamy Raphina in Sing Street was this Typical English Rose In The Making in anyway trepiditious? “The only thing I was scared about was the accent,” she says. In the run up to filming, Lucy watched Irish films and interviews with Irish actors to get the rhythm of the accent, choosing among idiosyncracies for Raphina. The Irish cast and crew were always to hand if she required pointers.
Raphina isn’t just the girl the guy wants to get in the movie. She’s a complex young woman, whose confidence and Cool Girl maturity belies a soul whose early years were spent being put through an emotional wringer. Raphina, a teenager with aspirations to model, lives in a boarding house in the city centre. There was a responsibility to get the portrayal spot on. “Although she appears so confident she hides behind this facade of confidence and I’m okay and I’m going places,” Lucy explains. “But really she’s an extremely vulnerable and hurt person and a lonely person. With a character like that there is this pressure to do them justice and portray them in a human way and not in an overly pitiful way, if that makes sense.”
Boynton’s resumé so far lists a lot costume dramas. It’s a career route which has serves many an English actress well – see Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley – but a corsets and bonnets reputation can be hard to shake. Will she try step away from historical dramas?
At the moment Lucy isn’t too worried. In fact, she’s refreshingly pragmatic. “I know a lot of people are wary of getting typecast as a period face. If that’s the only thing I get to do, I’m perfectly happy,” she says. Period dramas appeal to her. “Doing pieces like Sing Street are always so interesting because it’s like a behind-the-scenes history lesson. When you’re immersed in that culture and that time, you learn so much more about the period than you do just reading statistics and textbooks on that era. That’s the best thing about this career, you get to experience a whole other time and a whole other place and person. I think as far away from myself I can go, the better.”
The movie’s reception so far has been nothing short of excellent, earning glowing reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival and a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the year. The screening at last month’s Audi International Film Festival saw an audience full of emotions and palm cracking applause. How does it feel to be attached to an infectiously joyous project?
“We’ve been waiting what feels like forever to share this film with everyone,” she says. “At Sundance, you always hope that the audience love it as much as you do. To then see the audiences light up when they watch it and to have that standing ovation, it totally exceeded any of my expectations.”
And finallly, did she manage to nab anything from Raphina’s eclectic 1980s wardrobe? “I did actually! I got to keep a lot of her double denim and the Doc Martens. I also got to keep the fifties prom dress from the dream sequence. That’s hanging up in my room, that’s very, very special piece of memorabilia from this film. “
Sing Street is on general release March 17th.