New-Style Musical: Hansard and Irglova in 'Once' Director John Carney's new film Once features Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova as two musicians who tell their story in song. Hansard is the lead singer of the Irish band The Frames. Irglova was only 17 when the movie was made — and neither of them are professional actors.
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New-Style Musical: Hansard and Irglova in 'Once'

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New-Style Musical: Hansard and Irglova in 'Once'

New-Style Musical: Hansard and Irglova in 'Once'

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We're joined now by John Carney, who directed "Once" and his stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Hansard is the lead singer of the Irish band, The Frames. And Irglova is a multi-instrumentalist and singer, who was only 17 when the movie was made. Hello, everybody.

Mr. JOHN CARNEY (Director): Hi.

Ms. MARKETA IRGLOVA (Singer; Multi-instrumentalist): Hello.

Mr. GLEN HANSARD (Lead singer, The Flames): How's it going?

LYDEN: It's going well. Thank you. It's a charming film.

Mr. CARNEY: Thanks very much.

LYDEN: John Carney, did you watch a lot of Hollywood movie musicals growing up?

Mr. CARNEY: Actually, I did. It's nice that you might have noticed that from this very different film. The idea, I mean, I completely I could sing for you, if you want, the whole, kind of, score of the "Guys and Dolls" or "Singing in the Rain."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARNEY: I won't. Don't worry. But yeah, exactly. I love that whole, kind of, Sunday afternoon matinees seeing of being able to, you know, pick up "Guys and Dolls" halfway through the plot just because you like the songs. And, you know, "Adelaide" and, you know, and you got hooked into the film and you watch it again even though you know the plot.

And I love the idea that, you know, musicals can stand up to, kind of, repeat viewings. They're more like albums. They're more like something you stick in your CD player because you want to hear such and such a song. And then it's an hour late you've listened to the whole album, you know. So I thought a musical was a really interesting way to have characters that communicate more through song writing and music than, you know, 10-pages of dialogue.

LYDEN: These characters that you've chosen are not professional actors, they're professional musicians. They're creators. They're artists. But, why did you decide…

Mr. CARNEY: Right.

LYDEN: …not to cast actors?

Mr. CARNEY: Well, actually. It's funny. It's a, kind of - again, a decision that, kind of, happened quite late into pre-production of the film. Initially, I had thought that I would get, you know, something like, for example, Cillian Murphy, who is a friend of mine, who is also a very good singer.

But as I went on into, kind of, writing the script and hearing some tunes that Glen had been writing for the film, it kind of became clear to me that rather than getting a very good actor, who could, kind of, half sing, that I would get a very good singer that could have half act. No offense to Glen, who ended up very, you know, full acting and, you know, being fantastic and…

Mr. HANSARD: Less famous. Yeah.

(Soundbite of musical "Once")

Mr. HANSARD and Ms. IRGLOVA: (As characters) (Singing) When your mind's made up. When your mind's made up. There's no point trying to change it. When your mind's made up. When your mind's…

LYDEN: Glen, you're a guy who is a Hoover repairman by day, living with his old dad above their vacuum cleaner repair shop…

Mr. HANSARD: Yeah.

LYDEN: …and when Marketa comes along - the girl - she starts to initially question you, and nudge at you, and get them to her skin.

Mr. HANSARD: Yeah. To be honest I found that very exhilarating, you know. This guy who lives with his dad, who, kind of, should have gone to London with his girlfriend and grown. He's in mid-30s, you know. His girlfriend just couldn't hang out around Dublin anymore. She just wanted to go and do her thing, you know. He's basically just, kind of, living his life but he's, kind of, upset, you know. When you think for the first time in his life, he's written song, you know. And he's, kind of, singing these songs in the evening.

And just like out of the blue this girl arises, like, who did you write this song for? And he's, like, for the first time he has to answer, like, what do you mean? And it's almost like she just bullies away straight in and it's almost, it's like, like the way it is with strangers sometimes. Sometimes a stranger can look at you and see exactly what your problem is. And then she gives him the courage. And that's all it is in life sometimes. All we need sometimes is little push.

(Soundbite of musical "Once")

Mr. HANSARD and Ms. IRGLOVA: (As characters) (Singing) See if you want me. (Unintelligible).

LYDEN: Marketa, you're only 19 and you still live in the Czech Republic. You come off as a self-possessed young woman, (unintelligible) in the film. I'd like to know is that you? Is that you that we're seeing or did you try to be somebody else?

Ms. IRGLOVA: Well, I think that part is quite close to me, yeah. There are things about the character that are into me at all. I know I'm only 19 and so it's kind of hard to get into this whole subject of whether I'm a self-possessed woman or not. I guess that's for other people judge. But, you know, I'm just myself, I guess. And me and Glen have been friends for a long time now, and so I guess what you're seeing a lot of the times is our true friendship.

(Soundbite of musical "Once")

Mr. HANSARD and Ms. IRGLOVA: (As characters) (Singing) Take this sinking boat and point it home. We've still got time, raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice, you've made it now.

LYDEN: John, isn't this film also about the process of creating music, which all three of you know a lot about. I mean, it comes off very naturally. Glen and Mar share a song together very close to the outset. People stay up all night in the studio…

Mr. CARNEY: Yeah.

LYDEN: …collaborating. It felt very real.

Mr. CARNEY: I think people like to watch people work ultimately. Whether, you know, you got it all the time. I'm driving with my girlfriend, she's like, why are you stopping? Why are you rolling down the window? And I'm just, you know, because I'm watching these guys dig this hole and it's really interesting. And, you know, that's the foreman and that's the guy having his cup of tea. And, you know, for me, it's interesting to watch people paint paintings or compose songs.

The assembly line of a song, I begin with the chorus, I handed on to you, you come up with an idea for a middle ace or for a, you know, an ending, or an extended code at the end. And then you add a violin, and then, you know, that whole process I find really interesting and I guess I wanted to explore a little bit in this film.

LYDEN: And I think you do explore it very, very nicely and you introduced us to it when this very direct young woman, she's questioning the busker on the bus somewhere, nudging and nudging and nudging Glen's character to talk about his ex. And so this vacuum cleaner repairman sings her a corny country song about what happened. I really like this moment. Let's listen to the song.

(Soundbite of musical "Once")

Mr. HANSARD: (As character) (Singing) Ten years ago, I fell in love with an average girl. She took my heart. But she went and screwed some guy that she knew and now I'm in the blue with a broken heart. Oh brokenhearted Hoover fixer sucker guy. Oh brokenhearted Hoover fixer sucker, sucker guy.

LYDEN: Well, there you get it in just three lines; you, kind of, get the whole story.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARNEY: Yeah, the idea was to collate four or five pages of really boring dialogue, but it's also kind of developing him as a character.

LYDEN: Well, that scene that you're talking about is to me emblematic of what you've done here. It was a kind of deconstruction of the musical.

Mr. CARNEY: Wow. That's very flattering, but you mean exactly in the way that was the intention. With the intention of like, I really, really, really, really want to make a musical that works. I don't want to make a self-conscious, kind of, film that you're going to have to suspend your disbelief and, you know, a kind of a homagie(ph), pastiche of, kind of, you know, the Gene Kelly films that we're talking about earlier on with the MGM, kind of, golden age.

LYDEN: As much fun as those are. They're great.

Mr. CARNEY: As much as fun - they are great fun, but they're fun for you and me. They're not going to be fun for YouTube generation of people. So my challenge was how do I have a film, which looks like an independent, (unintelligible) gritty, naturalistic film that is a musical. And that to you're leaving, and it's your partner or your friend that says, you know what, we just actually watched a musical. And he goes, we, kind of, did, actually, that's kind of weird. And that is something that dawns on you afterwards. That it's actually exactly as you said at the very beginning of the interview - it's an old fashioned musical.

LYDEN: Well, thank you all very, very much. We've been speaking with the writer and director of "Once," John Carney, and also Glen Hansard of The Frames and Czech musician, Marketa Irglova. Thanks guys for coming in. It was just great.

Mr. CARNEY: Thank you.

Mr. HANSARD: Thank you.

Ms. IRGLOVA: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: To hear a recent concert by Glen Hansard and The Frames, and to discover more music, go to

That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Debbie Elliott comes back next week.

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