Sing Street is one of the best movies of 2016. If you haven’t seen this new gem from John Carney, the director of Once, it needs to get bumped immediately to the top of your to-do list. It is, in a word, magical. In a few more words it’s a very funny, very smart, very heartfelt movie about a young boy who starts a band just to impress a girl.
The girl in question is played by rising star Lucy Boynton and it was our sincere privilege to speak to her recently about what it was like to work on such special film. As you can no doubt guess, she has more than a few nice things to say about John Carney and how much this movie and this particular character mean to her. We also talked briefly about what’s next, including being on a shortlist for potential cast in The Flash and her next role in Rebel in the Rye.
Movies.com: What was your very first exposure to Sing Street? Was it standard process of an agent asking if you wanted to read for it?
Lucy Boynton: It was just a script that came through from my agent. It was packaged as a comedy and I instantly recognized John Carney’s name as the director of Once. And Begin Again had come out that summer as well, so I was a huge fan of his even though I didn’t know much about him. As soon as I read the script, I knew it was one of those projects I had to get no matter what it took.
As I said, it was packaged as a comedy, but as anyone who has seen it knows that it’s so much more than that. Carney has perfected that kind of comedy. The reason it’s so good and so uplifting is that it also has low points for all of its characters as well. There are real rough edges to all of them, and you get more from those lighter moments because the rougher moments are so real. Getting that kind of a character is so rare. You usually have a protagonist and then just a handful of prop characters. In John’s script there are no prop chracters because every moment you spend with them is dipping into their lives and creating this bigger picture. I could go on and on about John Carney. I’m such a huge fan.
Movies.com: Do you find yourself drawn more to the darker beats or the comedic beats?
Boynton: I always have been and find myself continuously drawn to darker roles and darker material, even though my previous work wouldn’t really illustrate that. Generally I’ve found there’s more to travel with in those scripts. That’s why it’s so rare when a script comes along like this that does have those darker moments, especially with my character, but also such light moments. Raphina also disguises things, so there’s this continuous darkness to her. She carries the weight of everything with her because that’s how she’s learned to survive by keeping people at a certain proximity and presenting herself with this air of complete confidence that she’s going places and that everything will be okay.
It’s also in the way she presents herself with the huge hair and makeup, the bright blue eye shadow and the colorful clothes. It is this facade of confidence which gives you this more comedic side. It was actually harder to get to that place because of the weight I felt of what she was carrying. It was a very interesting experience.
Movies.com: How do you balance the period’s style choices and changes, which are often played for comedic effect, with your performance?
Boynton: With John, he always wanted to maintain this feeling of spontaneity and authenticity, which I think helped with lighter moments like filming the music videos. He has this electric energy and he seems to be running on a higher frequency than everyone else, even when we’re filming at like 2 in the morning, he’s going ‘It’s great! What about this?’ He’s open to others throwing out ideas and encouraging others to try and do whatever we want. There’s a sense of vulnerability, which the characters definitely feel, so it makes it easier to get those moments.
I think there’s a real danger in comedy when you over rehearse things and you start to lose those funny beats because you stop being able to sense what’s funny because you’ve done it over and over again.That never happened with John, especially because since he is the writer and the director he can change things at will.
Movies.com: Was it a unique experience for you to actually be one of the most experienced cast members on set?
Boynton: Throughout my life – I started acting when I was 12 – I have always been the youngest person on set, which is a very comfortable place. And so suddenly to have all of these people who were younger than me and who were on a film set for the first time…it was kind of unnerving to think anyone would look to me for any kind of advice because I still feel like I’m learning so much from every project I do. I’ve been doing this 10 years, which is frightening because I can already feel the grey hairs growing, but because of the material and because of what the film was, it helped fuel this sense of excitement.
It was also great that no one had any expectations to live up to, because this was most people’s first piece of work. The focus was never on the audience or the reception or the outcome, it was always just ‘Here we are, right now.’ Because there was nothing to live up to we could all own our characters even more and just enjoy it. It was only when we were doing press that we started to realize people were actually going to see it. Not having expectations meant we could really have a lot of fun with it.
[nested at ease]
[Here’s an exclusive clip from the Blu-ray about casting the first time actors.]
Movies.com: Did John Carney have any exercises for the younger cast to do to get to know each other before filming started?
Boynton: I didn’t get a whole lot of time with the band, but Ferdia – who plays Cosmo – and I had about a week where John would sit us up in his off and leave and shut the door like ‘Just bond.’ And Ferdia was this rosey cheeked, 14-year-old shy boy, so it was like, oh, God, what do we do? And we ended up just watching a bunch of Wes Anderson movies that happened to be on Netflix. And he’s one of my favorite directors, so that definitely started some bonding.
Plus the late night filming helps when you’re on a different schedule from any of your friends. Plus things like jumping into ice cold water in the middle of November in Dublin is a bonding experience. That is something that’s burned into our memories, definitely.
Movies.com: What were you most anxious about going into the project?
Boynton: The balance between light and dark in Raphina. I can easy empathize with the darkness because once you learn her story there’s no way you can’t empathize with that, so it was hardest to get the sense of lightness. She lives with this eternal hope that everything will work out in the end while also still retaining the hurt and lose and loneliness of what she’s been through. The character was just so perfectly written that I was desperate to do her justice and present those light and darks in a very real way and swerve past the cliches you can get with a character who is a muse, as some have called her.
I guess Raphina as a whole was slightly daunting, but John is just such a fantastic director. As you were saying before, there are people who have been on a thousand sets and people who have never been on one, and John, after working with you for about five minutes, susses how you tick and how to get the best performance out of you. It’s such a rare thing to have that really mutual trust. I really felt like he trusted me and I really trusted him to keep pushing me and pushing me until he got the performance he needed.
Movies.com: This is such a good performance of such strong material that it really feels like the kind of role people will look back on in 10 years and point to as a game changer for your career. Does it already feel like that to you?
Boynton: It’s definitely been pivotal in allowing people to realize I can play someone who is very different from myself. I’ve done a lot of period pieces and I’ve played a lot of characters who are very delicate, which is very similar to me because I do have a very delicate kind of look. So Raphina has really helped to show another side of myself, a rougher side. It’s helped show my range, I guess.
It’s strange because I can only see it as what it was for me, which was this incredibly eye opening experience, especially working with someone like John. I got so much out of doing this movie. Like you said, it’s such an opportunity for any young woman, so to be able to have done that, to show myself that I could do that was really exciting and liberating in a way.
Movies.com: Has it made figuring out future projects even harder because they’re nothing compared to this?
Boynton: Totally! John even said ‘After working with me it’s only downhill from here.’ And he’s so right, because characters like Raphina are so rare. It’s hard not to compare everything to her, but I’m definitely open and looking forward to what’s to come.
Movies.com: What is next for you? Is it shocking to see yourself on shortlists for things like The Flash?
Boynton: Kind of, yeah, but I can’t really pay attention to much to short lists because I have zero control over it so I just let that be an exciting thing that is in existence. I just last month finished filming a movie called Rebel in the Rye about J.D. Salinger that was written and directed by Danny Strong who is another genius and I can’t believe how completely lucky I am to work with these people. And that’s another script that is completely just phenomenal, so I cannot wait for that to come out. It’s a brilliant cast again. And of course The Blackcoat’s Daughter is coming out in September. Beyond that, everything will be a very vague answer.
[nested at ease]
Sing Street is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
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