John Carney is probably best known for the Academy Award winning musical “Once.” His latest film “Begin Again” hits theaters tomorrow July 2.
The film stars Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Cee Lo Green, Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine. You can read our review here. We sat down with John Carney to discuss his latest film. Read our exclusive interview below:
Why did you want to do a story about New York?
Because I have been coming back and forth to New York. I fell in love with the city and wanted to tell a story here.
“Begin Again” is a love story, but it’s also about the music industry. Can you tell me about your roots in music?
I was in a school band when I was kid. I met another band when I was just finishing school and decided to quit school to run away with the circus and I did that. We toured, recorded an album and it was great fun. It was a real experience of the world as to when I was 17 or 18 and we signed a record deal and I got to see the insides of the industry and how it worked. I think I stored that in a tree for 15 years and have come back to it then to crack open the case, which is this film.
Keira is someone who we don’t know to be a singer, but does a wonderful job.
She’s great! She’s an affable voice. Greta the character is discreet.
Can you speak about how Cee Lo Green got involved and what it was like working with him?
He was great. He was a lot of fun. Larger than life kind of character as you’d imagine. He enjoyed making the film and he was kind of funny. He’s so confident but I realized as we started filming that he was kind of nervous around the camera in certain moments, which was kind of funny as well. It was hard for me to put his mind to rest because I don’t know him that well but it was fun.
Can you speak about working with Adam Levine and casting him?
Adam and I just spoke on skype a bunch and had conversations about the music industry and he’d read the script. I thought he was great for the role so I just wanted to jump on the phone with him and sort of talk about what he would bring from his own life to the character. It was very clear that he’d got who Dave was. He got the parts of him that had been down that road. He already knew what he was talking about when he was acting that role. He was not bluffing.
Speak about bringing the music to life in the film.
They go in to record their album, which is a lot of fun, and they can’t afford a recording studio and they realize there is a way of doing an album that’s different. It’s a different energy behind it and it doesn’t always have to be in the studio. They both agree on that. This is about people who find something that they can both agree on because they are two different people as you can see from their first meeting. It doesn’t work. They find an idea together and stumble upon it together. Getting to know people is what artistic expression is about. Getting to know people through work.
He was one of our producer’s ideas. He just mentioned him and I had seen Mos Def in “The Woodsman.” I always loved him and it was just a great idea. We got on the phone and talked a little bit about stuff and I think we met for coffee once in New York. I really like him as an actor. He never does the same thing twice. He’s surprising; he’s unpredictable in a great way, which I love. It will always be good with him.
Can you speak about working with Mark Ruffalo?
Mark was great. He was connected to the project from very early on. He liked that sort of rumpled, tragic character you loved but you were sort of hoping would be okay. Somebody who you were always looking after and was nervous about. He got that and he understood that role. I think he does roles like that very well. There’s a real sense that you want to take that character and look after him. You can’t talk him out of what he’s doing and that spoke to him. He liked that sort of unpredictable thing in this guy. His love of music, the fact that he was messing things up with his family but I think he liked the idea of stirring that character.
Judd Apatow is the film’s executive producer.
He’s branching out into different things. I can feel Judd’s role in this film. He gave the film a great sense of balance and he was very interested and particularly, the relationships in the film. He was very interesting. He gave me a lot of advice about the structure of the piece and the characters. He was pretty helpful.
Can you speak about enlisting the songwriters for the music and how you gathered the team together?
My friend Glen Hansard wrote one song, I wrote two songs and, Gregg Alexander wrote four songs in the film. We put them together with a great band and the songs had been structured. I wrote the script first and the songs came later because I wanted to concentrate on the story for it to be able to stand on it’s own and not to have to rely on the songs.
Can you speak about some of your favorite places to film in New York?
The whole city was great actually. I sort of stayed away from the west village a little bit because it’s so pretty and it’s been filmed so many times. Shooting in the lower east side is fantastic. It’s so colorful. The lower east side is my favorite location.
Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share?
I have a film that I am making back in Ireland, which is set in a high school. It’s a secondary school in Dublin around the 80’s about a kid who forms a school band and it’ll be an interesting one. It’s kind of a gritty musical set in a very naturalistic sort of world of school bullies, Christian brothers, disintegrating families and recession. It’s a great musical set piece.