DATE May 1, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Stars of "Once," Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, on
making the film
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guests Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are the stars of the film "Once."
He plays a Dublin street musician. She plays a young mother and pianist who
recently immigrated from the Czech Republic. She befriends him on the street.
They start writing and playing songs together and realize they're kindred
spirits. This low-budget indy film became a big success. Hansard and Irglova
won an Oscar this year for Best Original Song and in the process of making the
film, Hansard and Irglova became a couple and a music duo. They perform under
the name The Swell Season and are currently on an American tour. Their movie
"Once" is out on DVD.
Glen Hansard is also known for his work in the band The Frames. The writer
and director of "Once," John Carney, used to be in The Frames. Let's start
with the Oscar-winning song from "Once." This is "Falling Slowly."
(Soundbite of "Falling Slowly")
Mr. GLEN HANSARD: (Singing) I don't know you
But I want you
All the more for that
Mr. HANSARD and Ms. MARKETA IRGLOVA: (Singing in unison)
Words fall through me
And always fool me
And I can't react
Mr. HANSARD: (Singing) And games that never
Amount to more than they're meant
Will play themselves out
Mr. HANSARD and Ms. MARKETA IRGLOVA: (Singing in unison)
Take this sinking boat
And point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice
You have a choice
You'll make it now
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, welcome to FRESH AIR. Congratulations
on the Oscar and all the success you've had with "Once." You co-wrote "Falling
Slowly." Had you ever written a song together before writing for the film?
Mr. HANSARD: No, that was actually the first song we wrote together, and it
was one of those things where I'd been working on the song and I wasn't really
sure where I was going with it. All I had was, you know, it was the verse and
I had an idea for the chorus and it was only when I sat down with Mar and I
played her the idea--because I was talking about a harmony in the chorus and
she said, `What if you take the lower one and I--or you take the higher one
and I'll take the lower one,' and you know, on the moment where it goes "We've
still got time" and it was--for me, that was like the key of what made the
song suddenly work, and then so I wrote the chorus with Mar and then I really
felt like we had a solid song in our hands and it was something I could give
to John and feel confident with.
GROSS: Glen, you pointed out that the movie was not written with you in mind
as the performer, or with Marketa in mind. Cillian Murphy, who is best known
to me through his role in "Breakfast on Pluto," was supposed to be the star of
the film, but he had to back out at the last minute, so I guess that's how you
ended up being cast yourself.
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah, I mean, what happened was that Cillian was involved in
the project all along and Cillian liked The Frames and so he was happy to sing
my songs, but I think some of the songs I turned in, I think Cillian probably
felt a little bit--Cillian's a great singer but I think he felt a bit
unprepared for some of the--because John--the songs that John chose were some
of the more dynamically--like vocally challenging songs because I just gave
John a bunch of songs, and he chose which ones he liked and which ones he
didn't, and I think Cillian got a little bit sensitive about maybe possibly
about the idea of singing a few of these songs and being able to sort of do
them justice. And I remember making the suggestion that--I was like, `I'll
change the keys,' you know, `we'll make it work,' because for me, you know,
having the job of writing the songs, I just wanted to keep my gig. And so I
was like, `I'll change the keys, I'll do whatever Cillian needs in order to
make these songs work.'
And I think possibly what happened was that Cillian just got offered another
job and then maybe took it. I think that Cillian had done maybe enough
low-budget Irish films. Even though "Once" was originally budgeted at about
two million, which is like--which is nowhere near a low-budget movie in
Ireland. And because Cillian's name was attached to it, producers were happy
to back the film up, but once Cillian pulled out, John was left in a very--I
guess he was kind of stranded because the producers pulled out once Cillian
pulled out, and then suddenly, this project which was about to film in a month
or two, suddenly had no money.
And this is kind of where things got exciting for us because John had already
cast Mar, Cillian had backed out on him, the producers had backed out on him,
but he still had a crew booked and he still had a shoot date. And so he had
to sort of figure out, `Do I drop this project and move on to another idea I
had, or do I try to make this work somehow?' And we all sat down
together--because I was involved in the project as a songwriter, we all sat
down together and we sort of--I guess we all tried to figure out what to do.
And I got really excited about the idea of making the film as cheaply as
possible, and it also meant that we could--you know, we figured out how to do
it, so we wouldn't use lights. We'd shoot--instead of shoot--you know, there
was talk of originally shooting the film on film. Let's shoot it on DV and
let's--instead of, you know, hiring the cameras, let's just buy two cameras,
let's shoot the whole film without permits--because in Dublin, like in most
cities, if you put a tripod on the street, you need to have a permit for it,
and therefore you need to have security and, you know, let's do this whole
thing without any of that. Let's just do it all handheld and let's keep the
crew--let's cut the crew in half so that we don't need, you know--in terms of
costume, let's just do all the costumes ourselves. Let's just bring our own
clothes. Let's just do this--let's just do this thing super, super
GROSS: And let's hire someone real cheap like Glen Hansard?
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah. Oh yeah, I forgot about that element. Yeah. And let's
just get me to do it. Like, just get me mate to do it. And when John
approached me to do it, I was kind of nervous, I must admit. I didn't really
like the idea because I just didn't feel like I could pull it off, but then
John kind of put to me--he said, `Look, no one's going to sing these songs
like you do because you wrote them.' He says, `I'm forced into the choice of
having, you know, two actors who can probably half sing or two musicians who
can half act, and he says, `I'd rather--if it's a musical film, I'd rather
have two musicians who can half act. I know I'll get a performance out of
you.' And he says, `As long as the music's convincing, I think people are
going to believe it.' So that was kind of his gamble, and he took us on. But
there was no screen test. There was no rehearsals. We went into the film on
the first day and John had no idea if we were going to be able to pull it off.
GROSS: Marketa, you were cast before Glen was. How did you get the part?
You hadn't acted before?
Ms. IRGLOVA: No. Well, John Carney, the director, approached Glen about
this, you know, as you know, about the idea for this film, and throughout the
years I'd been--that meant years in cafes over teas and coffees and discussed
the idea for the film, and when the project was getting closer to happening,
John said to Glen, `Well, you know, the only thing is I have Cillian Murphy
for the male part, but I can't find a woman for the female part. I have
trouble finding this woman because I want her to be an Eastern European woman
who can sing and play piano and act and, you know, would you know any people
because you travel a lot?' And Glen said, `Well, yeah, I know a girl from
Czech Republic and she does play piano and sing and I'm sure she could pull
off the acting, but the thing is she's only 17.' And John was looking for a
35-year-old woman originally. And so John kind of thought that 17 years old
was too young, but he decided to meet me anyway, and so I just got on the
plane to Dublin from Prague and met John the director and just kind of played
a few tunes on the piano for him, and that was my audition really. He didn't
get me to read any lines or anything. He just cast me right then and there,
and that was it. I was part of the project.
GROSS: You were 17 when the movie was shot?
Ms. IRGLOVA: Yeah. That's right.
GROSS: Wow. You don't look it. You really look older in it.
Ms. IRGLOVA: I know, it's funny. Even now people meet me in person and they
tell me I look much younger than in the film, and it's ironic because I'm now
older than I was in the film. So it's weird. They must have done--and I
wasn't wearing any makeup or anything. I don't know whether it was just the
clothes or the camera making me look older. It's a funny thing.
Mr. HANSARD: I think it was the fact that you embodied the character
of--because I think the character was meant to be like 22 or 23 so Mar
embodied that character and I think maybe it was just believable.
GROSS: My guests are Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the stars of the film
"Once." They're currently on an American tour performing their songs. More
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guests are Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. They starred in the
film "Once" and wrote and performed the songs in it. They're currently on an
American tour performing under the name The Swell Season.
Let's hear another song that you co-wrote together for "Once," and this is "If
You Want Me" and Glen, why don't you describe how this song is used in the
Mr. HANSARD: Well, there was one--John wanted to have one song in the film
that was basically a throwback, or a salute, to the classic musical. We
decided a couple of things in the beginning. We said, whenever there's a song
in this film, let's have the entire song, and also, whenever there's a song in
this film, let's have it be absolutely live in the moment so that you're not
pulling the wool over anybody's eyes. You're not putting anybody on. You're
playing the song in front of them so that there isn't this whole idea of
playback and, you know, then you'd mime.
So John had this idea for a song, and he really loved the Alanis Morissette
song "India." Do you know that song? It goes...(unintelligible)...you know,
`Thank you, India, thank you, terror, thank you, disillusionment." You know,
he gave us a tape of that song and he says, `I want you to write that song but
I don't want you to--you know, because I'--he said, `I'd love to use that
song, but I know I probably wouldn't be allowed, and I want all the songs to
So the idea was that Mar's character, the batteries would go in her CD player
and that she would basically sing over music that I would have supposedly
written, and it was going to be a--you know, John wanted basically just to do
a "Singing in the Rain" moment where it was a real musical moment, and so we
hired a crane and basically we just walked up the street with Mar that whole
evening and I think it really does work in the film, but that is the one
moment where we're miming.
Ms. IRGLOVA: Yeah, but it's also the moment where you get to actually know
something about the girl. Because I think through the songs that the male
character plays, you get to know something about his personality, you know,
something that you probably wouldn't get to know about a person in one and a
half hour, and so you get that little chance with that song that the girl
sings as well, which works very well, I think.
GROSS: And so let's hear it, "If You Want Me," and this will give us a chance
to hear Marketa's voice. This is Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from the
soundtrack of their film "Once."
(Soundbite of "If You Want Me")
Ms. IRGLOVA: (Singing) Are you really here
Or am I dreaming
I can't tell dreams from truth
For it's been so long
Since I have seen you
I can hardly remember your face anymore
When I get really lonely
And the distance causes our silence
I think of you smiling
With pride in your eyes
A lover that sighs
Ms. IRGLOVA and Mr. HANSARD: (Singing in unison)
If you want me
If you want me
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's "If You Want Me" from the soundtrack of the film "Once." My
guests co-wrote the song and also starred in the film, Glen Hansard and
Marketa Irglova are my guests.
Since neither of you were really actors when you started making
"Once"--although, Glen, you had a part in "The Commitments" as a member of the
band, did you go seeking advice from people about how to act or how to behave
in front of a camera? Did you just learn from doing it? And if you got
advice, like what's the best thing that you were each told that actually
Mr. HANSARD: Well, the thing that I was told--and I can't remember who told
me right now--somebody said to me, `Just remember that Marlon Brando was
always Marlon Brando.' He wasn't--like, the reason people hired him to be in
films was because he was Marlon Brando. And, you know, I kind of like the
idea that no matter what character you're playing, no matter whether you
embody it or not--and there are many different styles of acting, of course,
there are many different styles--but this was the thing that I always--that
resonated with me most was the fact that just be yourself and embody the
character. And I think that for me that meant that, I guess, my range as an
actor was probably quite limited.
And, let's face it, I was pretty much playing myself in this film. You know,
I am a street musician, I was a street musician. You know, I did--I fixed
bicycles, not Hoovers. John changed that detail, I guess. When I went to the
bank to get my first loan for The Frames, the bank manager took out his guitar
and played me a song. So there are many details in this guy's life that are
very similar to my own. So I guess for myself it wasn't so difficult to
embody this guy, and I think if I was given a more challenging role I might
find it a lot more difficult.
And as well, we were making this film--I was making this film with Mar, who
was a good friend of mine and also with John Carney, who was in my band, who
was a very close friend of mine. So I felt very, very comfortable with these
people. It felt like a bunch of friends making a film over the weekend more
than it felt like being involved in a big artistic challenge. You know, the
challenge for us obviously was writing the songs and getting them finished,
and so the acting really took a second place, thank God, in all of this.
GROSS: I want to play a scene from the beginning of "Once," and this is a
scene where Glen, you're playing on the street for money but no one's paying
any attention to you at all until Marketa, you walk over and start asking him
questions about himself and the music. Here's the scene.
(Soundbite of "Once")
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) That song you just played, you write it?
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) Working on it.
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) It's not an established song?
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) No, it's not an established song.
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) How come you don't play it during daytime? I
see you every day.
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) You know, during the day people want to hear
songs they know, just songs that they recognize. I mean, otherwise I wouldn't
make any money. I play these songs at night. They wouldn't listen.
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) I listen.
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) Yeah, but you gave me 10 cents.
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) Will you do it for money then? Why don't you
get a job in a shop?
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) I have a job in a shop. Listen, I'm going to
get back to this, yeah? Nice to meet you.
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) Who'd you write this song for, please?
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) No one.
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) (Word censored by station). Where is she?
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) She's gone.
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) She's dead?
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) No, she's not dead. She's gone.
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) You love her still?
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) Jesus, man.
(Soundbite of crowd bustling)
Ms. IRGLOVA: (In character) You're over her? Rubbish. No one writes a song
who's over her. I'm telling you. You play this marvelous song to her, you
get her back.
Mr. HANSARD: (In character) I don't want her back.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in a scene from "Once."
Glen, you started off as a street musician when you were in your teens. You
dropped out of high school to play on the streets. Where did you choose to
play? Like, what was a good street for you in Dublin?
Mr. HANSARD: Well, for me Grafton Street was the--it was a bit like, in
Dublin, if you can imagine, you know, the microcosm of your life, I suppose.
For me, I lived on the north side of the city, so Grafton Street was on the
south side of the city, and that for me made more sense because it meant that
wouldn't bump into anybody from school and that I wouldn't bump into any of my
mother's friends, or my mother indeed because my mother was a fruit seller on
Moore Street, which was on the north side of the city, and I wanted to get as
far away from anybody I knew as possible. So I went over to Grafton--and also
Grafton Street was kind of the more posh part of Dublin, so the chances of me
having a career or having--getting beyond just being a street musician were--I
had better chances, if you like, on the south side of the city, because that's
kind of where all the artists lived and, you know.
So I went over there and it was a great--for me it was the beginning of a
whole new education. I mean, I left school at 13. I went over there--the day
I left school I went busking and what started was--I met a man who sold
magazines on the street. His name was Pete, and Pete was a--you know, he
prided himself on the fact that he was a Dylanologist. You know, he loved
Dylan, he loved everything about...
Mr. HANSARD: And because I was such a Dylan fan, this guy took me seriously
because I was playing Dylan songs that weren't necessarily the ones from the
"Greatest Hits" record. And so this guy took an interest in me and I guess
took me under his wing, and I remember going and living with him for a while,
and he took me around to like poetry readings. And pretty much from there
on--I remember meeting this lady, Phillipa Garner, who was kind of a famous
painter in Ireland, and she took me up to her house in Kildare, which was in
the countryside. She lived in an old converted schoolhouse that she had
rebuilt, and I went and lived with her for two years, and really a whole new
education began. I remember staying at Seamus Heaney's house when I was a kid
and getting to hang out with poets and other musicians was really the basis of
my artistic beginnings.
GROSS: So what's the best thing that happened to you on the streets?
Mr. HANSARD: Well, for me, I guess, overall, it was my education. I learned
how to sing on Grafton Street. I learned how to entertain. When you're on
the street, you're a still point. You know, you're part of the architecture.
You're the still--and if you stand still at any street in any city in any
country of the world, if you stand still long enough, every single person in
that city will pass you buy. So like, you know, I'd be busking and Van
Morrison would walk past as I was singing a Van Morrison song or, you know,
Bono would go by or, you know, all ...
GROSS: Is that true? Really? They'd go by?
Mr. HANSARD: Oh, absolutely.
GROSS: OK. So Van Morrison is walking by. What do you do? Do you say,
`Excuse me'? No?
Mr. HANSARD: Not at all. No, with someone like Van, you would just give him
his space and actually, ironically, the reason I guess he was passing by was
because we were, myself and my friend, were busking together and we were
singing Van, because Van songs are amazing to busk. So one day we were
busking, playing one of his songs, and he passed by, but actually the irony
was that we were busking enough money to go see him that night so actually we
ended up busking up enough money to go see him. Then the same thing happened
for U2. We were busking up the money to go see them one time and we saw them
the same day, which is very interesting.
GROSS: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova will be back in the second half of
the show. Their film "Once" is on DVD. Here's another song from it. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. HANSARD: (Singing) I think it's time
To give it up
And figure out
What's stopping us
From breathing easy
And talking straight
The way is clear
You're ready now
The bottom tip
Is slowing down
And taking time to
The little cracks may escalated
Before we knew it was too late
Mr. HANSARD and Ms. MARKETA IRGLOVA: (Singing in unison)
For making cyclones and tearing up...
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Glen Hansard and Marketa
Irglova, the stars of the film "Once." They wrote and performed the songs in
the film and won an Oscar for one of them. Through making the movie they
became a couple and formed a duo called The Swell Season. They're now on an
American tour. Hansard is from Dublin. Irglova grew up in the Czech
Now, Marketa, you grew up in a family surrounded by music because your
father--correct me if I'm wrong--your father promoted music festivals in
Czechoslovakia when you were growing up?
Ms. IRGLOVA: Well, my parents are those kind of people that--well, my father
is constantly searching for finding something that he can be excited about
doing, and so he used to be a vice mayor at one point, that was when I was
very small, and then he decided to leave that job because the town was too
corrupt and found his own newspaper so that he could have more of a voice.
And so he';s been--him and my mother have been doing this newspaper, writing
the articles for it and doing that for the past, you know, 15 years. And
after that he kind of, you know, he got a wine shop because they're both
lovers of wine, and beside that he was kind of taking care of a few bands and
organizing gigs for them, so the two of them are very active in their life,
you know, they're constantly looking for things to do, to be able to get
And so one of the things they did get excited about was just kind of having
different people coming in and out of their life and having them over at their
house, and a lot of those kind of people were musicians, and so without him
having an official job of a music promoter, that's what he kind of does in a
funny way. So, yes, music was always a big thing in my house and there's tons
of CDs on the shelves, and I would have been growing up, you know, going to
sleep with Joni Mitchell songs and Leonard Cohen songs. So, yes, music was
always a huge part of my family.
GROSS: How did you both meet?
Ms. IRGLOVA: Me and Glen?
Ms. IRGLOVA: Well, it was a case of my father helping a man that lived in
Ireland get this Irish band over to Czech Republic and Slovakia for a few
gigs, and he was the guy that would kind of help out on the Czech side because
he obviously speaks Czech and English so he'll be able to communicate and get
venues to be helpful. And so he basically helped organize a few gigs that The
Frames had around the area, and because he did do that, when the band came
over, they just kind of came to our house and we organized a party for them in
our garden. And that was were we met, basically around the fire playing songs
and singing along, and my mother cooked this big feast. So we met in a really
lovely way where Glen--my family would basically invite the whole bunch, which
was about 12 people, over to the house and befriend Glen and the band, so then
Glen would just keep coming to the house because of my mother's cooking and
stuff, so it's a very funny way of us meeting. But throughout the years we
would have become friends.
GROSS: So, Glen, when you dropped out of school at the age of--what, 14?--so
that you could perform on the streets, what did your parents think of that?
Mr. HANSARD: Well, I'm very lucky in that my mother, again, my mother was
very, very liberal. She grew up in a very, very tight household where she had
to be home at a certain time and had to--you know, she had 12 brothers and
sisters and I guess the family had to keep everybody--you know, herd them
together, I guess, if you like. So my mother grew up in the '60s, you know,
and so during that time, she wanted basically to give her kids the freedom
that she never had. So my mother was like very, very liberal. She said to
me, `Anytime you need, you know, if you want to'--you know, when I came home
and said to her, `Ma, I really want to do music,' my mother just said, `Well,
do it then.' And she said, `Well, do it, and if you're going to do it, do it
properly so go, you know, go and earn a living from it and do it and get
really involved in it.'
So I was looking and my dad--my dad was, you know, I guess my dad was one of
those guys who was a--he worked hard but he was a hard-drinking man and
didn't--and supported us in whatever we wanted to do but didn't really play
much of a role in our lives except to say, `Yep...(unintelligible)...go for
it.' So me dad was, I guess, was on board with it, too.
I was very, very lucky. I mean, my headmaster in school, my head teacher, he
was a great guy. I was in his office so many times, and we talked and talked,
and I guess he was a smart guy. He figured out that music was the one subject
I really enjoyed talking about, and because he was in his part--in his spare
time he was a DJ and so myself and himself would talk about Dylan and Cohen
and Neil Young and all the stuff that really impassioned me, and he basically
said to me one day, he called me down to the office and he says, `Glen you
know what? You're in this school. You're not learning a thing. You're
frustrating all of the teachers and I know you love music, so I have an idea.
Why don't you go, take your guitar, go over to Grafton Street or go to any
street you want, but start your musical career at the very bottom today.' He
said, you know, `Go and, you know, take your guitar out, and if in a year
you're not enjoying it or it's not working out for you, come back to school
and I'll figure out a way of getting you back into class and you can continue
He says, `But I don't think that your education is going anywhere here.' You
know, he says, `You can tell me all the musicians who played on "John Wesley
Harding." Or you can, you know, you can tell me who produced the first two
Leonard Cohen records, but you can't tell me the square root of nine.' And he
says, `So you're not really very good to us here and I'd like to see you
succeed.' So he sent me home that day to take my guitar and go to the Grafton
Street. And when I went home I said to my mother--I dropped my school bag in
the hall and I said to my mother, `Ma, I'm going to start my career as a
musician,' and my mother was like, `What? Really? ' And I was like, `yeah.'
She says, `Well, go for it, son, and good luck.'
GROSS: Hm. That worked out.
Marketa, how did your parents feel when you, at the age of 17, took a break
from school, left home, went to another country to make a movie?
Ms. IRGLOVA: Well, first of all, like Glen's parents, my parents are very
liberal themselves, so you know, it's not like they ever restricted me much
in, you know, whatever I wanted to do. But I guess, there was, you know, they
were always concerned ever since Glen came into my life as a musician who left
school at 13 years old. I think they're always concerned that I would just
forget about school and try to walk in his footsteps, and they were only
concerned about that because they wanted me to have something to fall back on
in case music didn't work out or something, you know. But at the same time, I
think I always had a very good sense that if I was quite sensible at home and
if I didn't get into too much trouble then I'd have that freedom because they
would trust me, and they'd kind of know that I'll be all right on my own. And
so I stayed out of trouble and I did all my homework in school, and for that I
had the freedom to travel and miss out on school at times. So, you know, it
was great. And my parents are very supportive, you know, so they would have
never kind of stood between me and my dreams or anything like that, so I'm
very thankful to them for that.
GROSS: Now, you know, in the movie, it's clear that you're kind of made for
each other but you're both in or have been in other relationships and you're
kind of headed in different directions and the relationship doesn't really
work out, and I think viewers are really rooting for you to become a couple in
the film. I understand that you've become a couple in real life, even though
you don't quite make it...
Ms. IRGLOVA: Yeah, that's right.
GROSS: ...in the film, and that must be really interesting for you because
people who meet you must--and who've seen the movie--already have a sense of
you as having this like very special connection.
Ms. IRGLOVA: Yeah, that's true and, in a way, I think--because we meet some
people and they're like, you know, `I was really happy with the way you ended
the film. I thought that was really great that it ended in this way.' And
then we meet people and they're genuinely angry at us for not having the
characters kiss in the end, and so, for them, we cannot console them and we're
like, `well, you now, we're living out the sequel, if you like, and we're
together now.' So they feel a bit better about it. It's funny.
GROSS: I want to ask you about another scene from "Once." There's a great
scene in what I think is a pub. It almost looks like a living room, but I
think it's actually like a small pub. And everybody's kind of eating dinner
and drinking, and the rule of the game here is that you have to be able to
sing to be in in this dinner and people just kind of alternate singing. And
there's a kind of middle-aged woman and a middle-aged man, slightly older man,
who sing a few bars in this sequence and they have really interesting voices.
And I was wondering like who are they, and is this based on a real pub in
Mr. HANSARD: Well, actually that room is where me and Mar live. That's our
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah. And because we didn't have money to hire a venue we
decided to have a party in our flat.
GROSS: No wonder it looks like an apartment. OK.
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah. Because that's our place. That's where we live. And
also, the guy, the guy I was telling you about earlier on, the guy, the first
person I met, the Dylanologist in Grafton Street, that's Pete, and he's the
guy who sings.
Mr. HANSARD: And then the woman who sings is my mother.
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah. That's my mother, Catherine, so--and again how we did it
was instead of trying to hire a room and put lots of extras in it, we just
threw a party and invited all our friends over and filmed it so like...
GROSS: I really liked her voice. You know, there was something vaguely
Marianne Faithfull-ish about it.
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah. Interestingly, Marianne Faithfull...
GROSS: An older Marianne Faithfull.
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah. Interestingly, Marianne Faithfull used to live in that
flat also, which might...
Mr. HANSARD: ...you might have somehow picked up on. Yeah. We're very
lucky in that we live--one of the other people that I met when I was younger
was Marina Guinness, who's part of the Guinness family in Ireland. And we're
like, Ireland doesn't have royalty, but if we did have royalty, it would have
to be with the Guinness family because they're such a strong and powerful
family in Ireland, in a very nice way. And of course we all admire them
because we drink their product constantly. It's an amazing thing so--but I'm
really glad that you pointed out the guy and the woman, because the guy is the
guy I was talking about who took me on board, and I spent a lot of time with
him when I was younger. And, of course, my mother.
GROSS: Now we have to play that scene.
(Soundbite of "Once")
Unidentified Actor #1: (In character) Great to see you here. Can you sing?
If you can't sing, you're out.
Unidentified Actor #2: (Singing) There's one request I'll ask of you, when
your liberty caved, Remember...(unintelligible)...I come beat down in shame
(Soundbite of applause, whistles)
Actor #2: (Singing) My, that once healthy heart of mine.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's a scene from "Once," which stars my guests Glen Hansard and
Marketa Irglova, who are both musicians and songwriters who are performing
together, now on tour.
Did your mother sing a lot when you were growing up?
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah. My mother sang constantly when we were kids. And my
father. My mother used to win--like, she won a bunch of competitions when we
were kids, you know, in pubs, and you know. They never--my mother of course
never took singing as seriously as, say, I did but, you know, and my father.
My grandfather was an opera singer and my grandfather sang--I remember, my
great-grandfather sang in the same competition as James Joyce and beat him,
apparently, in an...
Mr. HANSARD: ...opera, yeah, competition, a long, long time ago. So music's
definitely been in my family.
GROSS: So, wow, your lives have just been so changed by the movie. It's
just--I mean, in every way. In terms of your performances, in terms of the
fact that you're now a couple and you're living together. I'm sure you just
never expected that.
Mr. HANSARD: Not at all. I mean it's been a very, very--serendipitous, I
suppose. It's been a very, very interesting and powerful chapter in my life,
for sure. And you know, yeah, exactly. It's like, does life imitate our art
does art imitate life? It's--for once, it definitely, the lines are
definitely blurred and I really like that about it.
GROSS: Since Dylan figures into your story here, Glen, particularly your
story, I think maybe we'll end with "You Ain't Going Nowhere" from...
Mr. HANSARD: Ah.
GROSS: ...from the soundtrack of the Dylan movie--the movie about Dylan, "I'm
Not Here," the fictional movie about Dylan. So, you recorded "You Ain't Going
Nowhere" for it.
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah.
GROSS: Now I know Dylan was a big influence on you, Glen. You sang Dylan
songs when you were busking as a teenager on the streets. The Frames opened
for Dylan on some tour or another, so I imagine you got to meet him.
Mr. HANSARD: Yeah.
GROSS: Did he have much to say? Is he "meetable"? I mean, is he accessible
as a person?
Mr. HANSARD: Well, you know, I'm very, very lucky in that I got to spend,
you know, some time in Bob's company. And he's one of those men, I don't even
feel very comfortable talking about him because he's just so--for me, he's
just a great, and, you know, I've been lucky in my life, in that I've met--all
the people that I've really adored I've somehow managed to meet, and I feel
great about that. And so spending a bit of time in a master's company gives
one a great sense of humility. And so all I can say is that I definitely
I spoke to Bob about Woody Guthrie, and that was for me--you know, what was
really great about that was it was two people--two artists speaking about
another artist. And that was the--for me, was the way, the best way the
conversation could flow because, you know, what do you say to the man who's
heard every different approach? And when I met him, I just I didn't really
know what to say. I guess, I was lucky and what just fell out of my mouth
was, I said, `Meeting you, Bob, is a bit like what it must have been like when
you met Woody.' And the conversation could have died right there, but it
didn't. It went on and you know, Bob talked about Woody and I talked about
Woody. I knew just enough to keep a conversation going with him, you know...
Mr. HANSARD: So for me it's been a wonderful experience being in his
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us, and
congratulations on your lives together and on the success of "Once" and your
music. Thank you.
Mr. HANSARD: Thank you very much.
Ms. IRGLOVA: Thank you.
GROSS: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova starred in the film "Once" and wrote
and performed the songs in it. The film is on DVD. Hansard and Irglova now
perform under the name The Swell Season and are currently on an American tour.
(Soundbite of "You Ain't Going Nowhere")
Mr. HANSARD: (Singing) Clouds so swift
Rains won't lift
Gate won't close
Get your mind off wintertime
You ain't going nowhere
Whoo-ee, ride me high,
Tomorrow's the day
My bride's gonna come
Oh, oh, are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair
He could not keep
All his kings
Supplied with sleep
We'll climb that hill no matter how steep
When we get up to it
Whoo-ee! Ride me high
Tomorrow's the day
My bride's gonna come
Oh, oh, are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Music from the soundtrack of "I'm Not There."
Coming up , Chiwetel Ejiofor talks about starring in David Mamet's new film
"Redbelt." He plays a martial arts instructor. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Actor Chiewetel Ejiofor on his new role in the film
TERRY GROSS, host:
After making the films "Dirty Pretty Things," "Children of Men," "Talk to Me"
and "American Gangster," actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is now starring in David
Mamet's new film, "Redbelt." Although he's been playing Americans, Ejiofor is
British. His parents moved to England from Nigeria. In the new film
"Redbelt," Ejiofor plays a martial arts instructor who teaches and practices
self-defense and the larger philosophy of self-control and discipline that
goes with it. He's an honest man operating in an often dishonest world where
things aren't what they appear to be because, after all, this is a film
written and directed by David Mamet.
Let's hear a scene from early in the film. Emily Mortimer plays a troubled
woman who has accidently hit the instructor's parked car. After going to his
studio to explain, he encourages her to come back to study. Here he is,
trying to teach her.
(Soundbite of "Redbelt")
Mr. CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) The first step is the hardest.
Ms. EMILY MORTIMER: (As Laura Black) And what is the first step?
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) To leave the outside outside.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. MORTIMER: (As Laura Black) Um, I think I've come to the wrong place.
I'm so sorry.
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) Conquer your fear and you'll conquer your
Ms. MORTIMER: (As Laura Black) Yes. Um, Mr. Terry, a man raped me. He
held a knife to my throat, a man twice my size, and then he raped me.
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) He held a knife to your throat?
Ms. MORTIMER: (As Laura Black) Yes. Look, I appreciate what you've done.
It's just that I don't think there's anything I could learn here that would
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) There is no situation that you cannot escape
from. There is no situation that you cannot turn to your advantage.
Ms. MORTIMER: (As Laura Black) A man was going to cut my throat and...
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) Like this?
(Soundbite of heavy thumps, gasp)
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) Don't move, there's a knife there. There's a
knife there. Grab my arm. Drag it toward me. Toward me.
(Soundbite of grunt)
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) Good! Now, move to the right. Move to the
right and behind me. Move to the right and behind me. Good. Now stab me
with the knife.
(Soundbite of heavy breathing)
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) Good. Stab me with the knife.
(Soundbite of grunt)
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) Good. Stab me with the knife!
(Soundbite of grunt)
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) Stab me with the knife!
(Soundbite of crying)
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) Let's hear it! Let it out! Let it out! Let
(Soundbite of screaming, crying, heavy breathing, sobbing)
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Mike Terry) It's all right. There's no one here but the
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Chiwetel Ejiofor, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I figure you were hoping
to work with David Mamet one day.
Mr. EJIOFOR: Yeah, absolutely.
GROSS: What did he want you to know about your character?
Mr. EJIOFOR: I think he was just very interested, as I was, in learning
about the philosophies of jujitsu and of trying to sort of get under the skin
of this guy, this character, Mike Terry, by really approaching the
philosophies and lifestyles of Brazilian jujitsu practitioners. And I think
in some way that was--I mean, this was the fundamental dynamic and
understanding of the character. So that was what he was really asking me to
engage with, and that was a process that continued, you know, through
obviously my training in jujitsu and my understanding of the philosophy and
then into the actual shooting of the film.
GROSS: Did you get to throw David Mamet? Did you get to practice on him?
Mr. EJIOFOR: I actually didn't. But, you know, like anybody who has, you
know, any martial arts--I'm sure everybody will sympathize--when you start
doing martial arts, you have a period, and it's sort of about--for me it was
sort of I think about six weeks in when I suddenly believed that I was the
greatest martial artist--you know exactly five things and you suddenly think
that's going to take you through, you know, absolutely any situation, you
know, on a set, outside a set, anywhere under any circumstances.
And it was on one such occasion that we waiting for, you know, a lighting
change and so on and I--we were in the academy, we were in the gym--and I said
to David, `How about it? You know, let's get down and work on--you've been
doing it for a few years. I've been doing it for a month and a bit. I feel
like I got something going here.' And David kicked off his shoes, took off his
hat, and got onto the mat. And as he was approaching me, I remember thinking
that he was sort of suddenly encroaching my space a lot and that he must have
made a mistake and got too close because he was standing on my toe. And I
tried to move my foot and then realized I couldn't. He'd actually put all his
weight on my right foot and then looked at me and smiled and said, `You see,
you know, you've lost already. Because you just can't fight jujitsu with one
leg.' So it was a way of me learning very quickly that, you know, experience
counts in jujitsu, as in anything else.
GROSS: So Mamet's a jujitsu guy, huh?
Mr. EJIOFOR: He is. He's been training jujitsu for six years.
Mr. EJIOFOR: Yeah, and is, I mean, very respected by the guys who are doing
it. I mean, he's very good at it.
GROSS: So was his teacher on the set?
Mr. EJIOFOR: Yeah. Renato Magno was there, and he was also training me and,
you know, it was that that gave David the introduction to the world of jujitsu
and, you know, that then sort of raised the creative then, juices and the
story sort of flows from there.
GROSS: So do you think that if you got into a fight, if somebody picked a
fight with you, that you would now be better able to defend yourself?
Mr. EJIOFOR: Well, I mean, they'd have to attack me in the correct sequence
GROSS: That's right.
Mr. EJIOFOR: And then I would definitely be able to defend myself. But if
they varied too much, it would be more complicated for me. But, you know, we
went--you know, it takes several years to be very, very good at these martial
arts, and even as I was learning them, you know, Renato Magno, that I was
studying with in Los Angeles, was saying that initially, you know, for young
people, for, you know, people who have just--for novices, you know, as well,
when you go out into the ring if you're competing in a competition, if you
remember 10 percent of your training in the first few bouts, you know, you've
done very well, you know. That it takes a long time for these things to
become just instinctual and to react with all of your training at your
fingertips. So I think it would take me a lot of time, you know, to feel that
I had--that I was confident in any kind of situation or under any sort of
GROSS: My guest is Chiwetel Ejiofor. He's starring in the new film
"Redbelt." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. His films include "Dirty Pretty
Things," "Children of Men," "Talk to Me" and "American Gangster." He stars as
a jujitsu instructor in David Mamet's new film, "Redbelt."
Now, a couple of years ago you were in a movie called "Kinky Boots," in which
you played a drag queen. You seem like one of the more unlikely people to be
cast as a drag queen. You're very good in the role. I can imagine people
looking at you and thinking like, `nah, not possible. Won't make a convincing
Mr. EJIOFOR: You know, I don't know. I think people would, you know, there
was a sense that, you know, how is this transition going to work but, you
know, the more time that I spent, the more I was aware of what I was going to
try and do and you know, the more people I met, the more I was aware of, you
know, what I was going to try and experiment with and which ways I was going
to try and take this when I got into a place where I could really speak to
the, you know, the wardrobe and makeup and the choreographer, and Julian, the
director, with, you know, with some knowledge and some understanding of the
scene, and so I was kind of excited.
GROSS: I want to play a clip from "Kinky Boots," and this is you doing your
drag act and you're singing "Whatever Lola Wants." Did you make any changes in
your voice for the performance as a drag queen?
Mr. EJIOFOR: I think some. I can't remember really. I think I tried to
find a different kind of register, a different place, a different attitude,
certainly, in my voice, which was interesting.
GROSS: Well, here you are in "Kinky Boots."
(Soundbite of "Kinky Boots")
Unidentified Actor: (In character) Ladies, gentleman, and those who are yet
to make up your mind...
Mr. EJIOFOR: (Singing) Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets
And little man, little Lola wants you
Make up your mind to have...
Backup Singers: (Singing) Mind to have...
Mr. EJIOFOR: (Singing) No regrets...
Backup Singers: (Singing) No regrets
Mr. EJIOFOR: (Singing) Recline yourself, resign yourself
I always get what I aim for,
And your heart and soul
Is what I came for
Whatever Lola wants...
Backup Singers: (Singing) Lola wants...
Mr. EJIOFOR: (Singing) Lola gets...
Backup Singers: (Singing) Lola gets...
Mr. EJIOFOR: (Singing) Take off your coat
Don't you know you can't win?
Backup Singers: (Singing) Can't win, You'll never, never win
Mr. EJIOFOR: (Singing) You're no exception to the rule
I'm irresistible, you fool
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Chiwetel Ejiofor as a drag queen in "Kinky Boots."
What are you wearing in that scene, do you remember?
Mr. EJIOFOR: I think it was a green sequined dress with four-and-a-half-inch
shoes which were also green. and I can't remember--I think I had a blond wig.
GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. EJIOFOR: Pleasure. Absolute pleasure.
GROSS: Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in David Mamet's new film "Redbelt." It opens
tomorrow in select cities and widely on May 9th.
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.