Interview: Glen Hansard

Geoff Tyson sits down with <I>The Frames</I> frontman and <I>Once</i> star Staff

Written by Staff Published on 26.10.2007 15:20:28 (updated on 26.10.2007) Reading time: 7 minutes

Written by Geoff Tyson

If you don´t know actor/musician Glen Hansard, or his film Once (and the new album with his Czech co-star Markéta Irglová), you owe it to yourself to make a point of discovering the movie. It´s a beautiful film about an organic love affair that develops by chance through a collaboration between two musicians on the streets of Dublin.

In real life, Glen Hansard quit school at age 13 to begin busking on local Dublin streets. 24 years later, with countless film and music awards, millions of records sold, and the staring role in his own movie, Glen is on top of the world. He took a moment out of his busy schedule to reflect on art, music, life, philosophy and bicycle repair…

Geoff: Your long and interesting musical career started on the streets of Dublin. Now you´re the star of a runaway indie film hit with a hit record. How is stardom fitting in with your life?

Glen: There is a choice you can make when you do something if you´re proud of it. You can either say ‘fuck it´ and throw it out into the world and let it do it´s own thing, or you can do all the work necessary to make it flourish. So because we are so proud of this film, we decided to do everything this film needed to be heard. 

In America, we went to 24 cities in 30 days, did TV shows and screenings, sat for magazine and radio interviews, and really gave it our all. And once it opened in America, there was such a presence everywhere that it was astounding. I didn´t even know the power of the media until then.

Geoff: Yes, when the media conspires on your behalf, you are in good shape.

Glen: It wasn´t entirely clear until we went back to NYC two months after the film opened. We were scheduled to play The David Letterman Show and during the 6-block walk to the studio, we were stopped about 20 times by people who loved the movie and wanted to say hello. After the 10th or 12th time it happened, I remember thinking:

“I love New York for exactly the opposite reason than this.” (Laughs)

Geoff: It´s easy to be anonymous in New York City.

Glen: Yes, you´re anonymous. So this was very strange for me. And then (co-star) Markéta said to me,

‘This is what you´ve always wanted, right?´

And of course as an artist, you always want to be respected by the public and your peers. But celebrity is a strange thing. At that moment, I wasn´t sure if I liked it. Being a star is a weird fucking thing. And then Markéta says to me:

“If you flirt with popularity, don´t be surprised if it offers you sex.”


Geoff: I remember reading in another interview with you about the value of ‘being in the moment´ and expressing your art as a matter of being ‘present´ rather than contriving it. How are you ‘present´ in the creation of your art?

Glen: Yes, being ‘present´ is a good way to live your life. If you live your life in the moment, something in the air gets ‘charged´ and it allows the possibility of newness to take place.

When we set out to do this film, we decided to make it with a conscious artistic mind to keep it away from the way many movies are made today. We did every scene differently so nothing would be done as a matter of routine.

I didn´t want to be an actor in the traditional sense. I see moves these days and most of the time, I just don´t buy it. When the hero goes to the dark side, do you feel empathy? When I saw Star Wars I, I just didn´t care about Anakin Skywalker because he wasn´t believable. He was a little prick. It ruined the films believability. And to me, believability is everything.

Geoff: It´s interesting to hear you say that because when I met you yesterday, the first thing that stuck out to me was that you were dressed almost identically to your character in the movie. I see also that you have the same guitar with you now that you play in the film. Is it true that the movie is based on your life as a busker in the streets of Dublin?

Glen: Yes, there are certain characteristics about the guy´s past that are similar to my own. I was involved at a very early stage in the development of the character and the creation of the film.  John Carney wrote the script and directed the film, but John based this character on me and my life.

In the movie, I live with my father and I fix vacuum cleaners. In my real life, I lived with my older brother and fixed bicycles.

My character gets robbed on the street. I used to get robbed by the same guy every few weeks and I´d have to chase him down.

When I went to the bank to get money to record my first demo, the bank manager took out his guitar and sang a song.

When I formed my band The Frames in 1988, I drew from musicians I knew on the street just like my character in the movie.

The studio that we go to in the film is the same studio I took my first band into.

The party scene in the film takes place in my old flat.

In the movie, I am falling in love with Markéta. In real life, I introduced John to Markéta as we were becoming very close.

I was a daily busker from age 13 to 18 which is the same as this character. My relationship with the street is the same. Even the busking location is the same. Plus the guitar I use now is the same as the one I used then.

These were all stories of my life that John used. 

Geoff: So it is a semi-biography…

This is John´s film and every decision was his to make. I was not the original choice for the lead actor, but when John took me on board, I told him ‘I´m going to really want my own say on a lot of stuff.” So the three of us really ironed out the character together.

So we decided that if there would be a song in the film, it would have to be a full song. It would have to be live and it would have to be in a real situation. Let´s have it be real and not ask anyone to suspend belief. There is no lip-syncing in this movie.

We decided that we would never pander to the possibility of what people might want or expect. Let´s just make this film exactly the way we want to without compromise.

I´m an idealist in these sorts of situations. I say make good art, and pay absolutely no attention to how it is perceived. It´s none of your business what people think of you or your art.

Geoff: With all of this fortune smiling down upon you, do you still find the time to busk?

Glen: I do busk still. But of course I only ever do it for fun. I never really did it for money. Whenever I needed money, it was never there.

Here is another idealistic concept: Fortune is an innocent and beautiful thing, almost like a fawn or a child. You can´t chase it because it will only run. It´s very fragile and it has to be attracted to you before it will come to you. And the only way to attract fortune is by sticking to your guns and ignoring it.

Geoff: Being as beautiful as you can be so that it will be attracted to you

Glen: Exactly. And this is why I am so over-the-moon excited about the movie´s success so far. It blows me away that people have taken it into their hearts and that it has resonated with them.

Geoff: One last question: I want to design a Vacuum-cleaner-powered bicycle. Can you help me build it?

Glen: (Laughs) I can help you with the bicycle part, but I´m afraid that the vacuum-cleaner story is all false.

Geoff: I still believe every word of it.

Once, directed by Jason Carney, staring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, screened twice at the MOFFOM festival and is now in wide release on Prague screens (showtimes here). It is a story of two souls coming together over music. Go buy yourself a ticket, stay present, and enjoy this truly special film.

Glen´s band The Frames

Would you like us to write about your business? Find out more