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Anyone who caught Sharon Horgan’s Irish comedy Bad Sisters on Apple TV+ will recognize her as Becka Garvey, the comically raucous, drunken and shambolic youngest of the bad sisters and one of the best characters in a deservedly much-loved show. For Eve Hewson, the role of Becka — which she admits is somewhat close to herself — was a definite career turning point after more than a decade of acting.
Just a few months on and Hewson’s career is set to take another leap forward, this time as the lead in the long-awaited next feature from one of her native Dublin’s most beloved filmmakers, John Carney. Seven years after Sing Street (and 15 years after his Oscar-winning breakout Once), the writer-director returns with yet another of his musical offerings in Flora and Son, bowing on Jan. 22 in Sundance. The Dublin-set film sees Hewson play a wayward mother who finds that’s she’s finally able to bond with her equally troublesome son, played by Orén Kinlan, via music (and a stolen guitar). Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as an online guitar tutor.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the premiere, Hewson — who also happens the be the second eldest child of U2 frontman Bono — discusses overcoming a “massive, massive fear” of singing in the movie, and why she never turned to her dad for musical tips: “I’d rather sing in front of the entire world.”
Congratulations on Flora and Son heading to Sundance. Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this your first leading film role?
I guess it’s my first major film. I led this film called Paper Year, many years ago. It was a tiny indie that obviously no one saw but it’s actually really good. And then I’ve done TV shows as well. But this is my first like, big, big movie splash.
How would you describe Flora and Son?
Oh my God, you’re the first person to ask this, so I’m probably gonna butcher it. But it’s basically a story about a mother and a son and how music ends up bringing them together. They have this sort of hilarious disfunctional relationship where she had him when she was a teenager and never really took full responsibility for being a mother. And she’s out partying and doing drugs and listening to techno music, but he’s out robbing music shops and being a little troublemaker. She decides to steal a guitar for him for his birthday. And he tells her to fuck off. But one night when she’s drunk in her apartment, she decides to learn the guitar herself and then through sort of learning about music, it opens her up and then they bond through that.
It sounds like a classic John Carney story. It’s been a number of years since we’ve had a film from him. Do you think people are going to love Flora and Son as much as they loved Once and Sing Street?
Oh yeah. It’s probably the most John movie John has ever made. What I love about it, and what I wish I saw more in theaters, was that it takes you on a journey. As a film is supposed to. It’s a story about these characters living together trying to coexist and it’s not based on a book or superhero or any of those things. We don’t have to already be connected to her when you meet her. But you end up falling in love with her and rooting for her and going on that emotional journey of being charmed and then having your heart broken and it coming all together at the end like a perfect film should. And it’s really fun and kind of dirty and raunchy. Then it also like stabs you in the heart with just pure optimism. I genuinely think people will love it because we need it.
It sort of reminds me of Wild Rose, which was one of my favorite films of the last few years.
Oh I loved Wild Rose! Yeah, it’s in the same vein of showing the power of music, and how you can turn on the radio and listen to a song and you don’t have to know anything about the person who’s singing but you feel something. And I guess that’s sort of the magic of how it’s used in our movie as well.
Given that it’s your first leading movie role, how did it come your way?
It was honestly my agent, who just sent it to me and kept saying ‘You have to read John’s movie, it’s so good.’ I did and it was one of my favorite scripts I’ve ever ever read. And I met with John and he was stupid enough to cast me — I don’t know why. We’re on Zoom and we’re talking about it and I was like, “Okay, I want to do it.” I usually never ever put myself in that position. I guess it’s more of an American thing to just sort of go after what you want. I’m a little bit more Irish, a bit more coy. But for whatever reason, I was just feeling confident that day and I was like, “I want to do it” and he said, “Okay, let’s do it.”
Once won an Oscar for original song. Are there any in this that could potentially go the distance?
Sure, and they’re beautiful. It was really one of the best moviemaking moments I’ve had in my life, because I’ve never sung before. I never cared to sing before. I’m not particularly good at it. So when I was talking to John I was like, “You know, I’m not a Beyoncé. But I can tell a story about someone who’s trying to express something and make it sound good.” And that’s sort of what I offered on the table. But I was so nervous about singing and John’s so funny in the way that he works, it’s so instinctive and such an in-the-moment creation for him. So I was thinking I was going to get the songs way before we shot so I could practice and be really prepared, but by the time we started shooting, there were no songs. Like nothing. So we would shoot Monday through Friday, and every Saturday we’d go to the studio together and would sit there and would write songs together. And it was the best part of the whole experience, because it would be me, Joe Gordon-Levitt, Gary Clark, our music supervisor, and John, just the four of us, and he’d say “Listen, if we don’t come up with something, we’re not going to shoot it next week.” And within hours, we would have written a song and then I’d say, “Okay, can I go home and practice this for a week.” And they’d be like, “I think you should just record it right now.”
So I’m assuming, in the film, when we see and hear you singing, it’s all you singing?
It is all me singing. The whole thing and not even with Auto-Tune when you can just fix that little bit to make it a bit better. We actually really like that. It’s sort of off and sounds like a real person. I overcame a massive, massive fear doing that. I would rather swim with sharks.
Excuse my ignorance, but could you already play the guitar?
Yeah. I grew up playing music. But I actually hated the guitar, I hate the strings and the calluses and once I got to chords, I was like, fuck this. But yeah, I played guitar when I was younger but was more into the drums and piano. Those are my instruments. I grew up in a sort of traveling circus home and they just sent us to all these different music classes every day after school so they could get rid of us.
Sorry to ask this, but obviously your dad is pretty well known for his music skills. Did you get any singing tips or run any of the songs past him?
Not until they were done. Because I knew that he would start to come in with lots of ideas to help me with my singing. And I have to say, I would rather sing in front of the entire world than for my dad. It would be terrifying. I mean, he’s a really, really good singer. So he was very sweet and wanted to help and I was just like, no. But he got to hear the finished product and loved it. But yeah, otherwise, he was just gonna get in my head.
Away from the film, I did notice that you had comically embraced the recent “Nepo Baby” debate on Twitter that sprang up following a New York magazine article.
Oh yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people don’t get that this has been sort of my narrative my whole life. So I have a lot of fun jokes to crack about it. So yeah, I just thought it was hilarious. And that article was so hilarious. I just thought, why not have some fun?
I appreciate you’ve been acting for some time, but do you feel like over the last couple of years, with Behind Her Eyes on Netflix and particularly Bad Sisters, you’re finally coming into people’s vision and getting the recognition and roles you’ve been looking for?
Yeah and it’s such a great feeling. I mean, I’ve always been acting, and I’ve always worked with incredible directors and gotten great parts, but they’ve never really got the attention that I got in the last year or two. And in a way that’s been a blessing. I’ve been acting since I was 18. And I’m 31 now. So I just feel far more centered to, I guess, take it on and in a much better place than probably I would have if I was 22. But yeah, it’s a fantastic feeling to be able to say, “These are all of the things that I’ve done and I’m so proud of them.” And particularly Bad Sisters. To be in a show that you’re truly, truly, truly proud of, is just the best feeling in the world. We made that show not knowing if anybody was going to watch it and it just spread like wildfire. And my character is so close to my heart and so close to who I am and so different to the roles I usually go out for. I spent so much of my 20s driving around to different auditions for roles like “the hot girl with tits.” And Becka is just the complete antithesis to that and it’s the role that I have gotten the most respect for. So that is the most rewarding, happy, warm feeling you can have as an actor.
Speaking of Bad Sisters, as much as I absolutely loved the show, I was surprised when Apple commissioned a second season because the story seemed to wrap up so perfectly. Any idea where Sharon is going to take it next?
I have a little bit of an idea. Sharon’s an absolute gangster, and I think she’ll be able to come up with a way of continuing the story where it feels just as dramatic and just as thrilling and just as fun. I’ve heard some really, really great rumors. There’s always that fear of like, oh no, the second album or second season. But I know Sharon so well and I think she’ll work twice as hard as she did on the first one, because she wants to make it just as good. And now the pressure is so high. When we made it we didn’t know if people would watch it. But now it’s like, people ARE watching so we’ve got to make it good!
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