Star of Irish blockbuster reveals how everyone thought he was a girl
Just a year ago he was busking to earn some extra pocket money. Now teenager Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is poised for stardom – after landing the lead role in the most acclaimed Irish film in decades.
The Co. Wicklow youngster has already landed a Hollywood agent based on his performance in the charming Sing Street.
The movie, set in the 1980s, centres on a group of kids in real-life Dublin school Synge Street, who decide to form their own band.
Their lead singer Conor (played by Ferdia) is using music to escape bullying at the hands of fellow students and the Christian Brothers – and to catch the eye of the glamorous Raphina. The charming comedy/drama comes from Once director John Carney.
Several U.S. agents scrambled to sign the 16-year-old actor and musician ahead of the film’s stateside release, we can reveal.
He eventually joined forces with talent scout James Farrell for giant U.S. agency William Morris Endeavour, but the down-to-earth teen from Ashford is taking the fuss in his stride.
“A lot of people had requested to get in touch, but I really liked what James was saying,” he told the Sunday World.
“He’s aware of my age and says we should take it slowly, build it up. It’s a great position to be in and I consider myself very lucky.”
This isn’t Ferdia’s first brush with fame. From a very musical family, he was a boy soprano who performed at classical concerts and operas, but it was a slot on The Late Late Toy Show at the age of 12 that gave him his first taste of screen exposure.
“That was fun, just brilliant. They paired me with this beautiful, great singer named Rachel and we sang a rendition of O Holy Night together and I played piano.
“It was really funny, ‘cos my mum got loads of texts the next morning saying: ‘Your daughter was lovely on The Late Late Show.’ I’d quite long hair at the time and I was singing really high. I was a boy soprano, so people thought I was a girl.”
Ferdia was picked to play the lead in the movie, which opens here next weekend, after film bosses scouted hundreds of Irish kids around the country.
“I’d never been in a film before, I just went into an open casting. I knew it was for John Carney’s next film and I was a big fan of Once,” he said.
“I performed Blackbird by The Beatles. I’ve quite a weird taste in music for my generation. I’m a big folk fan, The Beatles is as pop as I go. The reason I chose it was because it has a good vocal part, but also a tricky enough guitar part, so I got to show both sides.
“When I got the role, I was out with my mates in Bray. We were busking on the street playing music and having a great time when I heard I got the film. It was a great moment, a fond memory.”
In fact, he used to regularly busk in Dublin and Bray to earn extra pocket money.
“We made the most money in Bray, people loved that we were out playing music. Dublin was tougher, we’d go to Temple Bar and Grafton Street. There was more of a buzz, but it was harder to make money and we’d keep getting robbed in Temple Bar.
“It was like a scene in Once – one day a guy took our bag and ran and we all dropped our instruments and ran after him.”
Ferdia’s mum Toni is a singing teacher and both of his older brothers work in the music industry.
“They had us all practising music growing up and I feel like I’m sharing all of this with them. They totally understand me and what position I’m in, so it’s great.
“My brothers are in music and both into film so they’re really interested. My little sister is delighted, she’s telling all her friends.”