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Flora and Son Stars Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt on John Carney, Learning Guitar, and More

Filmmaker John Carney returned to the Sundance Film Festival this past January to showcase his latest musical marvel, Flora and Son, 16 years after debuting his earlier film Once there.  Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt headline the cast, and they’re no strangers to Sundance either, previously representing Tesla, Brick, and 500 Days of Summer, among others.

Above the Line had the chance to speak with Hewson and Gordon-Levitt about their impressions of Carney – check out our conversation with the director here – and the chance to work together. Those interviews were conducted separatedly but have been edited together below.

Hewson and Gordon-Levitt, who both recently appeared on Apple TV+ series Bad Sisters and Mr. Corman, respectively, celebrated the chance to make a movie about two people connecting over technology and music. They also reflected on some of the hidden gems from their resumés that they would encourage fans to check out after they watch Flora and Son, which is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

Above The Line: What did you know about John Carney before coming onto this film? 

Eve Hewson: I knew John when I was a teenager. I’d met him in passing around Dublin, it’s a small town. I loved his movies. I loved Sing Street. I always wanted to work with him and I was like, “I’m Irish, will you cast me one day?” But I hadn’t seen him in years and years and years, and my agent sent me the script. I fell in love with it, but John was like, “I don’t know if she’s right for this part.” I don’t think he was thinking about me seriously. He couldn’t place me as a character, and it wasn’t until we got on Zoom together where we really bonded, and we really connected. We had all these different, electric ideas about who Flora could be, so he was sold. He was like, “Okay. She can be Flora.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I’m a big fan of John Carney. Look, I love movie musicals. The thing is, though, that most movie musicals I don’t necessarily connect with that much, whereas John Carney’s musicals I always have. He just has a way of making musicals that feels real, where you feel like you’re watching real people feeling real feelings. I find it so charming and moving. So, yeah, when a John Carney script came across my desk, I jumped at the chance.

ATL: What was your familiarity with your main co-star prior to working together?

Hewson: I’ve been watching Joe since forever in films and was blown away when he was cast, so I was really excited to meet him. Then everyone was anticipating him coming to Ireland, and then, the first day I met him, we had to write a song together and sing for each other. It was a real baptism of fire, but that helped us bond quickly.

Gordon-Levitt: I had not seen Eve. I’m very out of touch with pop culture, you have to know this about me. I’m a dad and if you ask me about what movies are out or what music’s out right now or whatever, I’m woefully ignorant. So I hadn’t seen Eve’s work. She’s brilliant! She’s such a great actress. It was a real pleasure getting to play this part with her!

Eve Hewson in Flora and Son (Apple)

ATL: What was your previous experience with the guitar? 

Gordon-Levitt: I’ve played guitar ever since I was young, but I never focused much on the fingerpicking. I usually played with the pick-strumming thing. So John wanted this character to do fingerpicking-style guitar, so that took some practice. I was glad to do it. It was fun to practice music for a movie. I’m not used to that. I’ve played music, like I said, most of my life, but I’m always just doing it for myself. I’ve never been practicing the guitar for work, so that was something new and different.

Hewson: I had played guitar when I was younger, and I hated it. I don’t like playing the guitar, but when I had to relearn it, it was really hard. But I use this app called Yousician. Have you heard of this app? It’s amazing. It’s like a game almost, but I spent like two months on my iPad strumming it out, learning all the chords again, and then, on top of playing the character at night, I had to go home and learn all these songs on the guitar, so it was a lot of work.

ATL: Would you take a class from someone online to learn how to play an instrument?

Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, sure. Look, I spent years doing online collaborative creativity through HITRECORD, this community I started with my brother years ago. So to me, it comes very naturally to connect and collaborate with people and make art together with people on the Internet. I think that’s part of why this role felt so right for me. I was like, “This is what I do, man! You have to let me play this part.” John didn’t want to give me the part at first. He thought that it should be a well-known professional, brilliant musician. I was like, “No, dude, it should be someone like me. I can play, I can sing, but I’m not some famous rock star. I’ll seem like a real guy. That’s what this character needs,” and luckily, he listened.

Hewson: No, I don’t think so. I mean, she’s quite drunk when she does it, so maybe if I’d had a glass of wine. That scene where’s she’s going through all the different guitar teachers, it’s so funny, and then John throws himself in there for a little bit. I don’t know if I would do that.

Eve Hewson in Flora & Son (Apple)

ATL: How did you film the scenes where you were on Zoom together? 

Hewson: Joe was on another set on the same set, but next to us, and we had these little horrible ear buds where we were listening to each other and trying to build chemistry through the Zoom. It was tricky at the beginning, but it also helped because that was realistic. We’re both trying to get to know someone on Zoom in the film, so it kind of worked. One of the things I loved when I read that script was how beautiful the idea of the camera turning around and he’s just sitting there at the kitchen table was. When I saw it in the movie, and everybody says “Oh, my God,” it just brings this element of fantasy to a story that you think is so grounded and real with these characters. I think that’s John’s special touch. He’s not afraid to throw in the cinematic magic. So that was really nice to have me and Joe actually get to be together and speak to each other and feel that space.

Gordon-Levitt: It’s an interesting role that technology plays in this movie. Ten years ago, I was probably nothing but an optimist about digital technology and its ability to help us connect with each other and be creative together, and I still hold onto that optimism. Obviously, the last decade has also shown us that there have been some really dark and destructive and poisonous pitfalls to the way technology has been used. And the way that the businesses have made their money with surveillance advertising and mass engagement and addiction. I actually really take my hat off to Apple, who hasn’t fallen into some of these, what I think are really poisonous business models. Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent. To me, Flora and Son, it’s really nice to have an example of a positive use of digital technology where you have these two people, they’re connecting through digital technology over music. But they’re not doing it through one of these platforms. They’re not trying to be influencers, they’re not posting every day and counting the likes and the followers and shit. It’s not about any of that. It’s about two people connecting to each other, learning, growing, playing music, going in deep. And that’s lovely that someone from Los Angeles can connect with someone from Dublin and make that happen. That’s a good thing. If only technology were always that way.

Orén Kinlan with Hewson in Flora & Son (Apple)

ATL: What was it like screening the film with an audience at Sundance back in January?

Gordon-Levitt: That was a special night. Sundance is such a beautiful place and holds a dear place in my heart. I’ve been to a few Sundance screenings that have that feeling where you’re like, “Oh, this is landing!” I remember the first night that Brick showed at Sundance. Brick was Rian Johnson’s first movie, who’s now gone on to make Knives Out and Last Jedi and Looper and so many other great movies. I remember the first night that (500) Days of Summer played at Sundance. You could also just tell, “This movie is going to be one that people really connect to.” You just felt it in the audience. Flora and Son really felt that feeling as strongly as ever, to be honest. People were clapping along to the music at the end. How often do people do something like that in a cinema? I didn’t know this movie was going to resonate with people so strongly. I’m delighted it did.

Hewson: It was the best. I’ll never forget it. It was so good. My mom was there, and we just exploded with fun. Having people laugh at your jokes and then hearing people sniffle and cry at the right point, and then everyone’s just clapping along. It’s crazy. I took my grandmother to a screening in Dublin, just to a showing at the cinema when it came out, and the same thing happened. The movie works very well with a group of people. I think it’s a communal experience for people. By the end of it, everyone is clapping and tapping their feet and you can feel that they’re uplifted by it. And I think it plays both ways. That’s what’s so good about this film. I’ve showed it to some friends, and there’s like two of us in the room, and it still worked. It’s got that intimate thing as well, so I think Apple TV+ is a perfect home for it.

ATL: I understand that Bad Sisters is already well into production of Season Two, because it’s not guild-affiliated. Can you preview anything?

Hewson: Yes, it’s equity because we’re all Irish. So yeah, we started in September. And it’s good. I can’t say anything, but I will give my two cents. I do think it’s better than Season One. Truly, the scripts are knockout good.

ATL: Your place on the call sheet is very different when it comes to Flora and Son and Bad Sisters. Do you have a preference between being the lead and being part of a definite ensemble?

Hewson: Oh my God, they’re very different positions. When you’re the lead, you’re the leader, you know what I mean? You’ve got to be there every day. You’ve got to show up. Bad Sisters is like, we go to work, but we’re all hanging out. We’re gossiping, we’re talking. It’s a little bit easier. I like them both. It’s a good mix.

ATL: You’ve both had other great projects through the years. Is there anything else that you’ve done that you feel like you want people to go back and check out that hasn’t been seen enough? 

Gordon-Levitt. I really like Hesher. It’s about a twelve-year-old kid getting over the death of his mother, and I play this weird, Mary Poppins Grim Reaper figure named Hesher who listens to Metallica and blows shit up. Manic was the first time I ever went to Sundance, and I’m still very proud of that movie. That was the first time I ever met Zooey Deschanel. Don Cheadle is also in that movie. He’s one of the greatest actors of our time. I was really honored to work with him. Those are some lesser-known ones for sure.

Hewson: Oh my god, The Knick, absolutely. Behind Her Eyes. Enough Said, that was one of my early films that I did with Likely Story, who did Flora. Yeah, hopefully they’ll go back into the catalog and watch some of my older stuff.

Flora and Son is now available to stream on Apple TV+.

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