Interview: Markéta Irglová Discusses the Legacy of ONCE, 14 Years Later

The film was adapted into a Broadway musical starring Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in 2011. 

By: May. 13, 2021
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Interview: Markéta Irglová Discusses the Legacy of ONCE, 14 Years Later

Last week at the Turner Classic Film Festival, all eyes were on "Once," which celebrated its 14th anniversary with a festival screening.

BroadwayWorld had the chance to speak with Markéta Irglová, who starred alongside Glen Hansard in the modern classic romantic musical. She also co-wrote and performed her Academy Award winning song, "Falling Slowly," for the film.

"Once" is a modern-day musical about a busker and an immigrant and their eventful week in Dublin, as they write, rehearse and record songs that tell their love story.

The film was adapted into a Broadway musical starring Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in 2011.

In our conversation with Markéta, we covered her favorite fan reactions, the way the movie makes her feel now as compared to when she made the film at age 17, and how she felt about the Broadway musical adaptation of "Once."

Read the full interview below!

What is it like to have created a "classic film"?

It is really amazing! Sometimes it feels a little bit unreal, and a lot of the time you forget that happened, because you continue with your life. And every time something reminds you of it, or someone makes you think of it, or somebody tells you about it or you see it somewhere, you just have a sense of pride that you're a part of something that touched people.

What did ONCE do for you, personally and professionally?

Personally, it sort of showed me that perhaps there was another way forward in life than finishing high school and then going on to university. I thought, this is fun. I like being around creative people. I like working on a common goal together. And maybe this could be something for me!

So, I sort of continued on that path after ONCE, also because it became more popular than anybody had expected originally, and especially the Oscar win gave us the opportunity to tour the world with the music. Seeing the world and all these different places, and all the people that I've met, and all the doors that it opened. It just set the bar really high for me right at the beginning, and showed me that the only thing that matters is just following whatever your dream is, and whatever your passion is. Following that and seeing where it leads you.

You don't always know exactly what happens in the future, but the experience definitely taught me that the possibilities of the future are much more exciting than what we can imagine with our limited minds. There are things that we think are impossible that are not impossible after all. So that's been a really good lesson to get so young in life.

You won an Academy Award for "Falling Slowly" - I actually performed it in high school, you hear it everywhere. It's perfect. Can you tell me about the first time you heard it in public, out of context?

I don't remember the very first time, it was on the radio or something, that must've been our version. And that's a really great thing you, know but, it doesn't compare to hearing somebody to cover it. I think whenever I hear somebody else, somebody else's voice singing the melody and somebody's playing the song, and somebody's learned the lyrics, and they're performing it with others in their bedroom, or onstage.

It doesn't matter, it always feels as incredible to me that something that was written in my bedroom in my hometown is now being played through other people all over the world. It really makes the world feel a lot smaller than it seems. And it really blows me away, actually, that you can touch people's hearts with the song, and that creates a connection, somehow, that transmits energy back and forth.

And I always get a little tingly feeling whenever I hear it! Still, even to this day.

What was the process like in writing all the songs for the film?

At the time, I was still very young, and not very experienced in songwriting. Glen [Hansard] was sort of leading the thing, and I was following. And he would bring an idea to the table, like, "I was thinking this, and the lyrics could fit this, what do you think? Do you like it?" And if I was excited about it, we would continue working on it together. I would start adding harmonies, and because we spent so much time together as friends, it was just an organic way of sharing ideas and talking about songs.

He was really encouraging me to also bring my own ideas to the table, so I did. Then he would give me feedback on them. And at some point, we just kind of brought those ideas to John Carney, the director. And he expressed how he felt about them, and scenes where he thought they would fit really well. He was especially excited about "Falling Slowly." Most people sort of pin that one as the one that they connected to the most immediately.

So, we went into a studio in the Czech Republic to record the songs, just to have them, and we decided to call the record The Swell Season, which our band was called later. And the songs were released in another form through the soundtrack when the movie came out and became popular.

Something I love about ONCE is it feels so ephemeral, like a snapshot of a very specific time and place and relationship. Do you still feel like the person you were when you made the film, 14 years ago?

No. No, actually, I'm looking at it - and, sure, it's a version of myself, but still a version that's outside of me. Like, somebody that I kind of want to go over and hug, to be honest. It was a lot to take in for me, at the time. It followed with its own challenges, and its own sort of lessons to incorporate and learn from. So, I do look at myself and just want to give myself a hug, actually!

When's the last time you saw the film before the [Turner Classic Movie] festival?

I watched it maybe three years ago with my daughters. They sort of expressed interest in seeing it, and they had their friends over, and suddenly it was playing - we had it on iTunes. So they just put the movie on.

And I walked into the room to give them some snacks and drinks, and there it was. So I sat on the couch and watched it with them for a bit, and it was all the more incredible to have my daughters watch it and see it and feel how proud they were of their mom.

One of my daughters is nearing the age I was when I acted in the movie now. She's 15 - she's my stepdaughter, she's 15, and I was 17 when I acted. It's interesting. It makes time feel very strange, and sort of unlinear, somehow. Sometimes I feel like all these things are happening at the same time, somehow, and I just sort of jump in between.

But it's always as amazing a feeling. It's always something that gives me an immense amount of pride. I never get tired of hearing people say how much they like it and how much it influenced them. It's just something that will clearly follow me for the rest of my life, and it's wonderful.

ONCE really means so much to so many people - do you have a favorite fan encounter?

There's many that I remember. One that jumped into my head immediately was a man that came up to me, either before or after a concert in the states. And he had tattooed a part of my Oscar speech on his arm!

He was showing it to me, and it was amazing! Part of me kind of wondered, why would you do that?! And another part of me thought, how incredible that he connected with what I said to that extent! Because that was sincerely my hope - that as much as I didn't have a speech prepared, that I would manage to say something that actually reached across time and space, and made a difference to people in their own way. It happened beyond what I could have planned or imagined, so that one sticks to me for that reason.

And there were girls that had made me pieces of jewelry that they gave to me when they asked me to sign their record, and it always blew me away as well when we had children or older people in our audience. Because it made me feel so good, that the audience was so broad. It was the kind of music anybody could enjoy.

I don't know how many people came up to me and said that they went to see the movie on their first date and they ended up getting married, or proposing, or anything. I've wondered about it countless times - what is it about this movie that seems to go right into people's hearts, and affect them in such a huge way? And I think it's something invisible. Something in between the lines, something that nobody can really put a finger on. But it feels so personal, and at the same time universal. It's so easy to connect to the characters.

Actually, I hadn't seen anything like that for a long time until recently when I was watching NORMAL PEOPLE, the series. It's the first thing I saw that I felt how it affected me, and how I was feeling watching these characters in these stories, and knowing that they're actors but forgetting it completely while watching the episodes, and wishing so much that those people were real. For no apparent reason!

I was like, I think this is how people must have felt about ONCE. It was the first time I'd seen something that sort of made me feel, finally, like I understood what people had meant. And it was a really nice thing. I really appreciated that experience.

That's such an interesting connection - there's really that same feeling of connection, and longing for a future that probably can't exist for these characters, but you want it anyway.


In ONCE, you really explore that connection through the music. What led you to start making music, and what sustains you making music?

I think the reason I came into this world was to make music. I just didn't know it when I was small, because, for example, with my daughter - she seems to have known it from day one, what she's here to do. I wasn't like that.

What I knew when I was little growing up was that I wanted to help people. That was my thing. So I thought of different ways of doing that when I thought of who I'd become when I grew up, and usually it was a doctor, or nurse, or animal doctor, or a teacher. I was kind of working from the mind frame of what I was getting from my family, who wanted me to eventually find something that sustained me in the way that I could have a good life, financially.

As much as my parents loved music, and were very social - there were always some people from different countries as guests in our home, you know. If I had come up to them and said, "I want to be a musician," they would have discouraged me from it, I'm sure. It can be a difficult life, a life of struggling.

But then Glen came into our lives, and he really - the whole family really took to him, and we all sort of embraced him as part of our family. He was the one who started bringing out the kind of passion for music, I guess. I had been classically trained, and all of a sudden he showed me there's other ways of making music than just learning classical pieces. He said, "You should try and write," and I was so inspired by his music that I did. I felt like with every song, I got a little better at it.

It was really my meeting Glen that was the destiny moment which changed everything. Without having met him, I would have hardly gone on the path I've gone on. I think he was the main reason I ended up following this thread.

Lastly, what was your involvement in the production of the stage musical? And what are your feelings about it?

My involvement was very minimal. They didn't really want my involvement, anyway. I don't know how it was for Glen. But I got the sense when I was meeting with the producers and the creators that they really just wanted to make it their own thing.

Initially, they had offered us to be cast in the roles, which we said no to because it just didn't feel right at the time. And after that, it seemed like they just wanted to create their own sort of piece. They didn't need our assistance beyond Glen ended up training Steve Kazee, who was playing Guy. He trained him a little in the sense of how he plays his guitar, and how he was singing. That was probably very helpful.

Otherwise, I didn't have any involvement whatsoever. They asked me to meet Cristin [Milioti] at a coffee shop at some point, and she said she hadn't watched the movie, and she didn't really want to because she didn't want to be influenced by the movie or the character.

So, I think after that, I didn't really hear from them until the Broadway show was onstage. We were invited; there was a premiere. It was just incredible to see it. I felt amazing about it. I thought they did a great job, and I was nothing but proud. I understood absolutely how it became so well-received and why it stayed on the Broadway stage for so long. They did a really, really nice job staying true to the movie, but also adapting it very well to a new format. I think they did a wonderful job.

ONCE is still available on HBO Max for a limited time as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Watch the trailer for the film here:

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