Take me to your boozer
Where there was Glen Hansard cooing and strumming, now there’s vinyl-clad Simon Delaney supping around rural 1950s Ireland. The Carney brothers tell Donald Clarke about deciding to just be funny again and detail the long evolution of their new comedy
DON’T TELL John Carney that Zonad doesn’t look much like Once or Bachelor’s Walk. Three years after the former wowed at the Sundance Film Festival, nearly a decade since the latter series energised Irish TV, Carney has joined forces with his brother Kieran – a collaborator on Bachelor’s Walk – to deliver a delightfully nutty, low-budget comedy about a faux-alien with a taste for pints and sausages. You will have seen ads on the side of buses featuring Simon Delaney, the titular faker, wearing a disturbingly shiny vinyl jumpsuit.
“This is definitely something that people will either love and hate,” John says. “If anyone else says ‘Oh it’s not like Once or Bachelor’s Walk’, I’ll go mad. If you’ve seen the poster, you shouldn’t expect Glen Hansard to come in and sing a song or Don Wycherley to wander in moaning. Look, it’s a Mel Brooks rip off, or whatever. For anybody to say it’s really different is madness.”
Kieran (older, slightly more reserved) and John (more agitated, but equally at home in scuffed Dublin 6 corduroy) have, I would guess, been working on Zonad for longer than Stanley Kubrick worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Indeed, the film’s prehistory has taken on the quality of a legend.
As long ago as 2003, the brothers – working with Bachelor’s Walk colleague Tom Hall – knocked together an ultra-cheap version of the film featuring rising star Cillian Murphy. Look hard on the internet and you will find scrappy clips from the project.
“It was kind of a pilot version of a real film that might be an internet film. We made it with a handheld camera in my flat. Every now and then, I’d go to bed and maybe Tom or Kieran would direct a bit. The plan was to find out what definitely wouldn’t play in the script.”
So where is this important artefact? A collaboration between the Carneys and sapphire-eyed idol Murphy is, surely, something worth analysing in depth. It transpires that Zonad 1.0 no longer exists.
“It is quite genuinely lost,” Kieran says. “That’s not just a story. It really has gone missing. Actually, I’d sincerely love to see it again.” His brother takes up the tale.
“It’s very simple,” says John. “We hired an Avid editing machine. We digitised the film and cut it on to one VHS tape – which was in the Avid. Then they took the machine because we hadn’t paid the bill. We never saw the tape again.”
John and Kieran are men of some accomplishments. The former was, of course, once a member of The Frames and is currently preparing a Hollywood comedy entitled Townhouse starring – all going smoothly – The Hangover’s Zach Galifianakis. Kieran wrote the hilarious play Afters, which became a hit on the London fringe in the mid-1990s, and is now adapting Paul Murray’s novel An Evening of Long Goodbyes for the cinema. But, when telling stories of their crazy, crazy antics, you catch flavours of the squabbling teenagers they once were.
It’s interesting to note that directing duos – think the Coens, the Wachowskis, the Dardennes, the Maysles, the Farrellys – are invariably brothers. “Well, it’s like putting on a play with your family,” John says, turning to Kieran. “Remember when I first borrowed a video camera. It was you and me and our brother Jim and our sister doing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Then we’d go back and watch it with seven friends. We’d laugh at the continuity and at our sister dressed up as this Victorian harlot.”
Kieran manages to sneak a word in edgeways
“The partnership did develop from Bachelor’s Walk – the two of us and Tom,” he says. “But I think it was easier here because we are just trying to be funny – nothing else. There’s no great thematic agenda. So there’s less to argue about.”
The boys have, to my mind, succeeded in their aim “to be funny”. Early reviews have been positive, but, at any screening of Zonad, you will encounter more than a few Once fans shaking their heads at the madness of it all.
“I am delighted by the responses,” says Kieran. “It’s really gratifying that people are hating it or being really generous about it. That’s much better than broad acceptance. Any indifferent project can secure that.”
Simon Delaney begins his earthly adventures in Zonad. Below: John and Kieran Carney