ARTS AND FEATURES — 22 April 2014

Although he has been a pop star, playing a musician in Songs for Amy meant so much more to Sean

By David Hennessy

“Often they break down into the jobs you do for money and paying the bills, and then there’s the ones you do because you love the piece and you want to see it get made and you think you can offer something to it. This was certainly the latter,” London-Irish actor Sean Maguire says of his forthcoming movie, Galway shot romantic comedy, Songs for Amy.

Asked if it was a labour of love, Sean says: “Very much so, and a lot more of the love and less of the labour. Learning the guitar was kind of tough because I only had a certain amount of time to learn it but that’s something I’ve always wanted to do and just been too lazy and undisciplined to do so. That’s kind of one of the things I love about my job, it’s that every now and again, you’re forced to learn something that you kind of want to learn how to do but have been too lazy to do in the past.

Acting since he was five, when he was cast opposite Laurence Olivier in A Voyage Round My Father, Sean is recognisable from his appearances in Grange Hill, Eastenders, Dangerfield and more recently, Scott & Bailey and The 7.39. Much of Sean’s work has come in America, including appearances in Criminal Minds and CSI: New York and he is currently appearing as Robin Hood in the massive ABC fairytale drama, Once Upon a Time that also stars Robert Carlyle, Colin O’Donoghue, Sarah Bolger and previously featured Jamie Dornan.

His character, also called Sean, in Songs for Amy is a struggling singer/songwriter and while another actor may have relished the chance to play a musician as that would be the closest they would come to being a musical performer, Sean had a successful pop career in the mid nineties, recording two albums and having 8 singles chart in the top 30.

Did the role remind Sean of his former career? “Yes and no, probably the only similarities between my experience in music and playing a musician in this film is that there’s singing involved but that’s really the beginning and end of the similarities. I was a lot more comfortable being Sean in this film than I was in my own skin being a pop star because the songs in this film felt a lot closer to my heart than any of the material I recorded when I was  making records. It’s just weird because I was a kid when I did the music and I didn’t really have an awful lot of respect for myself because even though I wrote a lot of material, it wasn’t really music that I was invested in, it was more what the record company wanted me to make and fans, whatever that demographic expected me to record and do even though it was never really the kind of music I was into, so I felt a bit more like JJ than Sean, I just never really felt like I was really proud of myself because it wasn’t music I really believed in whereas in the movie, the kind of music that Sean’s recording is much closer to stuff that I feel passionate about. It was actually one of the reasons I wanted to do the film because to go back and be involved in music again but music that I felt a connection with and genuine about. It was so much more of a pleasurable experience than recording disposable pop music that I didn’t really believe in.”

Sean and his screen band mates in a scene from the film

When a wild night on the town makes Sean late for his own wedding, his girlfriend Amy is furious, telling Sean it is over. Sean and his band had been working on a collection of songs dedicated to her but it looks like she’ll never hear them as she relocates to New York and becomes involved with the fake pop star, JJ. A year later, Sean has inherited a hotel and can’t believe when he finds out JJ and Amy are getting married there. But it could be one last chance for her to hear his material written for her.

Kevin Ryan of Copper plays JJ. Other recognisable faces in the cast are James Cosmo, Patrick Bergin and Aoibhinn McGinnity of Love/Hate.

“I just felt that I understood this guy and I felt like I’d been through what he’d been through in terms of being in love and losing the person that you love. I’d never gone off and made an album to express myself, I have made albums but not for those reasons, but I just felt that there was something I could bring to this guy. When I’m looking at a job, even before I’ve got it, if I’m asked to audition or I’m given a script, if I don’t think there’s something I can bring to him that’s uniquely from my own experience or just something I think I can offer, then I won’t bother. Unless you’ve got  a real perspective on this person, you’re gonna get whooped by someone else who has. With Sean, I really felt like I’d understood that part of love and break ups and heartbreak and all of that and I just felt a real connection.”

Learning the guitar was necessary if the film was going to look and feel authentic: “My friend and the director Konrad Begg was very, very adamant about being very real even to the point where there’s a couple of bits where you see me hit wrong notes and things are very far from perfect and I’d go ‘we’ll do that again’  but he would say: ‘No, no, I like it when you play it wrong and I like it when you’re out of tune and stuff because I want people to really see that Sean’s a real guy and everything is real and not perfect and over produced’.

“You want JJ to be this over produced pop guy that’s fake and plastic whereas we want Sean to rough and ready but real. Everything about him is real: His music’s real, his lyrics are real, his love for Amy is real. There are better versions of me singing out there then are actually in the film but I think Konrad just wanted it to be as raw and genuine as it could be which I totally understand but when you’re the one singing and you hear yourself go flat or sharp or whatever, you kinda go: ‘Oh God, everyone’s gonna think I’m so terrible’. But one of the things you have to do is jump on board with the director’s vision and work with that and I totally get his idea behind that.”

Originally from Seven Kings in East London, Sean comes from a well known Irish dancing family as his parents are Michael and Kathleen Maguire. Recently his siblings Ellie and Michael danced at Royal Albert Hall for Michael D Higgins’ Ceiliuradh. All five of Sean’s siblings have performed with Riverdance. Does Sean still possess a few steps himself? “I always say no because people ask me to do it. When you’ve got five siblings that are world champions and stuff, it’s sometimes better not to. But yeah, it’s kinda like riding a bike, you never completely forget but I always defer to my brothers and sisters and say they’re the ones. You need s soliloquy, come to me but I’ll leave the Irish dancing to them.”

Songs for Amy plays in selected cinemas in Ireland in May, premiering at The Screen in Dublin on May 1 followed by an event launch in Galway on May 2. For more information, go to: http://www.sonnyandskye.com/.

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