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Q&A: Lucy Boynton

The Sing Street star on ’80s fashion and the artist who could win her heart

In 1985 in Dublin, things are grim. Ireland is in political and economic turmoil, and for Conor Lalor—the main character in the delightful and charming new film Sing Street—things at home aren’t much better. After being pulled from private school and enrolled in a rough-and-tumble public institution, the only way he finds to escape from the drudgery of daily life is playing music. Specifically by forming a band in part to impress Ruphina, the mysterious, magnetic girl who lives just across from his school’s gates. And while Ruphina is indeed glamorous—she’s a model with an older boyfriend, after all—in the hands of actress Lucy Boynton, she’s also a complicated, vulnerable and compelling character who becomes the heart of the film. 

Here, Boynton shares her inspiration for Raphina’s New Wave looks, her thoughts on getting into character and the way that director John Carney (Once) inspired her performance. 

There are a lot of great things about this movie, but I imagine one of the most fun for you must have been the 1980s rocker-girl costuming. How much did you love that?

Oh, my God, the hairspray.. and I got way too used to blue eye shadow and pink lips! That was my daily go to. But the costuming wasn’t just for me, it was also for Raphina, because the outfits and makeup are like a costume that she hides behind—that was a huge part of forming the character. So, as soon as we got the makeup style and the costumes together, she really came to life. It was a very important factor in creating her.

She’s very complex. What about her was most interesting to you?

What excites me most about the film is that while it’s a comedy, it also does have a darker side, and although it’s a very feel-good coming of age film, it doesn’t feel the need to glamourize any of the characters. They’re all very rough and raw and that’s something that excites me. Raphina is full of enthusiasm and full of life, but then also does have this darkness and a poignant side to her with her story. So it’s kind of the balance between light and dark that I thought was very unique to the script and made for a very exciting project.

Did you have any 80s style icons in mind as you transformed into your character? 

She has a lot of different looks throughout the film, so I would constantly go to the makeup truck and there would be pictures posted of Madonna for inspiration. There’s a fearlessness and a very bold quality to the costumes and the makeup. That was the that really stood out about 1980s fashion, that it was the first time that people were being so bold and creating personal statements with their clothes and their makeup. They really were open to expressing themselves, which I think we don’t really get as much now because we’re so used to the idea of your clothes being an expression of your personality.

Outside of the outfitting, what was the greatest element of your experience making this film?

My favorite part was working with John Carney, the director, because his approach and his way of working is very different than the experience I’ve had before. He’s very keen on improvisation and keeping the scenes extremely authentic, and so we would go in and work on our dialogue and then when we’d actually [go to film,] he would re-read and say, ‘Oh no, I hate this!’ And he would re-write the whole thing on the spot. It was slightly unnerving for someone like me who has always been told to stick to the exact dialogue and respect the writer. But when the writer is ripping it up in front of you, it’s kind of a different experience. I just never worked with a director that’s so collaborative so that was a real adventure.

Raphina is introduced as this dream girl—she’s a model, she’s a music-video vixen—but throughout the film she reveals more about herself. Did any aspect of playing her make you nervous?

I was really determined to do her justice because I was so fascinated by her. I was most drawn in by the kind of balance between the light and dark with this character, and I thought it was very important to sustain that kind of darkness and keep in mind what she’s been through. I mean that’s one of the most important things about her, that she acts much older than she is. Maintaining all of that and making her as true as possible that was slightly daunting, but I really enjoyed my experience. 

If someone were to write a song to try to win you over, what would you be looking for in that song? 

Something by a young Paul McCartney and I would be sold in seconds.