In Killing Bono, the new film based on the hilarious memoir by Neil McCormick, we go back to eighties Dublin to follow his close but no cigar rise to elusive rock stardom.
For a moment McCormick and his brother Ivan were even better than the real thing.
And then came the fall. Some people have talent in abundance but no personal management skills, and no sense to realize when the moment of opportunity has finally arrived.
For most of his life Neil and Ivan McCormick have been those kinds of people.
Coming tantalizingly close to realizing their dream time and time again without ever tipping over into greatness, in hindsight the chances the two brothers wasted have made for a hilarious cautionary tale.
McCormick had his life mapped out -- the platinum albums, the models, the quest for world peace. He just forgot that you have to work hard to get to them.
But before we even come to the embarrassingly foolish decisions McCormick (played by Ben Barnes) and his brother Ivan (played by rising Irish superstar Robert Sheehan) make in the course of the film, there’s the pleasure of a nostalgic trip back to the rock magic of eighties Dublin.
“I think Dublin had soul in the eighties,” Killing Bono’s director Nick Hamm tells the Irish Voice.
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“It was before the Celtic Tiger and before all the money. And that’s also one of the reasons why we shot the film in Belfast -- you can’t shoot in Dublin now because it doesn’t look like the eighties anywhere there anymore, whereas Belfast is still frozen in time. We wanted to return to a moment in Irish rock history that was very pure and absolutely pregnant with talent.”
The epicenter of that era, the ground zero of rock and roll culture was Hot Press magazine, the now legendary fortnightly broadsheet that gave voice to the Irish counter culture and the first public forum to journalists like Michael D. Higgins (now the Irish president-elect), the BAFTA award winning writer Graham Linehan (author of Father Ted and The IT Crowd) and Neil McCormack, the author of Killing Bono.
Hot Press was, most of the time, the voice of progressive Ireland and was usually in open rebellion against the conservative backwater it found itself at the center of.
Unlike the Irish rock music of that era it has never been given its due as a major cultural force in the same way the music of that era has, but in Killing Bono that oversight is finally tackled.
“I read Neil McCormick’s book I Was Bono’s Doppelganger and I thought it would be a very interesting story for a movie,” explains Hamm. “It was a hilarious, hubristic story of this guy massively failing in the music business in the eighties. He had the kind of anti-Midas touch. And so I realized that if I did it would be a music film about failure, rather than success.”
And it’s not just failure. It’s epic failure. It’s failure of the kind that you have to wonder how McCormick ever recovered from it.
He’s forced to watch his friends succeed as he fails himself. And not to give too much away, but there’s a moment in the middle of the film where our hero turns down the offer of several lifetimes from Bono.
“At the premiere of the film in Dublin every single person in the audience just dropped their heads and groaned when they saw that scene. There was just this collective wave of people going, ‘You complete moron.’ It’s clear this guy couldn’t make a good decision to save his life,” says Hamm.
Another classic scene is McCormick’s response to hearing the U2 classic “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” for the first time. “Is Bono taking the piss?” he asks. “He’s found everything he’s ever wanted. And he’s still not content?”
As Barnes portrays him in the film, Neil McCormick is an everyman character that anyone can relate to. Which of us, at the age of 15, hasn’t stood in front of the bathroom mirror and said, I could be a rock star? McCormick just takes it that little bit further.
“McCormick tells himself he has a good voice and that he’s going to be famous, there’ll be no work, lots of women and lots of drugs and a nice life,” says Hamm.
“But the bit that’s kind of missing in all that is talent and musical ability. People are going to have to want to hear you.”
Although Bono supplies the film’s title and -- most of the time -- is the film’s main subject, we don’t really discover much about him. That’s because his success probably isn’t as interesting as McCormick’s abject failure.
The focus for Hamm was on the lads that could have been contenders, not the lads who watched their dreams come true.
“I was a fan of U2 from the early days and I liked the music. I really have nothing but straightforward respect for them,” says Hamm.
“But I was more interested in representing an era of their lives that has never been seen before on film. These were moments in Irish rock history like when they put the sign on the notice board at school, or when they held their first audition in Larry Mullen’s mum’s kitchen and the drum kit was too big to fit -- lore the diehard fans know. I went down to their old school in Mount Temple, and the houses and the schools and all that.”
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U2 were happy to support the project because it wasn’t a U2 project -- they had nothing to lose by it. They even allowed the use of their music and their original artwork.
“I talked to Edge, I talked to (U2 manager) Paul McGuinness, and they regaled me about stories about Neil from school. (One of the film’s producers is the band’s original manager),” says Hamm.
The standout performance in the film belongs to rising star Robert Sheehan, who manages to capture the exasperation and wrong headedness of his character in a way that endears you to him, even if at times you will want to slap him too.
“Robert’s a completely massive raw talent,” says Hamm. “He’s one of Ireland’s biggest stars. There is no question in my mind that that boy is made for movie stardom.
“I gave early roles to Helena Bonham Carter, Joe Fiennes and Catherine Zeta Jones and I am telling you this kid is amazing. He’s got the looks to go with and the cheekiness and he knows who he is, and if he keeps his head screwed on right he’ll be a big star.”
Meanwhile, his role as one half of a pair of two nobodies that were very nearly somebodies is this week’s must see flick.
“I want Irish Voice readers to go and see it and have a f******good time in the cinema. And all the while they can say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’” says Hamm with a laugh.
Killing Bono opens in theatres on Friday.
Here's the official trailer for "Killing Bono":
Interview with Irish star of "Killing Bono" Robert Sheehan:
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