A guy and a girl

by Kaori Shoji

In “Once,” the couple consisting of the Guy (Glen Hansard) and the Girl (Marketa Irglova) make sweet music but never get together.

In real life they’re lovers and fellow musicians who have just released an album called “The Swell Season.” No wonder that they have so much chemistry together on-screen, but they both know this: the biggest charm of “Once” is that the couple never get close enough to kiss.

“We insisted that it should be that way,” says Glen Hansard, in Tokyo on a promotion tour with co-star Irglova.

“After the film was a success at Sundance we’ve had a lot of offers from major studios but on the condition that we put in a kiss at the end. Harvey Weinstein came up to me and said we had a deal if we out the kiss in. But that would have ruined it.”

Irglova agrees. “Everywhere we go, everyone comes up to us and says how glad they are that the Guy and Girl never kiss. So people do understand, even if movie executives don’t.” Hansard added with a laugh: “But I guess that’s how the American market works. In Europe, there was a lot less of that because everyone knows it’s quite European to let people down.”

Hansard went on to explain that when filmmaker John Carney, a good friend and former band member of Ireland’s The Frames, for which Hansard is the frontman, approached him with the project they had never expected box-office sales.

“We knew from the beginning it wasn’t marketable. We just wanted to take it to film festivals, see how it would do there.” But almost all the festivals famed for showcasing indie talent — Tribeca, Toronto — refused the film.

It wound up at the Galway Film Festival, where it was an unexpected success. Someone in the audience was taken enough to ask for contact information and that someone turned out to be on the selection committee at Sundance. “Once” took off from there. Carney got his name on the map and Irglova and Hansard began promoting the film immediately after her high-school graduation (she was a senior when the film came out). She is currently 19 years old and poised on the brink of a successful music career with the 37-year-old Hansard.

“In the film and in real-life, our lives are about music,” she says. It’s as if the film story is a version of how their lives would have been had they never actually gotten together, or their reality is a version of a fantasy the Guy was secretly keeping in his heart.

Either way, “Once” is an amazingly intimate story and all the more so for the couples’ very intimate relationship.

How did the two of you meet?

Glen Hansard: “About five or six years ago I was on tour with the band in Prague. And the promoter there happened to be Marketa’s parents. They were very open people, musicians themselves, and they invited us all to their house party.”

Marketa Irglova: “I was 13 years old.”

GH: “Yes, she was 13 and studying classical piano. Anyway, I was invited to stay with them for awhile and it was quite nice because I had my own room where I could work on the music. And one afternoon Marketa was in the next room and was listening to my songs and she asked me . . . “

MI: “I asked him if the songs were about him, his life. And he said no, they were poetry. I told him that I didn’t hear him in the music . . .”

GH: “That the songs weren’t about me. That got me thinking, and got us working on music together.”

MI: “Glen introduced me to a whole new idea of music. It was so new for me to sit at the piano and not have a sheet of music in front of me — because I had been trained in classical music that always require music sheets — to work on something that was entirely my own. So you see, the scenes of the two of us in the film, that was just recreating all what we had done together in the past an what we do now.”

Do you think the film marks a new age in Irish cinema, or that it honestly reflects the state of Dublin today?

GH: “Well, Dublin has completely changed. It’s now the wealthiest, most expensive city in Europe. It’s in a very dark period . . . everyone has too much money. We as a nation should never let ourselves get into this state . . . it’s awful.

“The Irish aren’t made to be cool, or rich — no one looks good in Dolce and Gabana or Diesel or fancy cars. In fact, we were cool because we had never cared about that stuff. So John and I decided to make a film that totally ignored the current state of Dublin. To make it about two people completely overlooked by the Celtic Tiger. Because I loved Dublin before she became wealthy, when she was beautiful for just being the way she was. Now she’s got on globs of make-up and designer clothes and it just doesn’t suit her.”

MI: “Coming from the Czech Republic, I fell in love with the incredible magic of the country, and how people still celebrate and live with magical events in their lives.

“For me, Ireland is still very inspirational. I get the feeling that people still embrace life here, both the good and the bad. I was hoping the story reflects some of that. I think the magical part of it is there . . .”