Extraordinary as it may seem The Commitments has reached its quarter century. This unlikely smash hit followed the fortunes of a group of young Dubliners scaling the cliff-face of soul to find fame and fortune. Their journey captured the imaginations of audiences around the world and made stars of its then-unknown cast.
The movie is a bittersweet story but one which had a happy ending for the actors, many of whom were given a unique opportunity by veteran director Alan Parker, bringing writer Roddy Doyle‘s novel to the screen.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Robert Arkins (band manager Jimmy Rabbitte), Dave Finnegan (mad drummer Mickah Wallace, who joined the interview part-way though) and Kenneth McCluskey (bass guitarist and butcher) for a trip down their respective musical memory lanes.
THN: Does it feel like twenty-five years?
Robert Arkins: We can’t forget! We’re reminded of it every day! (Laughs) You can’t avoid it, you can’t hide…well you can try! It would maybe seem like more to some people…
Ken McCluskey: It’s amazing isn’t it? Twenty-five years ago we were all young chaps and here we are now. The film is legendary, we’ve travelled the world. I don’t think there’s anywhere the movie hasn’t been.
THN: I presume you’re all good friends so it feels natural for you to get together…?
RA: Yeah exactly. It becomes a part of life, we have a bit of fun, but the film as films go is fantastic. It’s spread the word of the music to a lot of people and made a lot of people very happy so that’s the main thing.
THN: A big part of why the film succeeds is the way it combines a cast who were unknown back then with a seasoned director, Alan Parker. What was it like working with him?
RA: For me, the fact that he chose us individually and made up his mind gave me confidence to go in and do something I’d never done before. He was looking for a bit of this and a bit of that. A bit of light and shade. That was pretty much what he’d say most of the time for me! I don’t know, how do you feel about it Dave?
Dave Finnegan (having just entered the room): Feel about what?
THN: Is that Dave? Did you hear the question?
DF: No. (Laughs)
THN: I was just asking about the filming and how it all went…
DF: The movie was like an open thing. Usually with films actors have agents and it goes through that process. They advertised these auditions in shops and pubs so everybody went for it. I was spotted playing in a band, I didn’t even see the posters to be honest with you. The casting directors came and looked at us and said: ‘This section can go for this character, and that section can go for that character…’ Eventually when I met Alan Parker and auditioned he tried to get that aggressive character out of me, and he succeeded. He knew just by looking at people what he could get out of us, you know? And unfortunately I got the wild guy! (Laughs)
THN: Do you have an abiding memory of the shoot?
RA: There’s a scene where Joey “The Lips” (Johnny Murphy) is driving down the lane on his motorbike. I’m down the lane standing behind the camera with Alan and the crew and Johnny, who’s not very good at driving the motorbike, it was probably his first time… basically he comes down the lane, goes to try and park, smashes into the wall and falls over. We all cracked up and it ended up staying in the film!
RA: Well the film was shot in sequence. But we did two weeks of rehearsal where we ran through all the gig scenes and all the scenes where everybody was together as a unit, the backstage thing so we could get the synchronization working.
KM: Yeah, we got our characters to develop. Alan Parker actually started changing the book. Some of my lines were switched with Outspan (Glen Hansard) so he could develop it properly. When we were filming he’d say ‘I want you to say this instead of this.’ That’s the way he worked. He knew what he was doing, he had it all in his head. He was a genius, having all these characters in his head and knowing what he was going to do.
THN: Was Roddy Doyle involved much in the filming?
RA: No, I met him on set and had a chat. He just wanted to come down, he was curious. You know how it is, writers hand over the baby, depending on the deal. They don’t really have much of a look in after that.
KM: He wanted to come down to see what had happened to the characters. He seemed happy.
THN: The Commitments provides a nice antidote to the Simon Cowell method of nurturing talent. Do you think it’s a good film for aspiring musicians to watch?
RA: (Laughs) There is a good lesson to be learned for young people. If you’re going to get into it, get in for the joy and pleasure of playing the music and the craft. Then at the end of it the band breaks up, so the reality of it is not everyone becomes famous. It’s about luck. There’s a lot of people out there who are very untalented and become very successful. And then there’s the opposite, people who are extremely talented who don’t get lucky at all.
DF: That’s very true. The Commitments wasn’t a band as such, we all came from different kinds of bands. We were jamming in our bedrooms and playing in pubs. Nowadays it’s different.
This review appeared on THN.