Based on real events, KILLING BONO tells the story of young Irish rocker Neil McCormick (Ben Barnes) and his younger brother, Ivan (Robert Sheehan), who attempt to become rock stars but can only look on as their school friends form U2 and become the biggest band in the world.  The film is based on Neil McCormick’s memoir “Killing Bono: I am Bono’s Doppelganger.”
Following is Cinema Without Borders’ interview with Nick Hamm, director of Killing Bono.

Bijan Tehrani:  What interested you in making Neil’s Killing Bono book into a film?
Nick Hamm: I read Neil McCormick’s book, and became fascinated by the story of a failure. He presented an everyman character, whose journey I felt a lot of people could identify with. It was also refreshing to approach a music film from the point of view of a band not succeeding.

BT:  The book itself is very interesting and funny, but does not seem to have the structure for a screenplay, how much did you had to change it and what was the process of making it into a script?
NH: I amalgamated some events and characters and focused on an impression of the music scene I knew would be cinematic and interesting. I mixed the truth with the dramatically necessary. Some of the incidents in the film are part of rock history. U2 really did do their first audition in Larry’s mom’s kitchen, they really did put a notice on their school’s board inviting people to sign up- these events I wanted to record and show with a level of authenticity. But as the film progresses we are less interested in the reality or historical truth and more in the character and his journey.

BT:   The main character of the film is very interesting and I think audience could easily relate to him, how different is he to the character in the book?
NH: You only have to meet the real Neil McCormick for 5 minutes and you can certainly see the similarities. But he was very gracious about the hyperbolic way in which we portrayed his failures on screen – he most certainly never took a gun to Bono (but I can’t tell you for sure if he hadn’t ever thought about it.

BT:   Your sense of humor has different layers, one is the obvious funny situations that make you laugh loud and then a more deep dark humor that is underneath the skin of the film and lasts with you, is this something that you had in mind working on the film?
NH: The script certainly went through some much darker incarnations over the development period, and I think that’s because there is a darker side to jealousy, lust for fame and self-succession. However, we were careful not to go too much in that direction, we wanted to make a comedy, to laugh about this character’s spectacular failures in the search for stardom – and I think we achieved something that’s fun but also very human.

BT:   How did you go about casting your film and how did you work with the actors?
NH: For our lead actors we were blown away by their auditions: Robert Sheehan was a raw bust of talent, and Ben Barnes’ ability to combine the comedy and the emotion of the anti-hero was incredible. However the task of finding U2 look-a-likes was a little trickier, so we had big open castings in Dublin to find them. Not only did they have to look like the young U2, they also had to be able to pick up an instrument and look like they knew what they were doing.

Working with the cast was a lot of fun, it was a grueling shooting schedule but there was always an incredible amount of energy on set and I believe that’s really translated on film.

BT:  Did you allow any improvisation on the set?
NH: Absolutely, I like a certain level of improvisation and response to the actors’ work when I shoot. Particularly when you have some very clever comedic talent such as Peter Serafinowicz in your cast, as their natural responses can extract far more comedy from the scene than just the gags written on the page.

BT:   Please tell us about the visual style of your film.
NH: Both Kieran McGuigan (Director of Photography) and I worked closely on finding a look that would work for the 80s London music scene- brash, colorful but real. The movie both begins and ends in Ireland so the journey of the photography went from a slightly muted realism towards the more theatrical as the brothers moved to London. As far as the rock concerts were concerned we spent a long time telling the story of the brothers inside the music. We were determined that the narrative of the film didn’t stop as the music started.

BT:  Any future projects?
NH: I’m working on a murder mystery/thriller set amidst foreign war correspondents.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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