Shannon Maree Walsh’s introduction into the world of entertainment may not have been by conventional methods, but the champion gymnast turned actress is certainly making a name for herself in the new film, “Begin Again”.
Directed by John Carney (“Once”), “Begin Again” tells the story Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a struggling record label exec living in New York City. One night, while drinking at a bar in the East Village, he encounters Gretta (Keira Knightley), a fiercely independent young songwriter whose music captivates him. Walsh plays nerdy musician Rachel, a cellist in Gretta’s band.
Following its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013 and closing this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, the film was released theatrically on July 2nd.
Walsh has been a national gymnastics champion four times, but recently shifted her passion to acting with great success. Her first role was in Wes Craven’s “My Soul to Take” and other credits include Law & Order: SVU and The Michael J Fox Show.
In addition to finishing up her degree at Georgetown, Walsh also currently finds time to play in Suite 27, a musical group featuring members of the band from “Begin Again”. The band recently performed at the film’s premiere and have future plans to gig in and around New York City.
I recently spoke to Walsh about her role on “Begin Again”, her music and what’s next for the aspiring young actress.
What attracted you to this project?
At the time of my audition I found out that Keira and Mark were already cast. I love period films and am a huge fan of both of them. I also happened to watch “Once” (John's first movie) and it was insanely good. With that in mind, I knew immediately it was a project I wanted to be a part of.
How would you describe the story of “Begin Again”?
I think some people might go into it thinking that they're going to get a rom-com [romantic comedy], but that's really not was this is. It's a story about how music develops relationships between people. The foundation of the relationships and romances between the best friends is music. The best part of this movie is that the comedy doesn’t just come from humorous lines that are written. It’s the situational things in life that make it spontaneously funny.
What can you tell me about your character, Rachel?
Rachel is the top of her class. A very nerdy cello player who is sick and tired of playing only classical music. She's a bit skeptical about joining the band in the beginning, only because she has no idea who these people are or why they even chose her. Then she discovers that she really loves playing this music. It's all original and nothing that she's ever played before. It helps her come out of her shell, get loose and go somewhere that she's never gone before.
What was the filming process like?
I have to say that this was the coolest set experience I've ever had. John [Carney] is hysterical and creates such a trendy and relaxed environment. From the first day, the atmosphere was like "Let's just go with it and see what happens!" It was amazing and our band really bonded a lot. By the end of it, we had forgotten that the camera was rolling and it was just like hanging out with friends. The chemistry you see is very real.
You actually had to learn how to play cello for this film. What was that like?
I already had experience playing the violin, but I remember going in John asking me if I could learn the cello. So for the next four weeks, my journey of three-hour a day, private cello lessons began. It was challenging, but very rewarding!
Your band “experience” actually continued after filming was complete.
Yes, that was one of the coolest parts of the whole experience. None of us in the band had ever known each other before. We’re all people from different backgrounds and places who immediately connected. It's the most hodgepodge mix of people with a huge age range.
After filming was complete, we all kept in touch and then this past spring one of the band members said, "Let’s make this a ‘thing' and do some gigs together" - and everyone was immediately on board. So we all got together and just started playing. It was so much fun that we ended up playing at the premiere after-party. We’ve even launched a KickStarter campaign trying to get the band to play around the city and actually do what we did in the movie. We're called “Suite 27”.
Can you tell me a little about your transition from gymnast to actress?
I was a gymnast from the ages of 3 to 17. I was always very competitive but once the time came to start applying to colleges I realized that my heart was just not into it anymore. I had run my course with the sport. I decided that I wanted to do something that at the time seemed like the opposite of gymnastics and for some reason, that thing was acting. I was a senior in high school when I started acting.
What other projects are you working on?
Right now, my focus is on getting my University degree. I have six more classes before I graduate. The plan is to get the degree and then settle in New York to concentrate on acting. That’s my number one priority!
Follow Shannon on Twitter : @shannonmaree22