Bono and The Edge spoke about an “extraordinary” man and “ordinary” love on a panel on Sunday at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The discussion followed a screening of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, which features U2’s Golden Globe-nominated song “Ordinary Love.”
The panel, moderated by Deadline.com columnist and film critic Pete Hammond, also featured actors Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, who played Nelson and Winnie Mandela, respectively, in Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. Bono and Edge’s appearance followed their acceptance of the festival’s Sonny Bono Visionary Award for U2 on Saturday night.
Edge (who first joked about how it’s very hard for him to say the last name of Sonny Bono, pronounced “bow-no”) talked about U2’s early involvement in the anti-apartheid movement. Bono praised Harris’ portrayal of Winnie Mandela as “historic,” and told Elba, “You took the essence of him [Mandela].”
Bono also spoke about walking with Edge and Mandela on Robben Island in South Africa, where Mandela was in prison for 18 years.
“We’d talk about writing -- he loved words,” Bono said. “Ordinary Love,” he said, “was influenced by the love letters of Nelson to Winnie Mandela -- beautiful love letters. That influenced the language used in the song.”
Hammond noted that “the song is not what you might expect for this kind of film -- it’s a much more intimate song, and it’s really about their [the Mandelas’] marriage.”
Bono replied, “It’s using an essential image, and it’s always true: The human heart is much more complex than any … political situation. As they were losing their own sweetness together, this very domestic relationship, when he came out of prison, they couldn’t rekindle that.
“The song … is really about common decency. Mandela didn’t want his people to become a monster in order to defeat the monster of apartheid. So it was an appeal for common decency in the land. It’s actually an optimistic song. That’s why I think it sticks the knife in, because it doesn’t work out for them, but it’s his appeal to her: ‘We can’t go on any longer if we don’t have this ordinary love.’ Extraordinary love is usually the stuff of movies and novels and stuff, but we wanted to write a song about ordinary love.”
Edge added, “To approach the politics head on, the monumental scale of his own sacrifice and what was at stake during his time in prison, would have been really hard. I think by concentrating, as the film does, on the human side of this tale, in a way it’s a much more fulfilling and emotional song.”
During a Q-and-A session with the audience, someone asked if it is more difficult to write a song about people you know, or about people you don’t know.
“I find it’s a great holiday from the first person,” Bono said. “Writing songs, sometimes you feel like you hear their voice in your head. I remember that happened for us when we wrote for Roy Orbison and a few others. But for this, I think it … helped reading the love letters. That really got me, because I never got a chance to speak to him … about relationships.”
Bono also said, “You realize on this extraordinary continent of Africa … as it’s exploding with energy and excitement … the rarest resource of all is leadership. You look at what’s happening with the Arab Spring, and Syria, and you think, ‘Where’s the Mandela?’ You might not put his name on it, but that’s really what you’re looking for.”
The audience clapped loudly when Bono said, “There’s plenty of people ready to take a life for what they believe in. There’s very few people ready to give their life.”
Actor Elba said that after he finished the film, he went to South Africa to record an album with musicians there about "how it felt to play Mr. Mandela." Elba said he "was never able to explain it properly," and music helped him to express those feelings. The songs are being mixed right now, he said. Bono and Edge expressed interest in hearing the final product
Bono and Edge also signed autographs onstage after the discussion, shown in the photos at our Flickr account:
© @U2/Lindell, 2014