Saoirse (pronounced SIR-sha, “like inertia”) Ronan plays an alien and a human in the same body in the new romantic sci-fi film “The Host,” based on a book by “Twilight” series author Stephenie Meyer. Ronan, who turns 19 in April, is already a seasoned thespian, with an Oscar nod for her performance in 2007’s “Atonement.”
Are you a fan of the “Twilight” vampire romance book and film series and its author, Stephenie Meyer? Is that what drew you to “The Host”?
Yes, that was definitely one of the draws for me to work with Stephenie. I had read the first “Twilight” book when I was 14 and really liked how clear she made something like first love and discovering yourself. I haven’t seen many of the films, to be honest — I think I saw the first one and the last one, but it was more the books that I liked.
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In “The Host,” you play two characters in one body at the same time. How did you build them and distinguish between the two in your acting?
I wanted to make sure that the characters were strong enough on their own that they were able to bounce off one another yet still work in harmony throughout the story. So we started to develop what kind of accents they would have. And it made sense for one to be very well spoken, very articulate, in every way calm and serene and positive. Whereas Melanie [the human] really moves and when she speaks it’s fight talk.
Is this your first romantic film?
Yeah, it’s my first film where the romance is the focus of the whole story. I’ve had romantic scenes before, but that was the first one where the romance was such a big part of the film.
So was it at all weird for you to film the romantic scenes, even though they were pretty tame?
No, not really. The moments when something like that would be weird [are] when you don’t get on with your costar, and luckily I got on with both of them, and we all had a laugh together
Was it a career strategy to do a romantic lead so you wouldn’t be seen as a child actor?
No, not at all. To be honest, I’ve never really felt the pressure of having to do that. I feel that I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been given scripts that have been suitable for my age.
Fame has been a pretty mixed bag for the “Twilight” stars. You like your privacy. Are you at all concerned about the potential intrusiveness of fame?
I try not to get worried about it. I know it does depend on how the film does. It might just breeze by and we’ll all be fine. I am very private, and I have a life that is separate from press and film, so I’d want to hold onto that as much as I could.
I read that your fame in Ireland has already made it impossible for you to attend school. Is that true?
It made it very difficult when I was younger, yeah. When I started going to secondary school, I was away for work and when I came back I’d just been nominated for an Oscar. And so it was a mad time for me. I’ve always loved school. But it was kind of hard, because I lived in the country at the time, and there was a limited amount of schools that I could have gone to, so I home-schooled for a few years.
I’ve noticed that young British actors seem generally more grounded and unlikely to end up in the tabloids. Do you think that’s a cultural difference?
Yeah, I think so. Certainly Irish and British actors, not only is our culture very different, but I think sometimes our approach to work can be very different as well. Home is not as celeb-driven as it can be in other places. It’s not quite as much a fascination or quite as much of a goal, just by having wonderful playwrights and authors that span so far back. Having that sort of history gives you real roots as an actor.
You were actually born in the Bronx, but raised in Dublin. Your parents didn’t like America?
No, my parents absolutely love America, and I love America too, especially New York. They lived there for about 15 years, and my mom was adamant that she would have me there, so I wouldn’t have to go through the trouble that they had with immigration and work. But when I was about 3 years old, and they started to think about schools to send me to, they wanted to bring me home. They wanted me to know my family and know their friends.
You practically grew up on set because your father, Paul, is an actor. What’s your earliest memory of being on a movie set?
I remember going to visit him in Dublin, and there was a bunch of “soldiers” everywhere and everyone was shooting guns. And there was so much going on — this was when I was a baby — but it was very exciting. I was around that pretty much from the time I was born. When you’re in New York and you’re Irish or English — you’re an expat, basically — you stick together, so a lot of the Irish actors and directors and writers would end up living with us for quite a while and sleeping on our sofa for a few weeks. Then when it came to me actually doing a proper job, I was very comfortable in front of the camera and being with the crew.
You were 8 when you made your screen debut. Whose idea was it?
It was my idea. My dad was always recording me on the camcorder, and I loved being in front of the camera, not in a drama school way, but I got very excited when the camera was there. And he saw this and said to his Irish agent that maybe I could go for something to see what I thought of it, because I had done a couple of short films with him and really liked it. So I went after this one thing, but I was a bit too young for it, and then I went up for “The Clinic” [TV series] and I got that. The second thing I did [the Irish crime miniseries “Proof”] was pivotal because the casting directors from that were the people who cast me in the first film that I did, and the dialect coach from that was the person who told [director] Joe Wright about me for “Atonement.”
I understand you support the Irish Blue Cross because the organization helped you personally. What happened?
It was a few years ago. I have this dog [Sassy], and she’s a border collie. She’s a bit sick at the moment, but she’s about 16 years old. And she had this habit of running away when she was younger. And so when I was in Pennsylvania shooting “The Lovely Bones,” my grandparents looked after her in Dublin. My grandmother would take her for walks every day, and we started to take her off the lead and she always came back when you called her. But one day she didn’t. And then I came over to L.A. to do press for “Atonement,” and I was interviewed by this man who has a segment on an Irish radio station. And I described my dog, I said she’s gone missing in Dublin and if anyone sees her, please call in. And it just so happened that one of the main people at the Blue Cross had found Sassy in a supermarket carpark. They were trying to get a clinic built at the time, so I did a bit of press for them.
I do stuff for them and the Irish SPCC, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
So what’s coming up for you?
There’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which I’ve just shot, and that’s with Wes Anderson. And I’m about to do a film with Ryan Gosling. It’s his directorial debut, a film called “How to Catch a Monster.”
What kind of roles are those?
Well, in Wes’ film … I can’t really talk about either, because they’re very private, but I do work in a bakery and I have a relationship with the lead character. It’s brilliant, like it’s so mad. So I did that, and in Ryan’s one again I can’t really say anything, but it’s very cool. It’s a very dark, stylized story, a bit twisted, and I really like it.
Sounds like your speed.
Yes, twisted and dark, not funny at all.