One of the youngest actresses to be nominated for an Oscar, it was clear from the outset that Saoirse Ronan was destined for big things, and that’s before you throw her actor father Paul Ronan into the mix. Earning the election at just 13 for her role in 2007’s Atonement, she went on to star alongside the likes of Susan Sarandon (in 2009’s The Lovely Bones) and Cate Blanchett (2011’s Hanna). Now, at just 20 years old, Ronan already has a reputation for role picking done right.
When we catch her jetlagged and cocooned in blankets on a sofa in her home in Ireland, Ronan is doing what any sensible girl would do: indulging in a 24-hour marathon of Homeland, her latest obsession. We talk through upcoming films Stockholm, Pennsylvania and Brooklyn, dream director collaborations and why integrity is paramount.
Wonderland: Talk us through the films you have coming out.
Saoirse Ronan: At the start of the year I did Stockholm, Pennsylvania. It’s a tiny film written and directed by Nikole Beckwith. It was her first time directing and we did it in 19 days, on a million dollar budget. I’d never done anything like that before. It was interesting to see how somebody, especially a new filmmaker, could handle that kind of pressure. After that I had about a week off, before moving onto Brooklyn.
W: It’s certainly intriguing. What’s the role like?
S: Stockholm is about a girl called Leia who’s in her early twenties. At the start she’s rescued, after seven years, from her kidnapper, who raised her in a basement. She has never seen the light of day until she is handed back to her biological parents in the second scene, but she doesn’t know these people. It’s mainly about the relationship between Leia and her mother, and how she doesn’t see why it’s wrong to be completely in love (in a childlike way) with her kidnapper, despite what he did. Her mother, played by Cynthia Nixon, spirals out of control, imprisoning Leia in a different way. Both films are centred on women. Brooklyn is based on a book by Colm Tóibín. It’s set in the 1950s and follows Eilis Lacey’s journey to New York to start a new life. It follows immigrants and Irish people in general, who made that trip, showing its difficulties, wonders and heart-breaks. I’ve never been so affected by a film before. The screenplay was written by Nick Hornby; it’s a gorgeous and very simple take on life.
W: He does it so well, doesn’t he?
S: He really does. It spans two years of Eilis’s life within the first half hour – going over to New York, getting a job and meeting a boy, before a family tragedy brings her home after a few months. It’s about how her relationship with home has changed, which I really got. Once you move away from home, it’s never quite the same again. You expect everything to be just as you left it, and it never is. It’s almost the first step into adulthood, realising you’ve got to make your own way.
W: You’ve picked two quite independent films to star in. How do go about choosing roles?
S: The story always comes first – it’s paramount. A lot of actresses who I’ve worked with have said that this is a tricky age – you can’t quite do the coming of age roles anymore, or maybe you don’t want to, and nobody has seen you as a young woman yet. Brooklyn was perfect for me. I’ve done a couple of biggish movies, but it was never down to exposure or money. I remember there was a toss-up between a big action film and Atonement, but I knew what I wanted to do. People make different decisions regarding their work, for different reasons. I keep it as simple as I can.
W: How did you stay rational about being nominated for an Oscar so young?
S: I was 13, so I didn’t think about it. It would be different now as I’m more aware of how the industry works. It’s amazing to look back on. I think Atonement was a very important film for all involved. It was really exciting to be on a film set with people who have won like 12 Oscars, but I knew I wasn’t going to win.
W: Do nominees know that kind of thing?
S: Yeah, I had an insider! No, I just I knew. I was in a category with Tilda [Swinton], Cate [Blanchett] and Amy Ryan, so I knew one of them would win. But it was amazing to be in the front row at the Academy Awards with my parents.
W: How did your dad prep you for the Oscars? Obviously he knows the game, so to speak.
S: He hadn’t really been to any award shows apart from the Iscars, which is the Irish Oscars. It’s just as good, obviously. It’s like a huge wedding that everyone in the Irish film industry is invited to…
W: Like The Godfather or something?
S: Yeah, basically. It’s like the Irish Godfather awards! So the three of us went [to the Oscars] not knowing what to expect. It’s definitely on a bigger scale than any other award show, another realm altogether. At one point John Travolta and his wife were in front of us. If I met him now, I’d be more excited because I love Saturday Night Fever and Grease so much. My mum went to see Saturday Night Fever at the cinema 27 times when it first came out – she’s obsessed. When they said hello to us, it absolutely made her night.
W: You were a front-runner for the role of Katniss in The Hunger Games. How do you feel about that in retrospect?
S: I love Jennifer Lawrence – she’s done an incredible job with the film. A lot of girls auditioned for it, it wasn’t like I was offered it and turned it down or anything. I only auditioned. It was years ago, so I’m fine about it.
W: If you had the choice, which directors would you like to work with next?
S: I would love to work with Lenny Abrahamson, he’s an Irish director. He just did Frank and he’s made some of the best Irish films, including my favourite, Adam & Paul. I like it when Irish filmmakers’ work is unrelated to Ireland. Jonathan Glazer is really brilliant as well and obviously I want to work with the legends: Tarantino, Spielberg and Alexander Payne…
Source: Wonderland Magazine