Saoirse Ronan sat down with AwardsCircuit to discuss ‘Brooklyn’ while promoting the film at 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and you can read it below:
One of my highlights of TIFF this year was the opportunity to sit down with Saoirse Ronan to discuss her new film Brooklyn, as part of Fox Searchlight’s press junket for the film. Having seen the film a day earlier, I was eager to find out how she prepared for the role and the experience of making such a beautiful film. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
Shane Slater: Congratulations on such a beautiful film, it even made me feel nostalgic for Ireland! Was this a case where you knew from the start that you had something special here?
Saoirse Ronan: Yeh, I read the script about a year before we started to shoot the film. And from when I signed on, to when we actually made it a year later, I had moved out, left home and I had gone through that whole emotional journey that she goes through. So, I loved it to begin with and it was absolutely the right first Irish script for me to do. I had never done another Irish film before and this felt like the right one. But by the time we actually shot it, it meant so much more to me.
It’s interesting that you say that you felt that yearning as well. Because when we were making it and when I went to Ellis Island after we wrapped, I thought this is an Irish film, for Irish people, for Ireland. My mom came over for her birthday and I told her I really wanted to go to Ellis Island, to kind of round the film up. And I had only ever thought of it as a place where a lot of Irish people came in. And I went there, and for better or worse, the amount of Irish, English, Scots, Jewish, Germans, all these different people had been brought to this one place and had no idea what to expect. It’s so incredibly special because it binds everyone together and from that point onwards, I thought this story is actually for everyone. For anyone who ever left home, moved away to college, moved down the road, or left the country they grew up in. And it’s that sense of not knowing where you belong in this new part of your life, we’ve all gone through it. That’s what I went through when I moved to London and I basically relived it all over again when we did the film. So it was very overwhelming.
SS: The film has a romantic sentimentality that we don’t really see that often anymore. How did you go about preparing for the role and ensuring that you got the tone right?
SR: I usually don’t do that much text research necessarily. I had read the book a few years before, so that was a nice reference point to go back to. But also, John had recommended the play “Philadelphia, Here I Come!”. That was really great, even though it was told from a male perspective. It’s the buildup to someone leaving, the 24 hours leading up to them moving away. You know, at that time, from the 50s and further back, these people may not have ever seen their family again. When she gets on that boat, she’s not sure if she’s ever going to see her family again. So there’s a real finality to it, so I just put myself in that space.
I know what it’s like to leave home. Even when I left home last week, I was sad to leave my mom and my house, even if it was only for 7 days. This kind of grief almost sets in. So I know what that’s like. This is just a more of an intense version of that. And I also talked to my mom a lot about her and my dad’s experience when they moved over to America, and the kind of work ethic you need to keep going.
SS: Were you able to draw on any of your previous performances, or was this a completely new challenge for you?
SR: It’s completely new. I think the reason I was so scared of it is that, one thing I’ve always loved about what I do is the escapism. To be able to disappear into somebody else completely different to you, be part of a different world, is really liberating. So then, to go into this story where the town where the film is set is 20 minutes from where I grew up, and I used to go to the cinema there when I was kid…I was suddenly faced with my own life, my world. I had never done that before. That was really scary, it’s the toughest film I’ve ever done. It was very close to home. I still haven’t watched it yet, it’s incredibly personal.
SS: American audiences aren’t as familiar with John Crowley’s work. What was it like to work with him?
SR: I think he’s made me a better actor. He has a really extensive theatre background, so you can definitely see the way he works is of that mentality. He does quite a few takes, which I wasn’t expecting. Even when we were doing rehearsals, I thought “I know what I’m doing here, it’s an Irish film, it’s where I grew up. It’ll be fine.” He had really inspired me in rehearsals.
But then we turn up on the first day and he just turns everything on its head. I was like, “This isn’t what I was expecting at all!” Because he would give you one extreme and then the other, and he was so in tune with everything you were doing. He landed in this place that was beautifully nuanced and subtle, because you had tried out everything. I think that’s a real theatre approach. He wouldn’t miss a beat. And I think, because there were certain scenes shot out of order, he had such a clear emotional map of Eilis throughout the whole thing.
Also, our editor Jake Roberts was so amazing. He explained to me that an editor is almost like an actor and a director combined, because they need to understand the emotional arc of each character and know what makes sense for certain parts of the film. So we were just blessed that we had people who were all driven love for the story.