(Photo) Saoirse and Ben Whishaw for USA Today

USA Today has published a new story today on Saoirse and her The Crucible co-star Ben Whishaw. We have added a photo from their new shoot together. Below, we also added a new video interview from USA Today.

Saoirse Ronan

NEW YORK — 21-year-old Irish actress Saoirse Ronan‘s screen roles have ranged from a precocious adolescent in 2007’s Atonement to a young woman torn between two homes and loves in last year’s Brooklyn — both of which earned her Oscar nominations.

What her characters tend to have in common, Ronan believes, is “they kind of stay in the background, observing, until they step in and (mess) things up.”

Abigail Williams, the 17-year-old orphan Ronan is playing in the new Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible that marks her professional stage debut, certainly fits the latter part of that description, and then some. Miller described Abigail in the stage directions for his 1953 play as “a strikingly beautiful girl…with an endless capacity for dissembling.”

Set in Salem, Mass. in 1692, at the onset of the infamous witch trials, the play focuses on a community unraveling as accusations fueled by personal vendettas and superficial piety pile up, forcing neighbors to defend their faith and fear for their lives. Abigail plays a central role in that process, as does her fraught relationship with the married John Proctor, played here by acclaimed British stage and screen actor Ben Whishaw.

Chatting before a recent preview of the new Crucible, which opens March 31 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, Ronan and Whishaw, 35, show none of the tension that marks their relatively limited time together onstage. The two express empathy, in fact, for both their own characters and each other’s.

“The guy I play isn’t a hero,” Whishaw says of Proctor, one of Miller’s great protagonists, righteous but morally struggling. “And the girl you play,” he adds, looking at Ronan, “is very far from a villain.”

Ronan notes that their director, Ivo van Hove — whose starkly visceral work includes last season’s revival of Miller’s A View From the Bridge — advised her to think of Abigail “as behaving like a foster child,” stressing that the teenager lives with an uncle “who probably reminds her constantly, ‘I gave you a place to live and you should be grateful.’ I think of her as someone who’s very alone, and this man (Proctor) opens up her whole world. She doesn’t feel like she has a purpose apart from being his, so when that’s taken away from her, she needs to find a reason for living.”

Though Miller wrote Crucible in part as a response McCarthyism, which hit his creative community particularly hard. “Coming into it I thought, this is a play about America,” Ronan says. But she and Whishaw quickly seized on the universal messages beyond the setting and use of allegory.

“It’s a play about religion, and marriage, and love,” says Whishaw, who played Proctor in a school production when he was 15. “It’s very humane; (Miller) comes in with a lot of belief in people’s goodness. It’s also, of course, about how we can be blinded into acting inhumanely.”

Ronan points out that in van Hove’s minimalist interpretation, which weaves in original music by Philip Glass, “era and period are thrown out the window, so we get to free ourselves of all that. Ultimately, I think this play is about relationships, and whether they can withstand pressure or fall apart. I understand that much better now.”