Saoirse talked to The Wall Street Journal in order to promote “Mary Queen of Scots”! Two images were released with the article, and they were added to our photo gallery. You can read the complete text below.
Saoirse Ronan Would Rather Be Knitting
The ascendant star, now playing ‘Mary Queen of Scots,’ prefers to spend her off-time out of the limelight—and get through the grocery store incognito
With star turns in last year’s “Lady Bird” and the new period epic “Mary Queen of Scots,” out Dec. 7, the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan has catapulted into Hollywood’s top ranks. But she prefers to spend her off time out of the limelight: The 24-year-old’s favorite pastimes include knitting, cooking and reading history. “I don’t go to a lot of clubs because I’m busy knitting,” she jokes. “I just knit and read history books.” She laughs and shakes her head, adding, “Now nobody will want to read this interview.”
Ms. Ronan’s interest in history won’t come as a surprise to those who have followed her career. Her breakout role, as a teen whose lie wreaks havoc in “Atonement” (2007), was set largely in 1930s and ’40s England. In “Brooklyn” (2015), she played an Irish immigrant in 1950s New York who’s pulled between her homeland and her new life. She’s now filming “Little Women,” playing Jo March in the movie based on Louisa May Alcott’s 19th-century classic.
In “Mary Queen of Scots,” she stars opposite Margot Robbie’s Queen Elizabeth I as the Virgin Queen’s fierce and ultimately executed rival. To prepare, Ms. Ronan read the book on which the movie is based, “Queen of Scots” (2004), by John Guy, and became fascinated by Queen Mary’s turbulent life. “It’s a thriller!” she says.
She’s read a lot of history books to study for her roles, but she says her script choices are more emotionally than strategically driven. “It’s like a chemistry thing,” she says. She felt a connection with Queen Mary, who was named queen of Scotland six days after her birth and started ruling as a teenager after a regency period. It reminded Ms. Ronan of her own experiences performing with new casts on set. “She was thrown into a world that she didn’t really know anything about,” Ms. Ronan says. “She was expected to present herself in a certain way, and she suddenly had this duty to a number of people that she didn’t really know.”
Sitting in a downtown New York hotel, Ms. Ronan leans close to my iPhone’s recorder, set out on the table, and clarifies what she’s trying to say. “I’m not saying what I do is like being the queen, just for the record!” she insists. “It’s very easy what I do, compared to running a country.”
That self-aware groundedness is part of what keeps her close to home in Ireland when she isn’t working. A self-described homebody, she lives outside Dublin, near where she grew up. Her father is an actor and her mother a homemaker. Her first role was in a short Irish art-house film in which her father was acting. “They needed a kid for it, and they just asked me to do it as a favor,” she says. “I just loved it as soon as I started.” She says she wasn’t a “drama kid” in school, though. “I wasn’t overly shy, but I wasn’t all ‘jazz hands’ either,” she adds, fanning her hands out and shaking them.
Her first television role was on a medical drama in Ireland called “The Clinic.” She landed her first film part in the romantic comedy “I Could Never Be Your Woman” (2007). Her first major role was Briony Tallis in “Atonement,” which came out when she was 13.
In some ways, she says, acting came more naturally then. “When I was a kid and I was working surrounded by adults, you just take it on the chin and take it as it comes,” she says. “Nothing really affects you too deeply, so just go with it. It’s as you get older that it starts to carry some weight to it.”
As she got older, she started drawing her performances more from her own experiences, such as her feelings of homesickness overseas while playing the lead role in “Brooklyn,” the story of an Irish immigrant in New York.
She found revisiting her emotions “quite therapeutic,” she says. “It can really help get something out of your system or help you understand why you’re feeling a certain way or just be more in touch with how you’re feeling.”
Despite her affinity for period pieces, it was a contemporary role that took her career to the next level. In 2017, she starred in “Lady Bird” as a strong-willed, rebellious teenager who is about to go to college. She says she was particularly drawn to the film’s dialogue. Her portrayal was widely lauded and landed her another Academy Award nomination, following nods for “Brooklyn” and “Atonement.”
She’s returning to period work—and reuniting with “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig—for “Little Women,” set in Civil War-era New England. As heroine Jo, she’ll be acting alongside Emma Watson as Meg and Meryl Streep as Aunt March. To prepare, she read biographies of Alcott as well as books about the time period. Ms. Gerwig keeps the cast busy. Ms. Gerwig “wants everything quite paced,” says Ms. Ronan. “There’s a speed to it which is great, so it means you’re not resting for too long.”
Ms. Ronan hopes one day to explore more of Ireland’s history on screen, saying she’d love to play Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, a Northern Irish activist, or Constance Markievicz, an Irish countess and early 20th-century political activist. For her next film, though, “I’d like to do something modern now, because I’ve been doing periods lately,” she says.
She enjoys remaining incognito at the grocery store. Her relaxed attire helps. While she says her style changes all the time, she thinks she tends to dress like a “cool Scandinavian mother.” When I look at her quizzically, she describes loose, high-waisted pants and flowing shirts. “They’re not necessarily Scandinavian, but I just mean mothers who have just had a baby,” she explains. “I look a bit like a mother of one who’s gone mad in Anthropologie.”