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Saoirse Ronan talks Oscar contender ‘Brooklyn,’ understanding her character

(Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Saoirse Ronan, the stunning Irish-American actress and star of the recently released “Brooklyn,” has been acting on film since age nine. At the age of 12 she became one of the youngest performers to be nominated for an Academy Award with her performance in “Atonement.” Throughout her young career Ronan has had the pleasure of working with diverse talents including Keira Knightley, Ryan Gosling, Peter Jackson and Wes Anderson.

In “Brooklyn,” her latest film, Ronan takes on her most personal role to-date, portraying a struggling Irish immigrant who moves to New York in the early 1950s. The film is a brilliantly understated and compassionate work. The Daily participated in an interview with the actress in which she discussed her performance, among other details.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Hi, Saoirse. I hope I didn’t pronounce your name too poorly.

Saoirse Ronan (SR): No, you got it perfect.

TSD: First of all, I want to compliment you on a very fine performance. This is your first role, or one of your first roles, playing an adult woman. Could you speak about the role and the character, and how you feel about moving beyond juvenile roles?

SR: I mean it’s interesting because even when I was a kid, I never was involved in children’s films apart from maybe one or two. They were always quite grown up, and so when I got to the age of about 18 and 19, I was really ready to play someone older, and certainly by the time I reached 20. It’s a tricky time because there’s a lot of execs and writers and studios and all the rest that can’t really pinpoint exactly what a journey would be for a young woman between the ages of 18 and 21, so it’s a tricky time to get the role that is interesting and still kind of matches your maturity and where you’re at in your own life. When “Brooklyn” came along, it was perfect, and it was like a bloody guardian angel or something coming down and kind of going, “Okay, you’re ready now.” I think just going through that experience, I felt quite changed afterwards, but I was very much ready to take that step.

TSD: How emotionally invested do you think you were in the character of Eilis since she and you both come from New York and Ireland?

SR: I mean initially that was the real personal connection for me was the fact that my mom and dad had made that trip over from Ireland to New York and had gotten married in city hall just like Eilis and Tony did, and I was born there.  Yes, these two places really very much made up who I am. But by the time we actually made the film, which was maybe a year or so after I had signed on, I had moved away from home and was living in London and was going through home-sickness myself and still trying to figure out where I stood in the grownup world.  It’s a very daunting feeling I think, and I was right in the middle of that while we were making the film, so it meant that every kind of stage that we see Eilis reaching and overcoming, I was going through myself.

It was very scary because of that, because there was sort of nowhere to hide, but by the same token, once you actually get through something like that there’s nothing more gratifying.

TSD: Eilis arguably undergoes both a physical and an emotional transformation in this movie because she becomes confident, she becomes older, she’s more comfortable, she’s stronger because of what she’s been through; you do a really great job of manifesting this physically. So I was wondering what preparation you took for this role and sort of manifesting her physicality; also, does it differ from the preparation that you’ve taken in other roles?

SR: When I did a film called “Atonement” a few years ago when I was about 12, the director on that, one of the first things that we worked on apart from the accent, was the way a character would walk.  And so that’s always been quite important for me, and I think from that it naturally meant that a character’s emotional face really reflected and feed into their physicality as well, and it kind of naturally starts to happen.  Yes, I guess it was just one of those things that sort of naturally, as you say, manifested through the course of the script, but the more confident emotionally the character was, I guess I just kind of naturally stood in a different way.

I think when a character has purpose as well, when a young woman has purpose and she knows where she’s going, your walk is going to always reflect that. And so I think it was just one of those things that really kind of happened naturally. I could feel that like when we brought Eilis back home to Ireland in the second half of the film, she was more in control of herself. She, as you said, has been through quite a life experience since she’s been away, has gone through fear and grief and love, and has taken on so much responsibility for herself. And so, just like it would in real life, that just kind of naturally reflects or feeds into the way you hold yourself, I guess.

TSD: What did it feel like to film so close to where you grew up? I know some of the scenes were shot in Ireland.

SR: It was weird. It was really weird. We actually shot in Enniscorthy where the book and the film were set, and Colm Tóibín, the author, is actually from there. It’s like 25 minutes away from where I grew up in Carlow, and it’s a place that we used to go to the cinema when the film that we wanted to see in our one-screen cinema in Carlow wasn’t on; we would go to Enniscorthy. So I knew the faces there; they were quite familiar to me, and there were a lot of extras who would be in the dance hall or at the church, and would come up to me and say like, do you remember me from years ago? We played basketball together or were at sports together. These were people that I wouldn’t have known personally, but kind of met in passing.

To have a life that even I’m not part of anymore, that was very much my childhood colliding with work which had always been kept so separate when I was kid, was bizarre and amazing. It was really amazing. It was great to be surrounded by really kind of Irish characters. This wasn’t imitated in any way. We were surrounded by the Irish spirit, so I think it really helped the film.

 

Contact Raymond Maspons at raymondm ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Raymond Maspons

Raymond Maspons

Raymond Maspons is a class of 2017 Film & Media Studies major. He was raised in Miami, but born in Los Angeles. One of his particular interests is the unique and subversive thematic or formal qualities that often appear in genre films. Since elementary school he has spent a significantly large amount of his life watching movies and television, and not doing trivial things like homework.