Grounded for life

Far-flung lo­ca­tions; Os­car nom­i­na­tions; red-car­pet pre­mieres; the harsh glare of a celebrity-ob­sessed me­dia. Amid this whirl­wind, Saoirse Ro­nan could hardly be ex­pected to be an av­er­age teen. Could she? Don­ald Clarke meets the down-to-earth Car­low su­perst

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

EVEN FANS OF The Clinic and Proof were sideswiped by the rapid rise of young Saoirse Ro­nan. Be­fore she whipped Atone­ment from un­der the noses of pros such as Keira Knight­ley and James McAvoy, the young ac­tor, now 15, had done lit­tle else but play re­cur­ring roles in those RTÉ se­ries. Here in Ire­land, we like to hype our ris­ing tal­ent, but no­body saw that per­for­mance com­ing.

Then, to add to the sur­prise, she turned out to have an en­gag­ing way with the me­dia. Un­like some child ac­tors – who de­serve to be sent to bed with no Baf­tas – she seemed to have mas­tered the act of seem­ing (or, let’s be fair, be­ing) im­pres­sively nor­mal.

In Lon­don to pro­mote her role in Peter Jack­son’s The Lovely Bones, Ro­nan has po­si­tioned her­self in front of a plate of pasta and a soft drink. Curled up on the ex­trav­a­gant sofa, she has the as­pect of a teenager ready to watch Twi­light while scoff­ing her tea. Un­for­tu­nately, she has to look at me rather than Robert Pat­tin­son.

Most 15-year-olds would find the in­ter­view process in­tim­i­dat­ing. I won­der how she man­ages to seem so re­laxed. Did the me­di­a­train­ing wonks get at her be­fore her first jun­ket? Of course, her fa­ther is an ac­tor him­self.

“Well my par­ents are still with me,” she says. “But no. I have only re­cently heard about the busi­ness of me­dia train­ing. I never had any. My dad did maybe give me a few point­ers about how to an­swer ques­tion – and what sub­jects to avoid.”

Back in 2007, the at­ten­tion that fol­lowed the release of Atone­ment – not to men­tion her sub­se­quent Os­car nom­i­na­tion – must have come as a sig­nif­i­cant sur­prise. Af­ter all, the young Briony Tal­lis – the char­ac­ter Ro­nan played – only ap­peared in the first third of the pic­ture.

Ro­nan is, how­ever, the ful­crum around which The Lovely Bones spins. Based on a hugely pop­u­lar novel by Alice Se­bold, the film fo­cuses on a child’s mur­der in a wiggy, spooky ver­sion of 1970s Amer­ica. Fol­low­ing her death, Susie Sal­mon – sus­pended in a weird af­ter­life, whose slightly queasy dec­o­ra­tions re­flect her own teenage sen­si­bil­ity – watches as her par­ents, ar­gu­ing and rail­ing, seek to dis­cover her miss­ing re­mains. Mean­while, the mur­derer, played by Stan­ley Tucci, con­tin­ues to live right across the street.

Some ac­tors can shake off such mis­ery when they re­move their cos­tumes. Oth­ers carry it home with them.

“It did worry me some­times – es­pe­cially near the start of mak­ing the movie,” she says. “Some­times I found it dif­fi­cult to not imag­ine what a fam­ily like the Salmons would be go­ing through. It’s hard. Their child is taken away and they just don’t know where she is. It’s aw­ful to just have blood as mem­ory and ev­i­dence. I would think of the other girls who were mur­dered in the story and I would get up­set and cry. At the same time, I had to put that aside and carry on.”

Ami­ably gan­gly, with long grace­ful fea­tures, Ro­nan does come across like a typ­i­cal teenager, but, as that an­swer clar­i­fies, she has a very dis­ci­plined, fo­cused ap­proach to the work. True, she was born into the busi­ness. She was not, how­ever, raised among a Bar­ry­more clan or a Red­grave dy­nasty. When Saoirse Ro­nan came into the

irish­times.com/thet­icket/

Saoirse Ro­nan in Ja­pan to pro­mote The Lovely Bones: “Ro­nan does come across like a typ­i­cal teenager, but . . . she has a very dis­ci­plined, fo­cused ap­proach to the work”

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