“The ceremony is about three hours and the red carpet seems to last about two hours. So, that’s all very draining But it’s really exciting. To meet all those stars is great. It ends up feeling quite surreal”
world, her dad, Paul, was supplementing his acting gigs with shifts as a barman and construction worker. They had recently moved to New York, but, as the Irish economy began to improve, elected to go home. The family now live in Carlow (though Ronan’s own accent has distinct hints of Dublin).
We instinctively, unfairly assume that all child actors are driven into the business by disappointed, club-wielding parents. Ronan does a good job of dismantling those preconceptions. “Mam and dad aren’t pushy at all,” she says. “Dad is an actor and he
casually said to his Irish agent when I was younger: ‘See if you can put her up for a few things.’ When I was still very young, I got a part in The Clinic and then in Proof. I somehow got Atonement and it then took off.”
Ronan’s assurance in Joe Wright’s adaption of Ian McEwan’s novel was extraordinary. She had a stillness and a firmness that spoke of total immersion in the character. Where did that come from?
“I think it depends on the character; whether you get her straight away,” she says. “With Briony I just got her like that. And it’s funny. I’m not like her at all. But for some reason, I got her. With Susie, I didn’t really know what to do at first, and as I went along I discovered the character. I hadn’t read the book – I was just 13 when we started – but by the end I was the character. It was a journey.”
There are downsides to fame. In a recent Guardian interview – some details of which had to be retracted following calls from m’learned friends – she admitted that, following her brush with fame, school stopped being much fun. “When your schoolmates recognise you before they’ve met you, and the teachers do, too, it can make things very awkward and difficult,” she said.
She is now taught at home, but, the modern world being what it is, bullies and jealous nutters must still manage to whisper the odd word in her ear? No class of actor receives larger amounts of sniping on cyberspace than does the female teenager. A famous near-contemporary of Saoirse’s (no names) has, according to posters on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), been pregnant by another teen star for about three years.
“Yeah, I read that too,” she says with a disgusted laugh. “There’s another friend of mine who they also said that about.”
So, does she manage to avoid the temptation to google herself? Even plumbers, solicitors and harbourmasters will find rude stuff about themselves if they look hard enough. (“He calls that a U-bend! What a fraud!”) Lord knows what it must be like as a teenage actor
“I have been foolish a few times and looked it up,” she says. “But, yeah, I try my best to avoid it – especially things like IMDb. An awful lot of the time people are jealous. Then again, maybe they just don’t like me. But they say very mean things. Now, I know it would be a lot worse being someone like Miley Cyrus, who really attracts that awful stuff, but I do get some nasty stuff. I’ll see something nice and think: that’s great. Then a few days later, I’ll see someone saying I’m not pretty or whatever. That’s not fair. Express your opinion, but don’t post it on the internet. Don’t be mean.”
Still, Saoirse Ronan is sensible enough to recognise that there are many more ups than downs to her current position. Two years ago, she even got to storm up the red carpet as an Oscar nominee. She was ultimately beaten to the Best Supporting Actress gong by Tilda Swinton for her performance in Michael Clayton, but it must have been a headspinning experience for a young girl.
“I’ll tell you what’s surprising. It’s really, really long. The ceremony is about three hours and the red carpet seems to last about two hours. So, that’s all very draining. But it’s really exciting. To meet all those stars is great. It ends up feeling quite surreal.” And she has to pick a dress, of course. “That is really, really stressful. I was already working on The Lovely Bones and I didn’t really have any experience. I was forced to organise a dress with a stylist, but, if that happens again, I will have more experience.”
It almost certainly will happen again, but, alas, not this year. Since the interview, The Lovely Bones has opened to distinctly iffy reviews and somewhat underwhelming boxoffice in the US. The critics were generally appreciative of Ronan’s performance, but, when the Oscar nominations were announced last week, her name was not on the list.
Yes, it can be a tough old business. Ronan spent a good six months of her life shooting The Lovely Bones in Jackson’s home country of New Zealand. Indeed, for a large part of the last three years, she has occupied caravans in odd parts of the world. Recently, she was in Bulgaria shooting The Way Back with director Peter Weir, and will soon begin work playing a teen assassin in Joe Wright’s Hanna. That will undoubtedly involve another jaunt. She must get a little homesick.
“Well it depends where you are,” she says. “When I was in New Zealand, it was the farthest I had been from home. It’s the farthest you can get from Ireland. But it felt like home. People are just so similar. I loved it there. Then I went to Bulgaria and Morocco, and I was very homesick. It’s funny how that works.”
Ronan really does come across as an intriguing amalgam. One moment she is bouncing round the room, acting out Peter Jackson’s directing style; the next she is calmly explaining the intricacies of discovering a character’s inner motivations. Which Saoirse reveals herself when she’s at home: the teen or the thespian?
“Oh I like being with my friends and playing with my dog when I’m at home. I like being outside. The usual stuff.”
A perfectly normal, Oscar-nominated teen movie star then.