Saoirse Ronan on Tarantino, growing up on set and being the voice of Arrietty,
IT’S JULY, and like most Irish 17-yearolds, Saoirse Ronan is kicking around the house. The Ronan homestead, tucked away in Carlow’s Mount Wosley, gives her time and space to think, she says. And to listen to music: “I enjoy both. I love being able to just breathe and relax.” Like most 17-year-olds, Saoirse Ronan has “completely fallen in love with Beyoncé since Glastonbury and Oxygen” and adores Lady Gaga, even though pop is not usually her thing.
“It’s all right to have a bit of a bop to,” she explains. “But it’s just not rock n’ roll.” The Saoirse Ronan internal jukebox instead draws on the classics: “Love Beach House. Love the Arctic Monkeys. Love Two Door Cinema Club. But I really love oldies. I’m mad about Dark Side of the Moon and Bowie and The Smiths and Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac.”
Like most 17-year-olds, Saoirse Ronan can’t wait to see the new Harry Potter film. “We’re Potter nuts,” she cries.
“I never really got into the books, but I loved the movies.
“My friend has a birthday next week and I promised I’d go with him; so I have to wait. It’s a tradition: we’ve gone to every Harry Potter film together growing up. I was over in the States when it opened. And I could see it right there. We could just go in and he’d never know. But mam said I had to wait.
“There’s a few of them I wasn’t crazy about but I’ve grown up with Harry Potter films. I got Harry Potter toys and gifts when I was a kid. It really feels like the end of an era.”
She speaks with a lovely, gushing enthusiasm befitting a teenager. And yet Saoirse Ronan is not like most 17-year-olds. Saoirse Ronan is a movie star with more than a decade of screen time behind her and a list of credits that includes The Lovely Bones,
Atonement, City of Ember and Hanna. She can only just recall her first gig on RTÉ’s The Clinic back in 2003: “I remember my very first day. I remember arriving with my mam and feeling quite nervous. There were lots of trailers and people buzzing about and we weren’t too sure where to go. But once the cameras started to roll I relaxed. I knew it was okay to make believe and just to do what I was doing. I’ve always enjoyed it. For me, being in front of a camera is the easiest thing in the world.”
She suspects her ease around clapperboards can be traced to infancy. Born in New York to Monica and Paul Ronan, Saoirse has always been surrounded by arts and artistic types. Dad Paul is an actor, whose screen credits include Veronica Guerin and The Devil’s Own. Movie mythology has it that Brad Pitt cradled young Saoirse on the set of the latter. “That’s me since I was alive, basically,” she says. “Especially when I was younger in New York. I’ve been surrounded by theatre actors and writers and people like that. I’ve always been in that kind of creative environment. When dad got into film we used to visit him on set. I don’t really remember details but I think a kind of familiarity has stayed with me.” Her Irish parents relocated back to Carlow in 1997 when the youngster was three. She describes her upbringing as “very free and expressive”. In this spirit, she was home-schooled following reports of bullying from teachers and fellow students. No matter, she says; she has an even larger classroom at her disposal. “Being on film sets and working with so many different people has been my education,” insists Saoirse.
“It did prepare me for growing up. I’ve learned so much from people like Stanley Tucci and Jim Gandolfini and Peter Weir and Peter Jackson. I know people who are completely startled by strange cities or new things. But I’m very comfortable in new cities and with new people. Doing this from such an early age has actually helped prepare me for anything.”
Having worked alongside Michelle Pfeiffer, Catherine Zeta Jones, Keira Knightley, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett, Ms Ronan has finally got around to voicing her first animation. Arrietty, a gorgeous new reworking of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers from Studio Ghibli, the great Japanese animation house, features the Irish actor in the title role.
“I’d seen Spirited Away which is absolutely
“[Acting is] really just about holding on to that very, very free imagination you have when you were a kid”
beautiful and My Neighbour Totoro,” she gushes. “I’ve always loved Japanese animation. It’s so different to Pixar or Disney or DreamWorks. But it’s also what I’ve grown up with. I’ve grown up with Pokémon and I’ve always loved the way Japanese animation is so magical and otherworldly.
“I’ve never done an animation before and it’s something I wanted to do for a while; so I was really excited when they asked me. I have done a lot of voice work in the roles I’ve been involved with in post-production. And I love that sole focus on the voice. I thought the animation would be pretty much the same thing, but it was a little different. Because it’s Japanese originally, you have to put an awful lot of emotion into your voice, far more than you’d need if you were working on set. It was a really fun thing to do.”
She has only just wrapped on Violet & Daisy, her second teen-assassin role of 2011 following the $58 million-dollar grossing Hanna.
“I can really see a difference now since
Hanna has done well,” she says. “I can see people thinking ‘oh well, she can be a movie that makes money too’. It’s interesting to see how you can suddenly become very busy on the back of something like that. Violet &
Daisy is about teenage assassins as well. But it’s absolutely different.
“Every scene was eight pages long with loads of dialogue that you could really sink your teeth into. That’s what I want to continue to do – I want to do this and then jump way over there. You don’t want to stay stuck anywhere for too long.”
The secret of her screen success, she says, is simple: “It’s really just about holding on to that very, very free imagination you have when you were a kid. When you’re four years old – you can be in a car that’s a spaceship or the sea. It can be absolutely anything. Acting is just really about holding on to that.”
Despite her adherence to child’s play, she is growing up. Her adolescent lankiness has now blossomed into a slender grace befitting a starlet; grandiose glossy magazines have been quick to take notice. “I only started to do press at the time of
The Lovely Bones,” she says. “It was my first press tour and it was full on because we had such high expectations for the film. It’s better now because I can control what I want to do. And I’m starting to work with fashion magazines, which is great as long as you feel comfortable in the clothes. If you don’t it’s the worst feeling in the world. You feel like you’re going to cry. It’s not like being in front of a film camera. You’re so vulnerable when you’re standing there holding the same pose for ages and ages.”
Does she look at her own clippings? “No. Never. I don’t read any of it. I don’t know why. I find it really weird to even hear that I’m in a newspaper or on TV. I wouldn’t say I avoid it. It’s just not something I need to see.”
One recent exception was an essay she wrote for the Daily Telegraph outlining her enthusiasm for the work of Quentin Tarantino. “I was asked to talk about something that I’m passionate about. I didn’t really know what to talk about in such a short little article. So I decided to pick Tarantino because I absolutely do love his work. He’s so original and genius about what he does. The dialogue is definitely a big part of it, but the theatrical energy he brings to a film is always brilliant. It’s not reality but it’s real in a fun, bizarre way. A lot of people seem to be picking up on it. Which is good because I would love to be in a Tarantino movie.”
Like most 17-year-olds, Saoirse Ronan is a big Tarantino fan. But, unlike most 17-yearolds, she might actually end up working for him.
Saoirse Ronan as the voice of Arrietty (above). Below (from left) City of Ember, The Lovely Bones, Atonement and Hanna