Saoirse Ronan reflects on her impressive career, and explains why Brooklyn is her favorite movie yet.
Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, a young Irish girl who journeys to New York to find work in the 1950s. Adapted from a Colm Toíbín novel by Nick Hornby and directed by John Crowley, the film also stars Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, and Emory Cohen.
During the BFI London Film Festival, Saoirse Ronan participated in a Screen Talk with LFF Connects. Here she reflected on her impressive career, looked ahead to future projects, and of course discussed Brooklyn at length.
Why ‘Brooklyn’ is Saoirse Ronan’s most personal project yet
Saoirse Ronan describes Brooklyn as, “Very challenging, but the most rewarding film I’ve ever done.”
“Just the effect it has on me… I don’t know what it is, I’m still very much awash with emotion,” she admits. “Eilis, and Eilis’ story, is just a huge part of who I am.”
In the past, Ronan has always looked for roles that allowed her to step away from herself and play varied, interesting characters. But in Brooklyn, she really found herself empathizing with Eilis on a personal level. “And I think because it was so close to me, to not have any separation at all was actually a lot scarier, and it was a lot more vulnerable,” she reflects.
“Someone said to me that it’s a very delicate film and it’s such a great way to describe it, cause simple was never the right word,” says Ronan. “It’s an incredibly emotional film. We all know what that feeling [of leaving home] is like, what that heaviness is like.”
“The realization sets in that you can’t go back, that once you’ve made that step, you can never go back to how it was, before you left, and you can’t prepare yourself for that, you know? That’s not something that anyone tells you about really, when you leave home.”
Both Ronan and her character spent most of their adolescence in rural Ireland (although Ronan was born in New York City), and both came to find themselves back there later in life.
On that parallel, Ronan says, “I was so desperate to get out of there, and then over the last few years I have started to mourn the simplicity of it; the beauty of living in a place where everyone knows reach other. It can drive you mad, but it’s also kind of beautiful from a distance. And to shoot in a place that was twenty minutes away from where I grew up was an incredibly vulnerable place to be in. And even now, the flood of emotion that I get just when I even think about Brooklyn… it just means an awful lot, it means an incredible deal to me.”
“I think we all felt a huge responsibility, especially the Irish, to home, and getting this right. And just really wanting to tell our story in our own way.”
‘Brooklyn’: From book to screen
Although Ronan read the novel by Colm Toíbín long before she read Nick Hornby’s screenplay, she still tried to push the book to the back of her mind when working on the movie.
Says Ronan, “I think a lot of people can kind of run away with the whole comparing the novel to a script… we always need to shift certain things and alter certain things in order for it to fit that format, you know?”
But there is one relationship that didn’t make it into the movie, that she’d like audiences to keep in mind.
“I remembered Colm referred to Eilis’ dad quite a bit, and it was important to know about their relationship cause then you’ll understand and appreciate the dynamic between Eilis and Rose and her mother a little bit more,” she says. “It’s just the three women in this house, and they rely on each other in different ways. Eilis and her sister are so tight; Rose is her security, and Rose is the one that decides that she’ll go to America. Even though Eilis is completely stepping into the unknown, she’s so terrified and I think she’s almost a little bit in shock, she trusts her, she trusts her more than anyone else. And I think it was important to just understand a little bit of the dynamic before her dad passed away.”
Ronan calls the script by Nick Hornby “amazing,” and clearly has great admiration for director John Crowley.
“He wants the film to look beautiful, but really the goal for him is to get that emotion, and it’s very much about working with his actors,” she says of Crowley’s process.
And after seeing the splash the film made at Sundance, it looks like he succeeded. “The reaction we’ve had has just been a dream,” Ronan enthuses. “We know this is a once in a blue moon, and this just doesn’t happen very often. When someone from an audience comes up to you and has exactly the same reaction that you had when you made the film, and it affects them just as deeply as it affected you, that’s very special. We’re so proud.”
Stories from the set
Saoirse Ronan also had some fun tidbits to share about her previous acting jobs.
She fondly recalls her work on Atonement, in particular working with director Joe Wright and her co-star James McAvoy.
“James was amazing, and he really took care of me. He’s the kind of guy who’s really great with kids anyway, and I remember him being particularly warm with me,” Ronan says.
As for Lovely Bones, she recalls reading the book after doing the movie, saying, “I’ve gone back and [read it], and I just sobbed. I pictured Rachel [Weisz] as my mum and Stanley [Tucci] as my murderer… Stanley’s lovely in real life, he’s not a killer. He’s a lover.”
Finally, she shared a fun little story about the first film set she was ever on. “I remember when we were on set, there was one guy who just kept talking and talking, he wouldn’t shut up. And I must have been about seven, I must have been so annoying, we were rolling and he just kept talking, he was a grownup, and I turned to him and I was like, (whispers) quiet on the set! And he shut up then. And the rest is history,” she laughs.
Loving ‘Bridesmaids’ and championing female directors
When asked what movie she likes to rewatch, Ronan says, “Bridesmaids is a big favorite.”
On whether she’d ever like to direct herself, Ronan cheekily responds, “Well, when I was about ten years old, I did a little short called Ed the Baker. It was about this guy who was a baker, and his name was Ed. So I have actually stepped behind the camera!”
But while, “I’ve always really loved the idea of directing,” she wouldn’t want to jump in without proper preparation.
When asked what actors and directors and actors she’d like to work with in the future, she names Cillian Murphy (she’s been watching Peaky Blinders!) and Maggie Smith, and Irish director Lenny Abrahamson.
“And there’s a lot of great female directors actually, that are finally coming to the surface that I’ve had meetings with,” she says, “and I’m working with one next year that I’m really excited about. One of those women! (Laughs.) But it’s exciting to finally, I mean, 90% of the directors I’ve been working with have been male and they’ve been incredible… but it would be really nice to work with more women in the future, and I can feel that that’s starting to happen.”
Naming Grease and Dirty Dancing among her favorite movies, Ronan further admits, “for years, I’ve really wanted to do a musical!” Shall we throw her name into the Mary Poppins hat?
Next up though, Saoirse Ronan will be heading to Broadway, starring as Abigail Williams in Scott Rudin’s revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
‘Brooklyn’ premieres in London at the BFI festival Monday, and on November 4 in the U.S.
Here’s the trailer: