At only 15 years old, Saoirse Ronan has accomplished more in her short acting career than most actors will in a lifetime. Ronan has starred in major films with Bill Murray and Keira Knightley, has worked with acclaimed directors Joe Wright and Peter Weir, and has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her breakout performance in 2007’s Atonement.
Ronan’s latest film The Lovely Bones, in theaters December 11, is based on the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold. The Irish actress plays Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl who was murdered by her neighbor and watches her family from Heaven. She contemplates seeking revenge on her killer or allowing her family to heal.
Directed by Oscar winner Peter Jackson and also starring Susan Sarandon, Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, The Lovely Bones is already being rumored to win big this awards season. Ronan could very well win an Oscar this time for her performance.
North by Northwestern participated in a conference call with Saoirse Ronan about her upcoming project.
All the major films you’ve done have been adaptations of novels. For example, when you played Briony in Atonement, did you interpret her more through the screenplay you read or through your analysis of the novel? Do you ever find yourself having conflicts with the director about the interpretation of the character?
I would focus more on the character in the screenplay instead of the book because it’s a different version of telling the story. It’s the film version so I’m going to focus on that a little bit more. But still, it’s handy to be making movies that were based on books as well. No, I haven’t had any conflicts really with the directors that I’ve worked with, so I’ve been very lucky. We’ve been on the same page. We’ve gotten on really well, so, no we’ve understood each other. It’s been good.
Did you read The Lovely Bones before you became involved in the production, and if so, what was your initial reaction to the book when you first read it?
Well, I actually had waited to read it after I had made the movie. I just really wanted to focus on the screenplay version, and also, I felt like I was a little bit too young to read it at the time, I was 13. So, as you know, the book is a little bit more visual and a bit more violent than the film, so it just made sense. But I read the book this year for the first time and I absolutely loved it. I felt every emotion possible. And I think because I had been through the whole experience of making the movie and living through the story, I think that helped me to really connect with the book and to understand the book fully.
How involved is Peter Jackson with his actors, like does he basically let you do your own thing, or does he have a very set way of the way he wants things done?
No, he’s pretty involved. I mean, he’ll let you be free. If you want to try something out, he’s very welcoming towards that kind of approach. But he likes to be very involved with his actors and he’s always there. He’s always up and ready to go and he was great because he would kind of act through what we were going to do, which made me and the girl who played Holly, it made us laugh sometimes. He was just great. But, yeah, he was very hands on.
As a young actress, what attracts you to the darker roles that you’ve been playing in The Lovely Bones and also in Atonement?
I suppose with Atonement and The Lovely Bones, it just sort of worked out that way. But I love the depth to them. I love just their thinking process, especially with Atonement. And, it just, you know, it takes a lot of thinking to really understand those kinds of characters. There’s a lot of parts now where it’s very easy to just be the happy girl, and there are some great characters at the moment who are more than that, and who are also very uplifting, like Susie Salmon. So, yeah, it just really depends.
Why haven’t you gone into a lighter route like some of your peers, like the Hannah Montana-type?
Well, I don’t think I’m really that kind of actor, anyway. I’ll leave Miley Cyrus to do that. But, I think you’re right. I think it’s important that I do something a little more lighthearted. I mean, you know, the first movie that I made was a romcom and it was funny and lighthearted, so yeah, it’s important for me to do something like that and there’s a few scripts that aren’t quite as serious as what I’ve done so far. So, hopefully they’ll work out and you’ll see me on a lighter note.
What should viewers learn and take away from this film?
Well, I think that the message of this movie, although it may not seem like it to people who haven’t seen it yet, is ultimately hope, and how you get there. You know, when Susie arrives in the in-between, she doesn’t want to go forward, which would mean accepting her death. She wants to be back on Earth with her family and she knows she can’t do that. And to get there, you know, it’s about her love for her family and not the hate and vengeance that she has for her murderer. So, it’s hope really.