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Interview: Saoirse Ronan

Irish actress Saoirse Ronan isn’t even 25 yet, but she’s managed to snag two Oscar noms. She tells Cath Clarke why moving to London and homesickness made her role in Brooklyn more real.

In interviews amous people are always trying to convince us how down-to-earth they are. You know, just like us. With a little help from a personal assistant, VIP access to the first-class lounge at airports and free handbags from Miu Miu. The thing about Irish actress Saoirse Ronan is that she genuinely does seem to be normal – even if her childhood was anything but. Oscar-nominated aged 13 for Atonement, in her teens she worked with “Pete” (Jackson on The Lovely Bones) and “Wes” (Anderson on The Grand Budapest Hotel). She credits her mom and dad for not ending up a trainwreck like Lindsay Lohan.

Ronan, 21, hugs me hello in a London hotel room. We’ve met before and she remembers. When I compliment her on her frock (she’s dressed up for the premiere of her new film Brooklyn), she pulls a face. “People have been telling me how pretty it is.” She rolls those blue eyes that dazzle like jewels – making you blink with their brilliance. She was much more comfortable earlier, being photographed in her Converse.

She is picky about films: “Now that I’m getting older, I have an even clearer idea of what I want and what I stand for.” For ages before Brooklyn, she’d been looking for an Irish script with a strong female character, that wasn’t about the IRA or diddly-diddly and set on a farm.

Brooklyn is a gorgeous adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel about a young Irish woman, Eilis, who immigrates to New York in the early 1950s. At first Eilis is virtually paralyzed by homesickness, but she slowly makes a life, falling for a handsome Italian-American. When a death calls her back to Ireland, she’s torn between two worlds and two lovers. “What I liked about Brooklyn is that love isn’t a fairytale,” she tells me. “It’s not as simple as what hunk will I choose; it’s what life does this person represent to me.”

Ronan was actually born in New York and thinks that she’ll probably end up living there someday. Her parents immigrated in the ’80s; her mom Monica was a nanny and dad Paul worked as a bartender and later an actor. Famously, Brad Pitt bounced baby Saoirse on his knee on the set of The Devil’s Own. The family moved back to Ireland when she was three. “Mam and I were talking about it the other day – the constant fear, always holding your breath. They used to leave the flat in the Bronx in the morning not knowing if the locks were going to be changed when they got home.”

An only child, Ronan is close to her mom and dad. Six months before shooting Brooklyn she moved out of home and rented a flat in London – making the film’s storyline painfully close. “There’s a line in the film: ‘You’ll feel so homesick you want to die.’ That totally described how I was feeling.”

Deadly serious, she tells me that a big reason for moving was a fear of turning 25 and not knowing how to pay a bill. “I was really aware of being a child actor who’s gone from Mam’s house, where everything’s done for you, to a film set where everything’s done for you. You don’t have to worry about laundry and there’s a lunch made for you every day and you get picked up in a car. It was important for me to be doing my own washing and cooking.”

She found a little place in suburban London – her dad and uncle Joe came over from Dublin to move her in. “It was the second place I looked at,” she says. “To be honest I didn’t really know what I was doing.” How did she get on with the washing and cooking? A proud smile lights up her face. “I loved cooking. I cooked everything from scratch. I fecking love BBC Good Food. And Jamie.”

In Dublin, she’s regularly spotted on the street – which is why she came to London. “I needed time to be anonymous, to mess up a bit without anyone watching me,” she says. “I’m only in my twenties.” And did she figure it all out? She nods. “There have been a lot of changes. My first relationship. Learning to say ‘No’ in my work life. I needed to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be in my personal life. London was a great fix because nobody knows who I am.” There speaks a 21-year-old with a wiser head than most 35-year-olds.

 

Brooklyn opens on Apr 29 after screening at the Istanbul Film Festival.

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