Saoirse Ronan speaks with a lovely lullaby accent and is up for talking about pretty much anything -- how she used to think L.A. was "kind of shit," how she doesn’t want to play the teenager who hasn’t been kissed or lost her virginity because she’s past those points in her life, and how "In America" is one of her favorite films.
But what she wants to talk about most is being Irish. Ronan had two films at this year's Sundance Film Festival, including "Brooklyn." In the romance, she plays a young Irish immigrant who journeys to New York in the 1950s in search of a brighter future. Ronan's character navigates her first love, homesickness and learning to fit in when she is very much an outsider. A sudden return to Ireland briefly sets her whole plan off track. The film garnered so much attention at the festival that it became one of this year's top purchases -- Fox Searchlight bought it for $9 million.
"I was waiting for the right Irish project to come along with the right Irish character," she told HuffPost Entertainment in Park City. "I didn't want it to be the stereotypical Irish film. I've been offered a few of those and I haven't felt like they were special enough."
Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson in "Brooklyn."
The film is an adaptation of a book -- something Ronan seems to gravitate toward -- and was written for the screen by Nick Hornby, who is considered one of Hollywood's best writers. Ronan credits him with making “Brooklyn” truly special. So special, in fact, that she was signed on to star a year before they even began shooting.
Ronan’s respect for Hornby is evident. “He’s an English writer and didn’t grow up in Ireland,” she said. “But he was able to capture the Irish spirit so perfectly and so beautifully. He made it nuanced and full of ease.”
“Brooklyn” is a real story that has layers to it, she said. “It wasn’t fucking set on a farm and it wasn’t about the troubles in the North. We’ve seen that; we’ve done that.”
Ronan was born in New York to two Irish parents, but the family moved back to Ireland when she was still a child, and it remained her home through adulthood. But her Irish identity goes far deeper than the sound of her voice.
“We’ve always been a nation of storytellers. And we were pushed down so much as a country for so long, that storytelling and our imagination is what got us through,” Ronan said.
“Storytelling is a huge part of our identity. And we are good at it.”
Clearly the trait did not skip over Ronan. She has had a certain kind of eye for projects and even was nominated for an Oscar for the very first film most people saw her in, 2007’s “Atonement.” She was a mere 13 years old.
Since then, Ronan has chosen intelligent, highbrow films (with the exception of the sci-fi flick “The Host,” which was worth it because she now has a cult following among the teens). She also made a splash in “The Lovely Bones” and “Hanna.”
But she is most widely recognized for Wes Anderson’s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which is currently nominated for nine Academy Awards. It is also her highest grossing film.
She’s been somewhat picky with her roles, opting out of the big Hollywood blockbusters, and until recently, choosing to still live in Ireland. But when she heard that Wes Anderson was sending her something, she didn’t hesitate -- “I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just do it! He doesn’t have to send it,’” Ronan said.
But he did send it and she was blown away. “It wasn’t even like I was reading a script, it was more like a novel. It was so complete. It was so detailed,” she said.
Ronan and Tony Revolori in "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
“I’ve never seen anybody prep a film like Wes does,” she continued. “He’s meticulous, organized and prepared before he goes into shooting a film. So much so that he actually will do an animated version of what the film is going to be, shot by shot, so you know how much time each shot is going to have onscreen.”
Ronan’s second film at Sundance, “Stockholm, Pennsylvania,” couldn’t be more different from “Brooklyn.” She plays a young woman who was kidnapped as a child and raised by her kidnapper in a basement. She returns home to her parents and a life she does not remember. Ronan takes on the role with a kind of quiet power that is electrifying.
“I’ve always relied on my instinct pretty heavily. The director is incredibly important. They need to be clear about what they want. I started acting when I was young and even though I was lucky with the people I worked with, and they treated me with a lot of respect and as an equal, I was still the kid.”
But just like her character in “Brooklyn,” Ronan has grown out of the 13-year-old we saw in “Atonement” and left home for greater life roles. She hopes to move to New York one day, as it’s both a big part of her identity and “an inevitable destination.”
“I couldn’t ever go back to just being at home now. It’s different. I’ve changed and had my own experiences.”