Saoirse Ronan has a difficult name and talent that's easy to admire. • Her first name (pronounced SIR-shuh) is the Irish word for "freedom," reflecting Ronan's heritage. Already one of the youngest Oscar nominees ever — at age 13 — for 2007's Atonement, she's touted again with her performance in The Lovely Bones. • Ronan, now 15, plays Susie Salmon, a murdered girl watching over her grieving family from limbo, in director Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's novel. • During a telephone interview, Ronan discussed the movie's disturbing theme, compared working with Jackson and Atonement director Joe Wright, and explained why she's more likely to be found in Ireland than L.A. between projects.
The Lovely Bones focuses on a child's kidnapping and murder. Was it tough to dramatize something that's every parent's nightmare?
Not really. For us, it was just another piece of work. We knew it would be emotionally challenging, but at the end of the day it was a job. Luckily, the atmosphere we had on set during the whole movie was fantastic and helped to balance things out.
Director Peter Jackson is being criticized for dodging Susie's graphic death, which Alice Sebold described in her book. What are your thoughts?
First of all, I can't really understand why anybody would want to see a 14-year-old girl being raped and murdered on screen. Something like that would completely overwhelm the story. The movie isn't actually about Susie's murder; it's about everything that comes after, how her family deals with this and how she's finally able to accept her death. If we had shown it, the movie would've gone in a completely different direction.
You've now worked with two acclaimed directors. Any difference between Jackson and Wright's styles on the set?
There are differences with every director you work with. Pete is like a big kid, really. He's always moving and he's always energetic on the set, really involved physically and emotionally. Joe mostly uses his words, if that makes sense. He'll come up to you, look you in the eye and tell you the truth, what he needs and what he thinks.
How do you cope with celebrity as a teenager while so many others struggle?
I don't mind doing the whole red carpet thing when I have to when it comes to publicizing a movie. But besides that, I don't like those kinds of things at all. Celebrity status is not really something that appeals to me. To be a serious actor, it's about the work that we do, and the good people we're doing it with.
It's certainly not the commercial side that appeals to me. It's healthy to break away from the Hollywood scene for a while. That's not something I'd like to be around the whole time. That's why it's very important for me to live in Ireland with my parents.
After the heavy drama of Atonement and The Lovely Bones, I've got to ask: When are you going to lighten up?
Soon, actually. The other film I have coming out this year (the wartime drama The Way Back) is also going to be heavy, but there are a lot of scripts that I'm really interested in, and most of them are lighthearted and funny. They don't deal with death quite as much. Well, one does (the teen assassin flick Hanna, to be directed by Wright).
But it wasn't really a conscious decision for me to choose all these dramas. It just worked out that way. Since I'm quite a bubbly person myself, it makes sense that I do something in that vein.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.