TIFF: Saoirse Ronan on ‘Brooklyn,’ Feminism, and Her Brush With New York’s Escaped Convicts

by Valentina I. Valentini 12:18 PM PDT, September 14, 2015
Photo: Fox Searchlight

Irish actress Saoirse Ronan first wooed American audiences with her Oscar-nominated performance as Briony Tallis in Joe Wright’s 2007 drama, Atonement. Now at 21, she’s worked with many of the greatest filmmakers, including Wes Anderson, Peter Jackson and Peter Weir, shared the screen with Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray, and continues to grow as an international box office draw.

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Ronan is renewing her Oscar buzz with Brooklyn, a story about an Irish immigrant in 1950s New York City written by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy).

While at the Toronto International Film Festival for Brooklyn’s premiere, ETonline sat down with the young star to discuss dating, feminism, and what happened while filming in the same town where two escaped killers were found.

ETonline: How are you? All talked out yet?

Saoirse Ronan: You know I’m doing OK. I do always get sick every time before I do a press junket though. It’s like I’m allergic to press or something.

Oh, thanks.

Yea, I’m allergic to you. Stay away from me!

Such a sweet part of Brooklyn was how Tony (Emory Cohen) courts your character, Eilis. Watching it, I thought, that’s just not ever going to happen to me--or my girlfriends--today.

I know. I think we all live and hope, don’t we? We’re never going to meet someone like that. Back then, there was a process: there’s the initial meeting, the courting period, then marriage, then sex. People weren’t as tactile then. It wasn’t in the culture to be physical with each other--even if you were just chatting with someone. We’re quite cuddly now--especially actors--all kisses and hugs. John [Crowley, the director] had to keep an eye on that with us during filming. We couldn’t hug each other; we had to be quite restrained. It adds a sexual tension, the not touching, so that just the touching of a hand means so much.

And what about the process of dating now?

I have to say, it’s more common for an actor to get in relationships with others you work with because you’re friends with them or get to know them [during filming]. So the dating thing, I’m not as well up on.

Are you saying dating for you is different than it is for me?

No! I’m saying that I’ve never done the whole, ‘Hey stranger, I’ve never met you before, let’s talk to each other for the next two hours.’

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So you’re not on Tinder?

No, I’m not on Tinder. [Laughs] My hair stylist earlier was joking that we should get Grindr just for a laugh and to see who’s on Grindr in the hotel. Not that that will help you or I, but I do think technology plays such a big part in relationships now, social media and such. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not. I’ve had a different kind of introduction in to dating since it’s been with people I’ve known well already.

Speaking of social media, are you very active on Twitter?

The reason I even got on Twitter was because when I was probably 15, I heard Stephen Fry talking about this new thing called Twitter, and I thought, ‘Well if Steve Fry is on it, I’m going to be on it.’ But I don’t use Twitter.

Well, I tweet every now and then, maybe every six months. When the marriage referendum happened in Ireland, it was a great way to get the message out there. And I tweet a bit about the charity work I do at home with the ISPCC, Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I will never use it to publicize anything that I’ve done. I feel very uncomfortable doing that sort of thing. 

Back to Brooklyn: Eilis runs up against being an independent woman in a time that it wasn’t so fashionable. Feminism was a different thing than it is now. What’s your take on it all?

To see a character like her, set in that time and not have it be solely about the men that are in her life, that’s quite feminist in itself. Actually, all the women in this film are very independent and strong. I think feminism couldn’t flourish then as much as it does now. In a way, it’s become sort of unpopular now for us to be treated as equal citizens. Some people treat feminism as taboo--and if they shave their arm pits then they’re not feminist. To me, feminism is just that we’re equal to men.

That’s literally the definition of feminism.

Exactly. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the African author who wrote “We Should All Be Feminists”--and Beyoncé quoted her TedTalk in “Flawless”--this is the thing that I hope will change--and certainly in our industry it is a bit already--that the competition between women isn’t becoming so much about men anymore. That we are trying to support each other more, that we’re trying to stick by each other instead of being against each other. It’s about thinking in a different way.

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You have two arts-related and quite dramatic productions coming up--Anton Chekov’s The Seagull, adapted for the screen, and a film about Vincent Van Gogh.

The Van Gogh story is more experimental. They’re getting painters in to hand-paint every frame in the film. I was based on a portrait of a woman he painted at a piano. They suspect she had a relationship with Van Gogh before he was killed, or killed himself, who knows. Visually, it’s going to look so different. And Chekov, we only finished a month-and-a-half ago. We shot in Monroe [New York]. It’s really pretty, but you know those two convicts that went missing? They were found in Monroe. An Amber Alert went off on my phone the first night I was there on my own. It was very exciting, thought I was going to get murdered every day.

What was your favorite movie this past year?

I loved Inside Out so much. It was so beautiful, really was so amazing. Trainwreck was great, and Spy was great too.

Brooklyn premiered Sunday, Sept. 13 at the Toronto International Film Festival and will hit in theaters in the U.S. on Nov. 6.