Saoirse Ronan became one of the youngest actors ever nominated for an Oscar with her haunting performance in 2008's Atonement, and the subsequent years have seen her lend that innate maturity to playing a pre-teen assassin, an eternally ageless vampire and, now, a young woman trying to survive war-torn London in the powerful new film How I Live Now.
In the film, directed by Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, State of Play), Ronan's character falls in love just as The U.K. becomes a violent military state and she's forced to traverse the dangerous countryside in order to reunite. ETonline sat down with Ronan at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills to talk about her brave new role, her approach to acting and the upcoming film that might forever change the course of her career.
ETonline: I have to say, I just love the film choices you make. What is it you look for in a role?
Saoirse Ronan: I never know what I'm looking for. There's something about it that needs to be a little bit fresh or a little bit different and unpredictable. I love films that have a lot of twists or are incredible simple and beautiful. The tell-tale sign for me is when I've finished a script and days later I'm still thinking about scenes from it. Maybe it's because I'm an only child, but I've always acted out scenes on my own and I find that if I've read a script I really love, I'll pretend I'm that character and make up scenes for her, so if that weird sh*t starts to happen, then it means I probably want to do the film.
ETonline: And what was it that appealed to you about this film?
Ronan: I wanted to play a person you'd see walking down the street. I had consecutively played a few characters who had a supernatural element to them. Even though everyone considers that to be "different," if that's all you're doing, you're not different anymore and I didn't want to be pigeon-holed. Also, she's not a very likable character and I hadn't really played that since Briony (her Atonement character).
ETonline: And yet the audience does come to sympathize and side with her throughout the course of the movie.
Ronan: This is the thing, even though she's unlikable, there needs to be a certain amount of vulnerability in order for the audience to care. The one worry I had when I read an earlier draft of the script was that she could come off like this bitch you wouldn't care about. The more we worked on [the script], the more we found moments for her vulnerable side to come out -- so the audience could see why she was behaving this way and that she had a massive amount of guilt knotted up inside of her. Slowly you begin to understand why she is the way she is. But, truthfully, I don't see her as a heroine; I don't think she's Katniss or anything, this is a girl who has fallen deeply in love and had to get her sh*t together and grow up really fast.
ETonline: Was it jarring to go from filming a big budget movie like The Host to a streamlined indie like this?
Ronan: Oh yeah, absolutely. Also, I was the second youngest on The Host whereas I was the eldest on this, apart from George [MacKay, who plays Eddie]. It did change the dynamic a bit; it meant I was taking care of the kids, which was so perfect for Daisy. I had a great time on The Host as well, made friends with everyone, but How I Live Now was a much more organic experience.
ETonline: The Host was poised to be the next Twilight, were you disappointed with its performance?
Ronan: I can't really concern myself with the business side of this industry, I find it hard to think about and that's kind of why I have agents. They look after all that stuff and I know they take care of me in that way. In the business sense, I want to play roles that are different because I don't want people to see me only playing one person. I think about my roles career-wise from that perspective, but otherwise it's just the impulse and excitement I feel over a role. I think deep down once you take the money out of it, you instinctively know what's good for you.
ETonline: What was it about The Grand Budapest Hotel that made you want to be involved?
Ronan: If Wes Anderson asks you to do a film, just bloody do it, no questions asked. I was completely shocked when he wanted to send me the script, I honestly couldn't believe he got in touch because I love his stuff so much. The whole way through I never forgot I was making a Wes Anderson film.
ETonline: And How To Catch a Monster, Ryan Gosling's directorial debut -- what excited you about working on that?
Ronan: I really wanted to work with Ryan; I almost worked with him on The Lovely Bones and remembered how great he was. The cast loved him, and he was so sweet. I love the choices he's made as an actor; I think he's very intelligent with his taste. And then I read the script he wrote, which is just so cool and original and different. We had the best time in Detroit. It was so great. I don't know if I would be good at it, but I would quite like to write and direct one day as well. I don't know that I would do it for anyone to see, but I get so much from watching directors work and I'd love to be able to try that one day too.
How I Live Now is in theaters, On Demand and iTunes on November 8.