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SUBJECT: Atonement

Saoirse Ronan and director Joe Wright Thirteen-year-old Saoirse Ronan was in Los Angeles for the Golden Globe Awards, where she was nominated for her role as Briony Tallis in the critically acclaimed drama Atonement. In it she plays a 13-year-old who accuses a young man of a crime he didn’t commit, changing everyone’s life forever. Unfortunately, because of the continuing writers’ strike, the Golden Globe ceremony was cancelled, but for the young actress from Ireland, just seeing her fellow Atonement actors, being in Hollywood, and the warm, sunny weather was enough to satisfy her. Ronan was on her way to New Zealand to complete filming Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, but had time to speak with us about her soaring career.

Q: What do you think of Los Angeles?
A: I like it. It's completely different from where I live; it's nice having the weather because we don't have that in Ireland, only in the summer. Mom and I got really excited that the sun was actually out today.

Q: How challenging was playing Briony?
A: Briony was pretty challenging. I had a lot of discussions with Joe (Wright, the director), and without Joe I couldn't have done any of it. He's just amazing. I think the main thing to being Briony is just to imagine, because that's what she did. [laughs]

Q: She's such an intense character, was it exhausting to play?
A: No. I think as soon as I started playing Briony I got really close to her. I'm not a method actor at all, but I felt like I kind of became Briony in a way. Every day I'd just think, in what way would she react to whatever it was that we were doing that day? And then, again, Joe would talk me through it. He really helped

Q: What did you think of her behavior?
A: I think a lot of people say that Briony was a brat and she was a bitch and everything. I get really defensive when I hear people say that because she was 13, and she was a child in the1930s, and she never would have seen anything like this before, or read anything like that before. There wasn't any television. She didn't listen to the radio. All she had were her stories. And she is a storyteller. And when she saw all these things, she got really confused and she tried to put some order to it in her head, and made herself believe that "this has to happen in order for it to fit into my story." So she did. She made herself believe.

Q: In terms of tough challenges, how does Atonement compare with The Lovely Bones?
A: I can't compare because they're completely different films. They're completely different characters. They're both really challenging roles, which I think are the best roles. And Peter Jackson is a fantastic director. And so is Joe Wright. It's a challenge, but they send the message so clearly that it's not completely double-dutch, you know?

Q: Does the script for The Lovely Bones deal with the unusual setup of the novel where she’s dead and talking from heaven?
A: Heaven isn't like this in the book. She's not sitting on a cloud and she hasn't got wings sticking out of her back. It's great the way Alice Sebold did it. Because it's through a child's eye, which is kind of the way Atonement is. And it's all in her imagination. And whenever Susie feels happy, as happy as she can feel, heaven is sunny and there's flowers and birds, and whenever she's not feeling so great, it's raining or she's in the middle of an ocean. And it's really beautiful.

Q: Because your character is dead in The Lovely Bones, do you get a chance to interact as much with the other actors?
A: No, pretty early on in the film she's murdered. So I've got loads of scenes with the actors, but not as much as they all have with each other. We haven't done the heaven stuff in New Zealand yet. I'm going next week to do all that stuff. So I'll be there most of the time on my own.

Q: How did you find out about your Golden Globe nomination, and are you disappointed about the awards being cancelled?:
Saoirse RonanA: I'm 13, so anything at all is exciting. [she laughs] But I think just to be spending time with Joe and Keira and James and all the guys from Atonement is fine for me. I don't know what we're going to do. I don't know whether we're going to watch it or not. I'm really not sure what's going to happen. But I was in Pennsylvania when I got the word. I was doing The Lovely Bones from 2 o'clock onwards, and that was my last day in Pennsylvania. And I knew that the Globes were being announced that morning. But I wasn't really thinking about it, because I was thinking about The Lovely Bones and what way I was going to tackle the scene that day. And I think it was about 8:30 a.m. but dad was up, and he was waiting for it. He was really excited. I just happened to wake up when the phone rang, and I heard my dad shout, "Yes!" I said, "Oh God, that must be good news! He must be happy for some reason." And I went out and he told me, and we jumped around a little bit and had a cup of tea to calm ourselves down.

Q: Is there an actor you’d like to work with?
A: Johnny Depp. I will say no more!

Q: Did you grill Keira about Johnny Depp?
A: A little bit, because when you think someone's a really good actor or actress, you really want them to be a nice person. So I wanted to make sure that he was a nice person, and she said he was, so I was delighted. And she said Orlando Bloom was lovely as well.

Q: What can you tell us about City of Ember?
A:It's this story about Lina Mayfleet and this boy called Doon Harrow. And they live in this city that runs on light bulbs. At the heart of the city is this big, huge generator that generates electricity. And Lina finds this box one day in her apartment, and it has these pieces of paper, and it's all ripped up because her baby sister chewed them up, which is helpful. And so Lina and Doon Harrow try to piece all the bits of paper back together, and basically try and save the city and save the citizens of the city.

Q: To get the lights back on?
A: Yeah. I don't want to say too much.

Q: Is it a Sci-Fi film?
A: It's like a Fantasy action film.

Q: Who does Bill Murray play?
A: He plays the mayor. Mayor Cole.

Q: What would it mean to you if you were nominated for an Oscar for Atonement?
A: Let's not lie. It'd be really cool to be nominated for an Oscar! It'd be really nice. But I'm 13, so if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen!

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

Visit the official Atonement site
Images above © Focus Features
Feature © 2008 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #692, February 2008 cover

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