Saoirse Takes Stardom in Her Stride

IT'S a very long way from the tiny village of Adrattin, Co. Carlow to the Academy Awards - or at least it used to be. Last week Saoirse Ronan, 13, the young Irish film star and Carlow native, brought the two separate worlds a little closer together when she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in Atonement, the epic film which won a total of seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.Saoirse's father, well known Irish actor Paul Ronan, who started his career in New York, took the initial Oscar congratulatory call at 3 a.m. in their apartment in Wellington, New Zealand where the Ronan family is currently staying as Saoirse films The Lovely Bones, with Kiwi director Peter Jackson.In a phone interview with the Irish Voice last week, Saoirse spoke about her excitement at receiving her first Oscar nomination."I heard my dad roaring his head off in the middle of the night so we all knew that something was happening. But until I heard that I was nominated I didn't really want to think about it at all, because I didn't want to get too excited, that way if it didn't happen I might not be disappointed."But happen it did, making Saoirse one of the youngest actors ever nominated for an Oscar for her performance as 12-year-old aspiring writer Briony Tallis in the film based on Ian McEwan's best-selling novel. Oscar nomination or not, Saoirse admitted that in reality she doesn't have much time for Briony Tallis, the upper crust English girl she played in Atonement, or for the way that Briony tried to get other people to play the roles she'd written for them in her plays. "Briony's very posh and I'm a Dubliner, you know? It's mad when people meet me and they say, 'Oh, you're not English?' They get really surprised," the young actress says."I didn't like Briony as a person. I think if I met her I wouldn't be her friend. I know that's harsh. She's a nave little girl who saw things she didn't understand and got very confused. And because she was a storyteller she tried to figure it out in her head. She turns it into a story, but she gets it wrong."In a dramatic change of gears character-wise, next moth cinemagoers will see Saoirse playing Michelle Pfeiffer's free spirited American daughter in the romantic comedy I Could Never Be Your Woman. Pfeiffer plays a mother who falls for a younger man (Paul Rudd) with the help of and comedienne and actress Tracey Ullman as Mother Nature, who instantly messes up their fates. After that Saoirse will appear as a young Scottish girl in the dark thriller Death Defying Acts with Catherine Zeta Jones, and she'll round out the year in the highly anticipated fantasy film City of Ember with Bill Murray (the film was made in the old Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast).This week Saoirse's in New Zealand where she's tackling the harrowing role of Susie Salmon, an American schoolgirl who is raped and murdered and who then watches over her grieving family from heaven, in Jackson's adaptation of The Lovely Bones. It's a challenging role for the young Oscar nominee, but right now Saoirse says that the fact that she's become a go-to actor is a huge reward in itself."I'm 13 and I haven't been in the business that long and to be nominated for an award that big is amazing, but I can't even think about it, you know?" she says. "Somebody said to me the other day it's not about the winning - if you're nominated at all that's fantastic."Ronan's parents Paul and Monica hail from Dolphin's Bar and Cabra in Dublin, and so their daughter's own accent is a lilting mix of Carlow and Dublin, and has remained completely unaffected by all her globetrotting. In the 1990s the Ronans lived in New York, where Saoirse was born, and where Paul was discovered as an actor. The family then moved back to Ireland when Saoirse was three because they felt it would be a better place for Paul to pursue his career. Throughout the 1990s he continued acting in hit television shows like Ballykissangel and film productions like The Devil's Own with Brad Pitt.A chance encounter launched Saoirse's own entrance into the entertainment world. Paul went for an audition one day and a talent scout noticed his daughter. Saoirse was just eight years old at the time. Soon she started getting small roles in television, and then one day her career took off.Asked if she ever misses being an ordinary schoolgirl back in Carlow, Ronan thinks for a moment and replies, "I really miss the idea of going to school. Because I was making City of Ember I wasn't there for my last day of primary school. And I didn't see my friends until Christmas last year and I missed them so much. "In the future I think I'll have to strongly think about doing two films back to back again, because I got so homesick. It's hard sometimes being far away from home."Luckily for Saoirse, each of the six very different film roles she's played in the last two years came up at about the same time and she was in a position to schedule them all. It's a remarkable career debut by any standard, and so there's no question that she's strongly in the running at this year's Academy Awards. Her talent is evident to all who see or work with her, and her particular gift for accent work and dialects has paid off handsomely."I've always had a good ear for accents. I've always been able to do an English or an American one," she says."In Atonement we all had the exact same accents - expect for the young fella (she pronounces it young'flah) in the film who likes the character Lola. The rest of us all sounded the same."In an interview with the Irish Voice in November, co-star Keira Knightley mentioned how impressed she was that Saoirse's own accent was so different from the character she played. Said Knightley, "She sounds so proper in the film and in reality she has this amazing Irish accent." Knightley was full of praise for the young star, with fellow co-star James McAvoy, who plays Knightley's doomed lover, adding: "She's got her head screwed on and she's incredibly talented. She's going to go far."Saoirse isn't a method actor in the style of Daniel Day-Lewis, say. She doesn't have to live as the character 24-four hours a day. She comes in, does the scenes, then asks for tea and biscuits, or she goes home. "I recently did a scene in The Lovely Bones that involved lots and lots of crying," she says. "So I prepared by thinking about what was upsetting her as the camera crew set up. By the time they were ready I just did the scene. When it was over I was done. There's no need to keep doing it when it's over."That common sense approach extends to her attitude to stardom and the roles she chooses to play. Although her agent has a desk full of new scripts to look at, Saoirse intends to wait until her current project is finished. And maybe even then she'll take a breather."Unless something really special like Atonement comes up, I'm going back to school in Carlow for a while now. I mean, I'm after starting high school and I haven't even been there yet! I can't wait to get back," she says.It's typical of the way Ronan was raised by her parents that her feet are firmly planted on the ground. "My ma would land me quick if she thought I was getting above myself," says Saoirse laughing. It's also typical of her that she's just as delighted to note that that Atonement had received a nomination for its Irish cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey. "It's lovely that two Irish people have been nominated for the same movie in the same year," she says.Saoirse has a particular ambition to play an Irish role, but so far she hasn't found the right script. Irish scripts keep coming in, though, and their main attraction for her is that it would be nice not to have to think about her accent. She would welcome a role where she just had to think about the acting and nothing else. Meanwhile, the siren call of Hollywood and all of its scandals and excesses leave her completely unimpressed. "Hollywood is okay, but I wouldn't want to live the

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