Saoirse Ronan, who just turned 22, is busy conquering Broadway alongside her Irish co-stars Ciaran Hinds and Jim Norton in Arthur Miller's classic play The Crucible.
But she's also busy getting to grips with another challenging role, that of ardent New Yorker. Ronan, who was born in the Irish stronghold of the Bronx where she lived until she was three, moved back to New York in January in preparation for her Broadway role, and for the time being at least she plans to stay.
Like a lot of the Irish in New York, she was surprised to discover she feels closer to Ireland living here than almost anywhere else her work has taken her. Half the cast of The Crucible are Irish or British she reveals, which means there's an ease and cultural short hand on and off stage that comes from being among your own.
So how much is she loving her New York life? With the demands of six nights a week performances, is she seeing much more than the theater and her apartment?
“I am now!” Ronan tells the Irish Voice. “For a while there, I would rehearse in the theater during the week, and then fly to LA or London on the weekends for Brooklyn (her Oscar nominated film based on the book by Irish writer Colm Toibin) press, so I didn't have the opportunity to explore too much.
“There was also a massive snow storm the first weekend (in January) I was in my apartment so I was essentially snowed in and couldn't go anywhere. Now the weather's getting better and we know what we're doing with the show, so I can enjoy the city a bit more.”
So where have her explorations taken her?
“It's impossible to do nothing in New York City. It's the best city in the world and every day I have off, I want to see people, eat food, walk around,” she says.
“I walked on the High Line last weekend for the first time and it was wonderful -- a beautiful day, everyone was out enjoying themselves! The sense of community in New York is wonderful. I felt as though I belonged here as soon as I stepped off the plane!”
Onstage in The Crucible, an immensely powerful drama about the way power can corrupt those who wield it and those who seek it, Ronan is a force of nature as Abigail Williams, the teenage girl prepared to sacrifice a town to save herself from a charge of witchcraft.
The reviews are in and they're sensational, but she still has to climb that mountain every single night (and weekends). How is she holding up?
“I'm doing well. I think the biggest difference between film and theater is stamina,” she says.
“Doing a play is incredibly physical and in order to keep your energy up for eight shows a week you need to be very fit, both in your acting and physically. We're at the stage now where everyone's taking ownership over their characters a bit more and so we can have fun with it.”
Not everyone understands the courage it takes for a two time Oscar nominated film actor to put themselves on the line in a live Broadway show. What has she learned so far about the gambles and the rewards of live performance? Is it craic or is it like a daily workout?
“It's both,” says Ronan. “I'm able to have a bit of craic with it now because I'm not crippled with fear quite as much as I was at the beginning. I've been attached to this production for two years -- thinking about it, dreaming about it, fearing it and also feeling very excited to do something that I knew would benefit me not only as an actor but as a person, and now to be three months into it is crazy!”
The New York Times calls Ronan “absolutely smashing” as Abigail, mentioning her chameleon-like power to become invisible or radiant whenever she pleases. It's a thrilling endorsement for an actress who admits that just the thought of putting herself forward has kept her awake nights. Now that the dust has settled, how is the run going?
“The time has flown. It's been the busiest year of my life, but I am so happy I took that leap and did it because I'm the better for it,” she says.
“You can feel yourself learning so much, not only from the actors you're with, but the different audiences every night. You're adapting to your environment all the time.
“I'm watching each actor make little adjustments to their performance from one show to the next and that's taught me a lot. You sharpen up when you're doing a play because the performance that's given that night is on you. Because of that responsibility and needing to have an awareness of what you're doing and what everyone around you is doing, you start to understand on a much deeper level what it is you 'do' as an actor.
“In film, I've always followed my instincts first and foremost. With a play, you trust your instinct, but then you work on it and change it and you throw something new in every now and again to mix it up a bit.”
The Crucible is one of the great works of theater of the 20th century, though it's a profoundly unsettling and serious play. What made Ronan pick this show for her Broadway debut?
“The play came to me really. Scott Rudin who produces half the films that we see in the cinema, also produces a ridiculous amount of theater,” she says.
“I met him very briefly for the first time after a Grand Budapest Hotel Q&A (he produced that too) and he mentioned that he had a play he wanted me to look at. I had no idea he was talking about The Crucible!
“It was perfect timing for me though. I had always said I wouldn't do a play until I was in my early twenties. My father (Irish actor Paul Ronan) started in theater and so I was aware of the discipline and commitment it took to put on a show, so I felt that by the time I reached the age of 21, 22, I'd have been acting for over 10 years and that would be the right time to try it.”
Acclaimed Irish actor Ciaran Hinds, 63, plays Deputy Governor Danforth in The Crucible, a judge to whom abiding by the letter of the law matters much more than the lives of the possibly innocent people he's condemning. It's a role that that resonates in our own time of hardline and divisive political candidates who prefer the letter of the law to the spirit of the law.
“You're either with his court or you must be counted against it,” Hinds explains. “Once you lay that out those attitudes can become very scary because once you go off piste you are on the wrong side immediately.”
Danforth's quiet fanaticism elicits gasps from the audience, particularly when he announces he would hang 10,000 than spare one who had dared to rise against the law.
“We've seen this stuff, certainly in the north of Ireland where I'm from, this kind of rigid hardline letter of law approach,” says Hinds. “This eye for an eye scriptural stuff. It all harks back to that. But in the middle of it Miller is trying to offer up some humanity inside the horror.”
Onstage Hinds has a memorable run-in with Ronan's character, and he is full of admiration for her.
“Saoirse is such a brilliantly gifted and talented young actress. People wanted to see if she had the chops for the stage. We know how brilliant she is in film. Sometimes actors dip their toe very gently in the water to get a feel for it, but there she was bang straight up in one of the biggest name parts on Broadway and we all had to play catch up with her,” Hinds says of his co-star.
“She took off like a bat out of hell from day one in rehearsal. All lead characters offer different interpretations, but her Abigail is great because it is hard line, it's about thwarted love, hurt and angry and vengeful. In a society run by older men, to be a woman, to be a young woman, when everything is suppressed and stood on, her rage is something that fights against that.”
The Crucible is now playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street. For tickets call 877-250-2929.