Saoirse Ronan Talks Moving On, Growing Up & Brooklyn

Saoirse Ronan has been stunning audiences for years, earning her first Oscar nomination at 13 for the role of troublemaker Briony in Atonement. Now, at 21, Ronan is all grown up in her new film Brooklyn.  

Growing up along side her characters onscreen is something Ronan has done for most of her life, but none she has held so close to her heart as her character, Eilis Lacey. Both going through similar stages in their lives more than 60 years apart: leaving home for a new country, learning how to become an adult without the constant guidance of their families. That is the soul of Brooklyn, a romantic drama based on the novel by Colm Tóibín.

Ronan stars as Eilis, a young Irish woman in the 1950s who is forced to leave her small town to start afresh in New York. Despite the opportunities she finds in America, Eilis struggles with homesickness, but then she finds love with an Italian boy, Tony [Emory Cohen].

The Dolphin, along with other reporters, got the chance to speak with Ronan during a conference call about Brooklyn, leaving home and more.

WARNING: There are some spoilers ahead

The Dolphin: How emotionally invested do you think you were in the character of Eilis since you and her both  come from New York and Ireland?

Saoirse Ronan: I mean initially that was the real personal connection for me, the fact that my mom and dad had made that trip over from Ireland to New York and had gotten married in city hall just like Eilis and Tony did, and I was born there. Yes, these two places really very much made up who I am, but by the time we actually made the film—which was maybe a year or so after I had signed on—I had moved away from home and was living in London and was going through homesickness myself, and still trying to figure out where I stood in the grownup world. It’s a very daunting feeling I think, and I was right in the middle of that while we were making the film, so it meant that every kind of stage that we see Eilis reaching and overcoming, I was going through myself.

TD: You mentioned that through the process of the movie, you yourself changed in terms of where you were, so  what kind of insights did you take away in terms of who you wanted to be?

SR: I think coming through Brooklyn, the thing that it taught me or the lesson that it taught me is that everyone goes through this, everyone has this feeling, and it won’t always feel like this and it will get easier. I think for me, Brooklyn, going through it, reading the script, and even watching the film now and talking about it is the equivalent to somebody either you know well or maybe not at all just sitting down with you and being able to perfectly articulate exactly how you feel. I’m sure we’ve all had that where you’re trying to figure out why you feel a certain way and maybe you’re confused by it, and someone is able to pinpoint exactly what that is for. It kind of knocks you back, and it can be overwhelming and really emotional that somebody else understands and somebody else has been through exactly the same thing. And so Brooklyn gave me the safety, I guess, in knowing that I wasn’t the only one who was going through this and it would get easier.

TD: What did it feel like filming so close to where you grew up?  

SR: It was really weird. We actually shot in Enniscorthy where the book and the film were set, and Colm Tóibín, the author, is actually from there. To go there, which is like 25 minutes away from where I grew up in Carlow, so I knew the faces there, they were quite familiar to me and there were a lot of extras who would be in the dance hall or at the church, and would come up to me and say like, do you remember me from years ago? We played basketball together or were at sports together. These were people that I wouldn’t have known personally, but kind of met in passing. To have a life that even I’m not part of anymore, that was very much my childhood colliding with work which had always been kept so separate when I was kid was bizarre and amazing. It was really amazing. It was great to be surrounded by really kind of Irish characters. This wasn’t imitated in any way.  We were surrounded by the Irish spirit, so I think it really helped the film.

TD: When people go to see this movie, what do you want them to take away from it?

SR: I think honestly, I mean John has put it really well whenever anyone’s asked, just to be kind to people. I think the real—if there’s any message with this film, apart from the personal connections that everyone has seemed to have to us in one way or another, the heart of this movie is that she gets on well in life and she grows, and she grows into this amazing young woman because the people around her have been kind to her and they’ve helped her and they’ve shared advice and wisdom and their experience. And because of that, she has been able to, as I said, ultimately stand up and announce who she is and realize that she needs to make a choice. She wouldn’t have been able to do that at the start of the film, she wasn’t there yet. It’s really—it’s the people around her that helped her to come out of herself in order for her to get the confidence and have that security in who she is.

TD: You’ve done a very eclectic mix of films and now developing into more mature roles, what do you look for when you’re considering a script and what attracted you to this script specifically?

SR: I think one of the really important things for me and it always has been is that I’m always doing something different. The project that I’m looking at for the future needs to be different to whatever I’ve done in the past. Obviously, you can’t always make a dramatic change, but I feel like you need to do that as much as possible in order to grow and learn more and just being able to really adapt to different types of personalities that you’re playing.  What I’ve found more as I’ve gotten older and where I’m at personally kind of at this stage now in my life, it’s important for me to play someone who maturity-wise is at the same kind of place. It’s always important that they’re not just the crutch to somebody else’s character, that they’re interesting and well written and intelligently written. I would never want to play someone that’s just the girl next door or something like that, I’ve never found that interesting. I’ve always kind of thought when I look at the likes of Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton that so many of the roles that they’ve taken on could have easily been a man, and it could’ve been a male character because it’s not necessarily gender specific, it’s very much just about this person that they’re playing, and so that’s kind of what I’d like to emulate too.

Brooklyn is set to open in Syracuse theaters on November 25.