Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sir-sha, Seer-shan, Saar-sheen... sorry, Saoirse

From today's Irish Independent - now here's a 15-year-old to make you wonder how you spent your wasted youth....

By Susan Daly

Wednesday January 27 2010

It should have been difficult for Saoirse Ronan to play the victim in her new film. The 15-year-old has known little but success in her short life. She starred in a major Hollywood movie, Atonement, at 11; was nominated for an Oscar at 13.

A few days ago, she was shortlisted for a BAFTA for Best Actress -- her competition is Meryl Streep. Days before that, she waltzed off with the award for Best Young Actor at the prestigious Critics' Circle bash in Hollywood.

Susie Salmon, the Lovely Bones character that has won Ronan the most recent accolades, is raped and murdered by her pervert neighbour. Although audiences are spared the graphic details, it's an intense role for anyone to play, never mind a teenager from rural Carlow.

And yet Saoirse ended up comforting Stanley Tucci, the Devil Wears Prada actor who has the thankless job of playing Susie's murderer. "It turned out she's the one who really in some ways made us all feel comfortable because she's so mature," he said of his co-star.

That's our Saoirse -- all grown up. As The Lovely Bones premieres in Dublin, it hardly seems four years since she landed her first major Hollywood role. Back then she put the tiny village of Ardattin, outside Tullow, on the showbiz map by bagging the part of Keira Knightley's complex little sister Briony in Atonement. She had previously only had two small parts on Irish television, in The Clinic and Proof.

And can it be only two years since Hollywood scrambled to find out how to pronounce 'Saoirse' after her shock nomination for Best Actress for her role Briony Tallis in Atonement? (Hollywood still fails miserably to get its mouth around her first name.)

The dizzy ascension from Carlow to California could make a child grow up fast. Atonement was followed by roles opposite Catherine Zeta Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer. She will next be seen in The Way Back with Colin Farrell and after that, playing an Eastern European assassin called Hanna. From murder victim to would-be murderer.

Thankfully, it appears that Ronan is as Tucci claims: mature rather than preternaturally aged by her experiences. Although she has been glamming up for The Lovely Bones premieres from New Zealand to New York, her gorgeous gunas have been age-appropriate. In promotional interviews for the film, she opts for the teenage uniform of jeans and her favourite Nike high-tops.

When Vanity Fair photographed her last year, she wore a red satin dress but teamed it with a pair of white Converse trainers. It was the perfect portrait of someone successfully negotiating the line between young girl and young adulthood.

So much of this level-headedness must be down to her parents, Paul and Monica. "They come everywhere with me, and they're a huge part of keeping me grounded,'' Saoirse told The LA Times. "And living in the country in Ireland, which is so far away from the Hollywood scene, keeps me from getting caught up. Nobody where I live is interested in that side of things, really."

Her parents emigrated to New York in the 1980s, returning to Ireland in 1997 when Saoirse was three. Paul, an experienced character actor, encouraged his creative only child to try acting when she was around eight or nine, for a "lark".

She wasn't a stage school brat, yearning for stardom. They sent a tape of Saoirse auditioning at home to the casting director for Atonement and that was it. Her career went stellar -- but her feet stayed on the ground.

"She still has the friends she would have made in school here," says Paddy McInerney, Principal of Ardattin National School, which Saoirse attended. "She meets up with them whenever she's home.

"And the children now follow her with interest -- they're excited when she appears in magazines or on television. But she's been back to attend a couple of things since she left -- she was here when we were opening an extension to the school a while back, for Confirmations, for Christmas events."

Saoirse had a normal, consistent childhood, he believes. "It was really only in fifth class when she started to film Atonement and a few other films that things began to take off for her," Mr McInerney told the Irish Independent.

"So her last two years with us were intermittent, but she had a tutor on set. She had her textbooks we were using and the tutor was in touch with us. She was a very good student, very bright, so she kept up very well."

She now has a home tutor as she combines her last few years of schooling with the growing demands of an A-list career but she's making a good fist of keeping it real. Far from trying to take advantage of her fame -- she claimed last week to be grateful she's not as famous as the "Twilight people or the Harry Potter kids" -- she is a teenager to a tee.

She's not falling out of LA nightclubs -- TV and computer games and playing with her old border collie dog Sassie are her past-times.

She has professed concern about whether boys are interested in her, or in "Saoirse Ronan the actress". But she also converses freely with pals on the social networking site Twitter.

In one tweet, she raves breathlessly about the new Lady Gaga album; in the next, she urges friends to "Go see The Lovely Bones guys!! Hope you like it!!" An uninformed reader would think she was recommending a film she saw down the omniplex with her mates last night. There is a hint that there might be something more to this 15-year-old. Her friend Katie has posted a picture of the pair hugging fiercely on a night out. Teen girls are nuts about their friends.

But look a little closer. Katie's dad is standing in the background. He looks familiar: it's Peter Jackson, director of Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Lovely Bones. And he's talking to Steven Spielberg. Normality is relative.
Starlight, starbright: Five ways we can tell Saoirse is on the rise


Saoirse's first brush with fame came early when her dad Paul was acting in The Devil's Own (1997). He brought her on set to meet the leading man, Brad Pitt, who picked Saoirse up in his arms.

Saoirse doesn't remember that fateful moment -- she was just a toddler -- but clearly some of Brad's star quality must have rubbed off on her.


Saoirse was in the original line-up for Ridley Scott's upcoming blockbuster Robin Hood alongside Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett but, as happens to those in demand, ended up having to choose between Scott and Peter Weir, who wanted her for his new film The Way Back.

She plumped for the latter, which also stars Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Jim Sturgess. Tough choice, eh?


You know an Irish performer's international stock is high when the Brits start claiming them for their own. And so it is with Saoirse, who has been nominated by the London Film Critics' Circle 2010 Awards as Young British Performer of the Year for her role in The Lovely Bones.

The Critics' Circle's website has tried to clarify the matter, posting the following on their website: "Irish citizens are eligible for these awards but many Irish actors and directors work on what are technically British films and their work deserves recognition."

The Lovely Bones is a film based on a novel by an American author, directed by a New Zealander and produced by Steven Spielberg's company (but co-produced by FilmFour, which must make it 'technically British').


By being nominated for the Oscar for best supporting actress in 2008 -- for her role as Briony in Atonement -- Saoirse joined an elite group. At 13, she became the seventh youngest actress to be nominated in that key category.


If Meryl is Queen of Hollywood, she gave the royal stamp of approval to Saoirse at the Critics' Choice Awards in LA. She swept the 15-year-old into her arms for a huge bear hug after Saoirse won the Best Young Actor gong.

Hopefully Meryl felt as friendly when Saoirse became her competition six days later, with both of them nominated for Best Actress in the upcoming BAFTAs ...

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