Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don't let Santa Claus ask Saoirse for her autograph

OSCAR shortlist day brings out the patriot in us all. We love to see an Irish name in the running for an Academy Award. The Sheridans alongside the Scorseses. The Neesons taking on the Nicholsons.

So it was disappointing that Saoirse Ronan was passed over in the Best Actress category yesterday. The supremely talented 15-year-old from Carlow had been tipped for recognition of her performance as a murdered young girl in The Lovely Bones.

I hope she is not too downhearted – but I’m not altogether sorry that she has missed out. That is neither begrudgery nor jealousy speaking. (Although her great success so far does make me wonder what the hell I did with the first 15 years of my life.)

Saoirse, who already had an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress under her belt at 13, has nothing to prove. Since the Lovely Bones, she has shot a movie with Colin Farrell and is about to shoot another with Atonement director Joe Wright. To
say she has a future in film is an understatement.

But the spotlight is an even more intense place for her two years on. She is no longer the child who wore a green dress to the Oscars because she wanted everyone to know she was Irish. At the Dublin premiere of The Lovely Bones last week, she looked every inch the lovely young woman. She wore fabulous Nina Divito high heels and a glittering black dress.

It’s that cusp of teenagehood where she begins to look womanly – but at 15, she is very much still a child. Her parents, Paul and Monica, are protective of her. Under their guidance, Saoirse is unlikely to start drinking the hotel minibar dry or turning into a nightclub-hopper like Lindsay Lohan.

There is, however, only so much Saoirse can be protected from, given the industry she is in. Her friend Sarah Bolger – who starred in Jim Sheridan’s In America as a 10-year-old and whose star is also on the up - has spoken of how she was offered inappropriate scripts when she was still 16. When I interviewed her last year, she explained: “These scripts were coming up for me even two years ago that had stuff in them that would be just a little dodgy.”

And just because she has turned 18, reporters apparently think it’s okay to ask her about sex.
“It's madness,” she said. “This interviewer asked, ‘So who would you like to jump into bed with?’ We had been talking about Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (with whom she stars in The Tudors), so I'm sure he just wanted me to say him.”

Even Saoirse’s acclaimed role in The Lovely Bones could have presented her with a very grown-up dilemma. In the book on which it is based, her character endures a terrible sexual assault before she is killed. Thankfully, the film’s director Peter Jackson decided such graphic detail was not needed for the screen version. As time goes on, will Saoirse confront less understanding directors and producers?

It’s wonderful to see our two lovely girls grow up so beautifully on camera but we can’t forget that they are still fragile teenagers. It’s a tough enough phase of life as it is – without the added pressure of having to cope with adult expectations and pervy interviewers.

We might heed the words of the first real child star, Shirley Temple, and her poignant reminder that fame made her grow up too fast, too soon.
“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six,” she once said. “Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.”

It’s not as salacious as the cautionary tale of Drew Barrymore, the little girl from ET who was drinking at the age of 9, taking cocaine by 11 and in rehab at 13. The moral of their stories are the same though: being thrust into the public eye at a young age hastens the death of innocence.

If missing out on the Oscars carousel for a year gives Saoirse more time to go home and play with her beloved dog Sassie and hang out with her mates, then it will be time well spent.

THIS is the extended version of the op-ed I had published in yesterday's Evening Herald at

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