Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, 19, burst on the scene with an Oscar-nominated breakthrough performance as a meddling child in the 2007 romantic drama “Atonement.” Since then she’s played a ghost, two girl assassins, a fairy, a vampire and a space alien. In her latest film, “How I Live Now,” she plays a survivor of World War III.
In a recent phone interview, Ronan said her run of extreme characters is less a matter of personal choice than a reflection of the scarcity of normal-person roles for an actress her age.
“It’s the way it’s worked out. I haven’t set out to play only characters that are in extreme situations,” she said in a musical brogue. But when acclaimed directors like Peter Jackson, Joe Wright, Peter Weir, Neil Jordan and Andrew Niccol make those offers, you accept the work. “At that stage, a couple years ago, if I got an audition, I’d do it,” she said.
Working at the age of 13 opposite Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in the weighty literary adaptation “Atonement” affected “the choices that you make job-wise.” Ronan has steered clear of “cutesie kiddie kids” parts, favoring adult dramas and comedies. “It was just what I was drawn to. There were a lot of teen-y characters in teen-y films I didn’t want to be in. It wasn’t my cuppa tea.”
Ronan has had her eye on several scripts with significant normal-girl parts for a couple of years, waiting to mature into the proper age range. Now on the cusp of adulthood, she hopes to be in a position to push them into production. “I didn’t want to be put in a box or have people say, ‘Oh, she’s doing that again.’ But mainly as an actor I didn’t want to get lazy and pull the moves when I played another strange girl.” In “How I Live Now,” her character, Daisy, is a sullen, self-involved teenager discovering first love. She does it against the backdrop of terrorist strikes and martial law, but she’s a normal young person nevertheless.
Ronan’s next two films will have a strong component of fantasy and adventure. She’s the love interest in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” an all-star ensemble comedy opening the Berlin film festival in 2014. And she’s one of the leads in Ryan Gosling’s bizarre film noir “How to Catch a Monster,” a supernatural missing-persons story.
“Wes has an absolute clear image of his story. It’s great working with him because he knows each character much better than you do, so you look to him to see where you’ll go next. It means you don’t have to, as we say at home, faff about too much. All of that stuff has been decided already.”
In contrast, Gosling is daringly improvisational, she said. “He knew where he wanted the story to end up but it was all very much about discovery in how we would get there and where we would take these characters.”
Gosling’s film, shot on location in deteriorating sections of Detroit, was a far cry from Anderson’s fastidiously designed sets. “One of my first scenes we shot in a gas station. Somebody had been murdered there two weeks before we got there. We were in those kind of situations,” she said. “It was the best!”
On Twitter: @ColinCovert