Saoirse Ronan ‘I Would Prefer Not To Work Than To Compromise’
The Debrief: The 21-year-old actress calls for more developed female roles in the film industry and speaks about her new film Brooklyn
Saoirse Ronan is lovely. She’s exactly the kind of girl I want to be when I’m a grown-up and together lady. Except she’s younger than me.
I met up with her recently to talk all about the 21-year-old Irish actress’s new film Brooklyn, based on Colm Toibin’s Booker-recognised novel of the same name. It’s about an Irish girl named Eilis who’s sent over the US in the 1950s to find work, taking her from a small Irish countryside town to the big, bustling, multicultural streets of Brooklyn.
‘To have travelled over in the 1950s and not have any knowledge of what America was…? Phew,’ says Saoirse in wonder.
Eilis struggles to settle into New York at first. Her boy-mad flatmates in her strict Catholic boarding house are focused on finding a husband when Eilis wants to become an accountant. ‘At that time it was really quite something for a woman to stand on her own two feet and decide what she wanted to do,’ she says.
And, in the end, it turns out that the power lay in Eilis’ hand. A tragedy takes her back to Ireland and she has to make the decision between her old life and the new one she’s carved out for herself. ‘Really the film’s about choice,’ says Saoirse. ‘It’s about the choice between this new world she’s created for herself that was very much hers or stepping back into a life that belongs to someone else.’
Saoirse has a knack for choosing interesting female roles who take charge of their lives. From her breakout role as Briony Tallis in Atonement to the ass-kicking teenage girl in Hanna to the sullen Daisy in apocalyptic thriller How I Live Now, there’s not a giggling sidekick among them.
‘I’ve been incredibly lucky and got to do the stuff that I’ve wanted to do and haven’t had to compromise in any way,’ she says modestly when I ask her how she chooses her roles. Not that this means she isn’t aware that there’s a problem with female characterisation in films.
‘Yeah it’s annoying and it pisses you off!’ she says. ‘I still get scripts coming to me for roles where they say, “She’s the heart of the film”, and she’s actually the girlfriend of the lead or the receptionist or whatever.’
In fact, one of Saoirse’s acting friends recently struggled with this. ‘She went up for a role and in the script it was described for the male lead character as “just his type” and that’s all they say about her. They don’t talk about who she is or what she does or anything like that. She’s literally described as this object that’s in relation to him.’
For Saoirse, it’s unacceptable. ‘This needs to change. I’ve definitely come across all of that stuff and straight away you just say “no”. I would prefer – unless I had kids or I got really desperate – not to work than compromise and do something like that.
‘I always think, this is why I love Cate Blanchett and Tilda. There’s so many roles that they take on that could be either gender. I like that a lot of their roles aren’t gender specific or overly sexualised or glamourised. They’re just interesting people.’
Brooklyn is in cinemas from 6 November.
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