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The young blood who's making her mark ; CELEBRITY INTERVIEWSTeenage actress Saoirse Ronan has spent half her life working and racking up one of...

May 25, 2013


The young blood who's making her mark ; CELEBRITY INTERVIEWSTeenage actress Saoirse Ronan has spent half her life working and racking up one of Hollywood''s hottest CVs. As she sinks her teeth into her latest role as a vampire, she tells SHEREEN LOW why she sometimes feels old before her time

IT'S hard to believe that Saoirse Ronan is only 19. Her CV depicts an enviable career that many of her older counterparts could only dream of.

Four years after her first screen role in Irish TV medical drama The Clinic in 2003, her stellar movie breakthrough came in 2007's Atonement alongside Keira Knightley, earning no less than 13 award nominations for her portrayal of 13-year-old Briony Tallis, whose one jealous teenage lie has life-ruining consequences.

The nominations included an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, quite a feat for a schoolgirl making her movie debut.

Ronan - whose first name is pronounced 'ser-sha' - didn't win the Oscar, but she did end up with a small clutch of awards and, better still, her performance was the springboard for a career which has included parts as a murdered schoolgirl in The Lovely Bones and a teenage assassin in Hanna, winning further critical acclaim and awards.

Not exactly light, easy viewing, and not a single silly teen flick in sight.

There are a lot of projects now that aren't just kind of 'teeny bop' films. They're quality films and they're centred around young people, Ronan explains, in her considered Irish brogue.

You still have the other types as well, which is fine, but I'm seeing more quality projects now which is good.

In person, Ronan - who is wearing a blue shirt-dress by Urban Outfitters - is an engaging and intelligent interviewee.

With piercing blue eyes and shiny blonde hair, she has the air of someone far older and wiser than her years. She's unlikely to make gossip columnists' day by falling out of a cab after a heavy night out or by posing as arm candy with some Hollywood hunk.

I do feel like a bit of an old soul sometimes, she admits. It's something she has in common with her latest character, 16-year-old vampire Eleanor in Neil Jordan's drama Byzantium, which was written by Tamara Drewe screenwriter Moira Buffini. Eleanor has been 'living' for more than 200 years and is craving to tell people her real story. Gemma Arterton co-stars as her mum Clara.

It was easy for me to relate to Eleanor. She's very much an old soul and not only stuck in the past, but she's quite fascinated by the life she's had before. It was just nice to tap into that really, says Ronan.

Eleanor is a young girl who has been raised in an orphanage until the age of 16, and was then turned into a vampire by her mother. We find them at the start of the film 200 years later, when their relationship has become very deep and it's just the two of them against the world.

Given the hype surrounding vampires and the mammoth success of the Twilight films, it's understandable that Ronan had her doubts about Byzantium.

Clearly favouring quality over quantity, she picks her roles carefully, plumping for challenging parts in smaller films rather than major blockbusters.

To be honest, before I read the script I was a bit worried it was going to be just another vampire [film] because it is still such a trend, she admits.

Just because Twilight was doing so well, suddenly everyone was doing vampire films. And then I read the script and saw it's not really a vampire film. It's certainly more about this mother- daughter relationship and how they're stuck in limbo and how one wants to move on from their past but can't, and the other wants to forget about the past.

Ronan was also attracted to the fact that women take centre stage in a world more usually dominated by men.

That is always very appealing to an actress. This story has two lead characters, both female, and that is the first attraction. The fact that they are the violent ones makes it more interesting, she says, smiling.

She enjoyed working with Arterton. I had never met Gemma before and loved her straight away. She's funny and very laid-back and I like that she is so relaxed on set yet she takes it very seriously. She's very professional. She brings this really great energy to every scene. It was great to see her play someone like Clara because she's so feisty but she's a real woman and very much a mother at the same time. I really liked that juxtaposition between those two roles.

She's got a real maternal instinct as well, which I think helped for us to get along even better from the off. Whenever you're on a film, people want you to go bowling or whatever to bond but you do that rehearsing with someone or having lunch with someone.

A vampire film wouldn't be complete without blood-thirsty moments, of course, and Byzantium has its fair share.

Eleanor is compassionate with her prey, choosing the elderly, ill and dying, unlike her mother Clara.

Everyone I kill is above 80 and most of them are in a hospital so it was kind of peculiar at the time. But it's really quite beautiful and quite eerie, Ronan says of the killing scenes.

In a way, Eleanor is like an angel and kills out of mercy, so I really liked that about her.

She didn't like the taste of the blood so much, though. It's made out of food colouring, corn syrup and a bucket of sugar and I could taste some mint as well - just in case we do some kissing scenes later. It's not nice! Born in New York to Irish parents, Ronan's family returned to Ireland when she was three and she still lives there with her parents.

She confesses to missing her dog when she's away from home, but is continuing her successful streak with a leading role in Wes Anderson's upcoming film The Grand Budapest Hotel, and starring in Ryan Gosling's directorial debut, fantasy noir How To Catch A Monster alongside Matt Smith, Christina Hendricks and Eva Mendes.

She's thrilled to be working with the Crazy, Stupid, Love star on his first film, she says, and filming has already started in Detroit, Michigan.

I know he's going to be a great director because I've talked to him and I know his ideas, she says. He wrote the script, which is fantastic, and with each draft you can see it's really come on and you can see where he wants the story to go.

As for Ronan herself, she's not averse to doing more light- hearted fare in the future.

I actually don't have a problem doing comedy or a romcom, I'd love to do that kind of stuff, she says. It's just been the way it's worked out so far.

If a romantic comedy or something like that came along tomorrow and it was a good script with good characters, I'd definitely do it.

. ? Byzantium opens in cinemas next Friday

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