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Date of Birth: April 12 1994
First Film: I Could Never be Your Woman (2007)
Latest Film: The Lovely Bones (2010)
You pronounce it Sur-shuh. Of course, I doubt that people will need telling that for very much longer because, despite being just fifteen, Saoirse Ronan is one of the most consistently interesting, and consistently excellent, actresses working and over the next few years, with upcoming roles in Peter Weir’s The Way Back and Joe Wright’s action movie Hanna, in which she’ll play a young assassin, I think she’s going to become very well known indeed.
Something I read in a review of The Lovely Bones (which, like my own, was negative, but praised Ronan to the hilt) has stuck with me as a way of summing up just how good an actress she is. The critic said that he was surprised to discover, from watching the film, that Ronan is American. Which she’s not. She was born in the US, but has been raised in Ireland, which is where her parents Paul (also an actor) and Monica Ronan are from. Accents aren’t the be all and end all of acting, but to so completely fool a critic - someone who watches actors for a living - that has to be an indicator of a pretty special talent, at the very least for mimicry.
Saoirse Ronan is not just a mimic though. I first became aware of her the same way that most people did, through her role in Atonement, which landed her an Oscar nomination at just 13. As the youngest version of the character of Briony Tallis (played at 18 by Romola Garai and at 70 by Vanessa Redgrave) Ronan fooled this critic - completely - into believing that she was English and acted everyone else, including the excellent James McAvoy, and Keira Knightley (who Ronan says is her role model as an actress) off the screen, managing to give a truthful portrait of a character whose entire life is wrapped up in fiction. It is an astonishingly mature performance from an actress who was just eleven at the time of shooting. Atonement is perhaps not so impressive as a whole as Ronan’s performance in it is, and this seems to have become something of a hallmark of her career to date; giving brilliant performances, acting people with twenty, thirty, forty years more experience off the screen, in films that don’t quite live up to her talents.
In her debut, Amy Heckerling’s long delayed and rather slight I Could Never Be Your Woman, Ronan is a totally convincing valley girl; the tween daughter of Michelle Pfeiffer. This film does, however, demonstrate the one thing she seems unable to do - sing - please, let’s not have her sing on screen again. In Gillian Armstrong’s long delayed (anyone seeing a pattern forming?) Death Defying Acts Ronan has another supporting role; as the daughter and partner of Catherine Zeta Jones’ con-woman. Zeta Jones falls for Guy Pearce’s Houdini, but it’s the relationship between Pearce and the brilliant Ronan (this time with an English accent) that is the most interesting, and most convincing, part of the film.
Perhaps the most interesting case for me is The [long delayed] Lovely Bones, which is at once Ronan’s worst film and perhaps her best performance. This is what I said about that performance in my review:
“What’s really amazing about Ronan is her ability, without seeming to be signposting anything, to let us see every flicker of emotion in her characters. She’s a genuinely soulful performer, and that’s perfect for Susie, because what we are supposed to be seeing during much of the film is her soul trapped between Earth and Heaven. She never strikes a false note and, despite the film’s many shortcomings, it is worth seeing just for her.”
That’s true specifically of The Lovely Bones, but also generally of Saoirse Ronan, like all the great actors she’s an open book, able to lay herself bare on screen while being a completely different person every time she’s in front of a camera, and yet never seem to be acting. It blows my mind that she’s not yet sixteen. It’s all too easy to compare great young actors to Jodie Foster when predicting that they’ll go on to great things, but Ronan does have that quality about her, that seemingly innate understanding of and talent for not just acting but becoming a part. I hope that she’ll prove me right in the next few years and continue being one of the great actors in cinema. For now, check out the films I’ve highlighted below, if you haven’t already.
Must See: Atonement
Further [recommended] Viewing: City of Ember, Death Defying Acts, The Lovely Bones