The Lovely Bones, based on Alice Sebold's acclaimed 2002 novel, has plenty of box-office draws. There's the director, superstar Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. Then there's the all-star cast, including Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon and Rachel Weisz. Add to that a story that kept book clubs everywhere on the edges of their seats, and you've got a recipe for greatness. But the standout of the film might come in the form of Saoirse Ronan, who at 15 has already made quite an impression on the Hollywood community. At 13, she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar® for her role in Atonement. This season, her name is appearing on the short list again, this time for her portrayal of Susie Salmon, who narrates The Lovely Bones from the "in-between" world of the living and the dead. Ronan filled us in on working with Jackson, the movie's dark premise and what it's like being a teenager at the Oscars.
Q: Peter Jackson is known for building crazy beautiful fantasy worlds in his films, and he's done a similar thing with you the "in-between" world in The Lovely Bones. What was it like working in that setting?
A: It was very interesting for me because I had never done anything like that before. I had only worked with a little bit of green screen, not even blue screen, so it was a new experience for me and something that I did have to get used to. But Pete was wonderful. As you know, he's worked with blue screen quite a lot and the whole big visual side of movie making. He would talk to me during takes to describe what was going on around me so I could react to that, and we would play music to reflect the emotional side of a scene. Things like that helped me imagine what it would be like and react. So it actually wasn't difficult. He was always there to let me know what was happening around me.
Q: This is your second role in a movie that's based on a beloved book. Do you read the books beforehand? How does that affect how you play a character?
A: It depends really. I still haven't read Atonement. I was way to young to even think about reading Atonement when I did it; I was only 11 so I probably wouldn't have even understood one word. But with this film also, I hadn't heard of the book before I heard about the movie. And because I had heard it was quite a tough read, I decided to wait until I was a little bit older to read the book, so that happened after I made the film. But I was glad I waited because it basically meant I could focus on the script version of the story.
Q: A lot of people might be apprehensive about seeing this film because the book is so dark. How would you address that?
A: I'm sure that readers will be worried about the underground scenes—I know that I would be if I had read the book and wasn't involved with making the film. The most important thing to remember is that we don't actually have a murder scene in the film. There's no mention of the word rape, even. The film's not really about that murder scene; it's about everything that comes after Susie's murder. It's about her journey to acceptance and what she needs to get there and learning to let go and watching her family grieve over her death in all different ways. So, it's a very layered story, but ultimately it's a very positive one and you come away with a sense of comfort, I suppose, and a positive feeling. I'm not going to lie, it is tough to watch it, but from that horrific crime comes something beautiful.
Q: What was it like for you to play a character who went through something like that?
A: It was very challenging. You know, I was young when I made it, and not often do 13-year-old girls play characters who have been killed and then are in the rest of the movie as well. Susie's story begins when she dies, and I found that very appealing and something that tested me as an actor. One of the most important things for me, besides having fun on a film, is to not play the same role over and over and over again. Repetition is a very boring thing, and you don't really get any satisfaction out of it. I'm never going to play another character like Susie.
Q: I would imagine it would be nice to take a break from the serious nature of a role like this.
A: Well, I like doing serious things. I think it might be because I'm not too serious in real life. Maybe it's a form of escapism or something, but I do want to do comedy as well. It's my favorite genre of movie. My whole life I try to make into a comedy, so it would be nice to see that onscreen.
Q: I read that you really immersed yourself in the '70s to prepare for this role. What was your favorite thing about the decade?
A: My favorite thing about the decade was probably some of music. One of my favorite bands is Fleetwood Mac and I love Stevie Nicks, so I've always listened to their music. And Talking Heads, the Eagles, Carole King...a lot of the oldies. It's really because my mom is into that type of music, and I happen to love it too. So it was the music more than anything else, and we used to play a lot of '70s music in the set as well to get in the groove.
Q: What was it like working with so many Hollywood all-stars? Aside from Peter Jackson, you've got Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg. It's a great cast.
A: It is, it's a wonderful cast. I was very excited to hear that Susan was going to be attached to the film. I've been so lucky with the people that I've worked with. None of the top Hollywood stars that I've worked with have been divas at all. There are no egos or anything like that, so it's made me very comfortable as an actor and a person working on the set, and therefore I was able to perform better, I'm sure. If I didn't get on with, in particular, Stanley, who I have some very intense scenes with, it wouldn't have left me as free to act to my full potential.
Q: You were nominated for an Academy Award. Tell me about that experience.
A: Well, it was pretty cool! I was actually working on The Lovely Bones when I found out, and you know I didn't think about it much until a couple of days beforehand because I was busy with the film. But anyway, I got there and the ceremony was beautiful and I had watched the Academy Awards for years, since I was 6. So to be there, at an early age still, but after such a long time of watching it, it was wonderful. It was great to see everyone going up to get their awards, and how happy there were.
Q: Do you feel that after being nominated it adds any pressure for your future roles?
A: No, I don't think it does, really. With every role that I take on, of course I want to try and stay at a certain level—I don't want to drop—but not really because of an Oscar nomination, but more its about the type of roles that I like to take on.
Q: Where do you think you got the acting gene from?
A: Well, my dad is an actor, but I don't even know whether I believe in that. I think acting is something that is within you. It's a very natural thing for me. It comes from myself, really.
Q: If you could spend the perfect day off, what would you do?
A: So this is when I'm 15—sometimes I have to remember that I'm 15—I would want to...okay, so it would be sunny. I'd be in my garden—we have a nice, big garden so you can run around and stuff. I would go down to the river Slaney, which is the river that we live beside, and I would swim for about three hours. Then I would come back up and it would start to snow—see this is like the in-between or something, it's changing all the time—then I would play in the snow and go inside and sit by the fire and watch TV. Watch Oprah!
Q: Do you have other favorite TV shows?
A: Yes, I love Family Guy and 30 Rock and the Gilmore Girls. Those are my three favorites.
Q: Where's your favorite place to travel?
A: New Zealand.
Q: If you could have any meal, what would it be?
A: Sunday dinner that my mom makes every single Sunday. Roast chicken, lots of vegetables, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce. It's like a mini-Christmas dinner.
Printed from Oprah.com on Monday, May 20, 2013
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