Not even 20 years old, Saoirse Ronan has already made a significant cinematic impression. Most of us got our first glimpse of Ronan in Joe Wright’s operatic, Oscar-nominated literary adaptation “Atonement,” and in the years since she has anchored films for directors like Peter Jackson, Peter Weir, Andrew Niccol, and Neil Jordan. (She’s set to team with Ryan Gosling and Wes Anderson for future movies, which we quizzed her about here.) Her latest film, “How I Live Now” (our review) comes from “Last King Of Scotland” director Kevin Macdonald and is based on the acclaimed young adult novel of the same name by Meg Rosoff. Last week, we got to chat with Ronan about what drew her to the film, and asked her to reminisce about what it was like working with the late, great James Gandolfini.
In “How I Live Now,” Ronan plays a bratty American who is set to live with her cousins in the rural English countryside. It’s there that she falls into a deep funk and starts to realize that things outside of their hilly valley aren’t exactly peachy: England, it seems, is engaged in some kind of horrific war with an unnamed country or group. Her entire way of life is turned upside down and she’s forced to wander the country, staying out of the line of fire and trying, desperately, to have some kind of normal life. It's an eerie, contemplative look at the beginnings of the apocalypse, like if Terrence Malick had directed “Red Dawn," and it was this unique approach that engaged Ronan.
“I loved the story. I loved what went on in that world,” the actress said. Although she somewhat bristled when we suggested that the film fall into the category of the “apocalyptic” science fiction film. “It doesn’t feel like a post-apocalyptic film to me. It wasn’t necessarily the end of the world. And I’m not sure it’s sci-fi,” Ronan explained. “It’s very raw and something that really could happen at any point. It’s in the present day and it’s in an environment, particularly if you’re Irish or English, that we’re very familiar with, with the fields and rivers and countryside. And all of that has been poisoned in some way.”
One of the more fascinating aspects of “How I Live Now” is how little you learn about the actual conflict that is unfolding just beyond the characters’ reach (and sometimes right in front of it). This, unsurprisingly, held a lot of appeal for the actress as well. “It was always left ambiguous as to who actually started it. It’s scarier and it’s a bit more eerie that we don’t know where this threat is coming from,” Ronan said. Like any good genre movie, Ronan compared the film to going on a ride. “It’s kind of like when you’re in a haunted house and you don’t know where the next scare is going to come out at you.”
“How I Live Now” also sees the culmination of a year that saw the actress play a vampire for Neil Jordan in “Byzantium,” lead the big budget, heavily hyped YA adaptation “The Host,” and portray a young hit woman in “Violet & Daisy,” the directorial debut of “Precious” screenwriter Geoffrey S. Fletcher. This last picture turned out to be one of the final big screen performances from James Gandolfini, and we asked Ronan if she could reflect on what it was like working with him and learning about his untimely passing.
“Working with him was amazing. It was terrible finding out about it. I was on the way back from Detroit and I was charging up my laptop for some reason in the airport and was checking my emails and someone headed it with 'Terrible News.' And for some reason I just knew it was Jim,” Ronan explained, still sounding upset about it. We asked what she remembered about working with him. “He was amazing with me. He really was protective of me and took care of me and was just a wonderful actor to work with; really natural and was very kind and kind of saves the film in the way. He was a really great leader for all of us. His son was with us on set, who was a gorgeous kid and wants to continue to do film as well. So it’s really sad that he’s left such a lovely kid behind, too.”
"How I Live Now" is now playing in limited release.