Nate von Zumwalt
Saoirse Ronan’s Best Actress Oscar nomination for her redefining turn in Brooklyn was something of a fait accompli among the awards forecasting crowd, and for good reason. But the film’s surprising Best Picture nod in some ways symbolized the Academy’s successive bow to her glowing performance – although supporting acts from Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson would also have their say.
As Eric Hynes remarked in last year’s profile of the unassuming 21-year-old, her development from “precocious child” actor to a talent on the brink of womanhood has seemed almost surreal in its uniformity. To wit, the actress noted that she had never identified as closely with a role as she did in Brooklyn while playing ‘Eilis,’ a young woman who grapples with the allure of love in New York City and her abandoned roots back home in Ireland.
“I’ve never been so affected by a film before,” Ronan said. “I really haven’t. When I did this film last year, pretty much every single thing that Eilis was going through within the story I was going through right at that moment.”
Ronan’s (her first name is pronounced ‘Sur-sha, like inertia,’ as we learned from Ryan Gosling) abilities on screen and her self-effacing qualities off it tempt readymade descriptors like “classic” and “elegant.” Perhaps it’s owed to some amalgamation of her Irish-American outlook and a penchant for striking period films, including 2007’s Atonement, for which she garnered Oscar and Golden Globe nominations as the tattling and begrudging ‘Briony.’ Nevertheless, the actress has done little to confine herself throughout the early stages of what is sure to become a sprawling oeuvre. In Peter Weir’s The Way Back, she was a feisty counterpart to a group of men (played by an experienced and all-male ensemble) who embark on a daunting journey after escaping a Siberian labor camp. And despite the litany of problems that kept Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones (2009) from getting out of its own way, Ronan made the best of a doomed screenplay.
Now with Brooklyn, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival alongside her other lead go in Stockholm, Pennsylvania, she appears remarkably polished and at home amid the craftsmanship of writer Nick Hornby (who also receives a nomination for his adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel) and director John Crowley. And as if on cue with her own personal coming of age, she pendulums with great effect between a timid youth off to America and an assured young woman dictating her own path. She seems to have chosen the right one.
Other notes from Ronan on Brooklyn:
“The relationship I have as an Irish-American with New York is one that’s a huge part of who I am. I was born [in New York], and my mom and dad pretty much made that exact journey except that they took a plane instead of a boat.”
“About seven months before [making the film] I had moved out of my family home and relocated to London. And I found it hard. I was homesick and I missed the people at home and I missed my family, missed having dinner at a set time every day, simple things like that. You can have a bunch of people around you and it can still be a very lonely experience until you get used to it.”
“I never had a country accent – I always had a Dublin accent – so that was something I was quite nervous about. I felt a huge responsibility to get the accent right, as well as the little idiosyncrasies that make us Irish.”