There’s a wonderful irony in one of our most talked-about actresses having a name many people can’t immediately pronounce. For the last decade, Saoirse Ronan has curated a vibrant, consistently fascinating career. She seems to prioritize working with interesting directors and telling off-beat stories. Perhaps that’s the result of working with directors like Joe Wright and Peter Jackson in early film roles.
Then there was LADY BIRD, Greta Gerwig’s conversation-shifting directorial debut from 2017. This time last year, Ronan was at the center of a storm of praise for her performance as a Sacramento teen trying to navigate a difficult relationship with her mother during the final year of high school. The role led to Ronan’s third Oscar nomination, and made her more visible than ever before.
Now Ronan stars in MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, from theatre director Josie Rourke. She plays the title character, a much more elevated sort of rebellious teen, who tries to reclaim the throne of Scotland from Elizabeth I. Saoirse Ronan (pronounced “Ser-Scha,” by the way) doesn’t need to prove her versatility — her work has done that time and again — but the new film is a great reason to celebrate her talents.
The 24-year old Ronan made her acting debut in 2003 with THE CLINIC, an Irish medical drama. That early television work led to a role in Joe Wright’s ATONEMENT. Ronan, who was only 12 when cast, stood out as the film’s most impressive performer — no small feat given that the cast of ATONEMENT also featured a cast full of rising stars such as Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, and James McAvoy. The film was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture, and Ronan’s tender, soulful work was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
And like that, Ronan was off to the races. ATONEMENT led to a starring role in Peter Jackson’s THE LOVELY BONES, as a murdered young girl whose continued existence in the afterlife is the core of the haunting story. She also appeared in underrated World War II adventure drama THE WAY BACK, and in Neil Jordan’s excellent and odd vampire movie BYZANTIUM. She was incredible as a young woman trained to be an assassin virtually from birth, in Joe Wright’s HANNA.
Even Ronan’s big-budget efforts were a bit quirky and unusual. She starred in the adaptation of YA novel CITY OF EMBER, and played the lead in the film version of another novel, THE HOST, from Twilight author Stephanie Meyer. In all these performances, Ronan played characters who seemed more real than anything else around them.
If there’s a constant in the indie film world, it’s that working with Wes Anderson leads to increased visibility and opportunities. In Anderson’s film THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, Ronan played Agatha, a young baker who becomes involved in a criminal farce.
BROOKLYN, released in 2015, led to Ronan’s second Oscar nomination — this time for Best Actress. The period drama gave the young star a chance to play a role very close to her heart. The film’s lead is an Irish woman who immigrates to New York in the 1950s. The story explores the ways in which we create and define our identity. The film showcased Ronan’s ability to project depth with little more than a glance, and to create characters simmering with recognizable internal conflict.
LADY BIRD developed those talents. Still, Ronan credits much of LADY BIRD’s success to writer and director Greta Gerwig. In a recent interview with Elle Australia, Ronan reiterated that notion while giving advice for those in her career path:
“I would say to also trust your instincts; it’s one of the most important things, in life anyway, and it definitely is with work or something that is creative. We’re surrounded by so many people every day and it’s your job to be sensitive to that and absorb all of that.”
That sensitivity is on display in all her performances. Ronan can listen, which sounds easy but isn’t something we always see in actors. That simple ability keeps her at home in all her roles, no matter how outlandish the character or their surroundings. Her character in LADY BIRD could have been a pretty stock “free-spirited teen.” Ronan’s personal touch, which also creates chemistry with co-stars, generated a great emotional depth.
Fit For A Queen
She’s played a teenage assassin, a vampire, an alien, and a normal teenage girl. So what’s next? How about “Queen of Scotland”? In MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, Ronan plays Mary Stuart, the widowed teen queen of France who returns home to Scotland to vie for the throne in the 1500s.
Margot Robbie plays Mary’s cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, and the two rules circle one another while trying to control the island country. What started as a friendship of two women in power quickly turned into a full-blown rivalry. As the Queen of England and Ireland, Elizabeth was threatened by Mary; their relationship soon turned violent.
The film also stars David Tennant, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, and Guy Pearce, and Oscar buzz is already building for the December release. This could be Ronan’s third major awards circuit tour in just four years. Regardless of the Oscar outcome, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS is certain to uphold Ronan’s standing as one of the most versatile, valuable actors in film.
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS opens on December 7.