The first time I interviewed Saoirse Ronan she was fifteen years old and the veteran of six movies.
I had seen her in Atonement, where she played a Scottish teenager who accuses her sister’s boyfriend of a crime he didn’t commit. Next I saw her as the English daughter of a psychic who tries to con Harry Houdini in Death Defying Acts. Then came roles in the sci-fi City of Ember and The Lovely Bones both featuring flawless American accents.
I had always admired her performances and as I walked into the interview suite I congratulated her on the film.
“T’anks pure much,” she said with an Irish lilt that could charm the label off a bottle of Jameson Whiskey.
It was the first time I had heard her natural accent and confirmed what I already knew, that she was a chameleon with a propensity for accents that could give Meryl Streep a run for her money.
Since then she’s played everything from the title character in Hanna, a blonde, blue-eyed killing machine (with a German accent) to a spirited Polish orphan in The Way Back and an American girl injected with a parasitic extra-terrestrial soul in The Host.
This weekend in Brooklyn she drops the drawls to play an Irish girl who immigrates to New York in the 1950s. She’s 21 now and as one of the great faces in movies she can speak volumes with a look. Here, as a girl whose body is in Brooklyn but heart lies in Ireland, her melancholy and homesickness is so real you can reach out and touch it. Call her Little Meryl if you like, but there is no denying the power of her work.
So if you’re not familiar with Ronan, here’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Saoirse Ronan But Where Afraid to Ask.
How do you pronounce her name? Saoirse is an Irish or Scottish name meaning freedom roughly pronounced SEER-shə. “I get very confused about my name all the time,” she said in a recent sit-down. “Sometimes I look at it when I’m writing it down for people and I go, ‘This is actually a ridiculous spelling of a name.’”
In what part of Ireland was she born? Despite her Irish accent, she was actually born in The Bronx in 1994. “(My parents) went to New York in the ’80s. There was a really bad recession in Ireland at the time. A lot of young people went to New York because that’s our trek, that’s our journey. The Irish always go to New York or somewhere on the East Coast.” Monica Ronan and Paul Ronan lived in NY for eleven years in total, moving back to County Carlow, Ireland when Saoirse was three years old. “This film is more than just a really lovely movie to be involved in with great writers and a great character and all that. It’s my heritage.”
Can she beat me up? Probably. To play teenage assassin Hanna she studied knife fighting, stick fighting, martial arts and learned how to shoot a gun. She performed most of her own stunts in the film and says if she was ever offered the action-star role of James Bond she would happily accept. “That tux? I could totally rock it.”
That’s all the info we have space for today, but really the only thing you need to know about Ronan is that she is one of the best actors of her generation.
Is Stanley Tucci the busiest actor in Hollywood? This year alone added five movies to his IMDB page with five more in the pipeline for 2014.
This weekend in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, he plays Caesar Flickerman, the elaborately coiffured host of The Hunger Games television broadcasts. Despite being disguised with wild wigs, fake teeth and plenty of bronzer, it is unmistakably Tucci, one of the most interesting actors working today.
He made his big screen debut in the 1985 gangster comedy Prizzi’s Honor followed by several years of dues-paying stage work and movie roles like Second Dock Worker in Who’s That Girl before landing recurring spots on Miami Vice and Wiseguy.
A succession of supporting roles lead to the one-two punch that made him a name actor. Producer Steven Bochco’s television drama Murder One cast Tucci as Richard Cross, a Machiavellian multi-millionaire accused of the strangulation of a 15-year-old girl.
The following year a much different part earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best actor. In The Big Night he plays Secondo, owner of an Italian restaurant called Paradise. The place is slowly going broke but may get a boost from a visit by singer Louis Prima. If Prima shows up the restaurant will have a big night and be saved from bankruptcy.
It’s not only one of the greatest food movies ever made — you’ll want to go for risotto afterward — but it also features what Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called “an unforgettable acting duet” between Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, who plays his temperamental chef brother, “that is as richly authentic as the food.”
Since then Tucci has played everything from villains — strangling a Supreme Court justice in The Pelican Brief — to a flamboyant nightclub manager in Burlesque, to the God of wine Dyonisius in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Opposite just Meryl Streep alone he’s played everything from a gay art director in The Devil Wears Prada to Julia Child’s loving diplomat husband Paul in Julie & Julia.
In 2010 he received his first (but probably not last) Oscar nomination for his work in The Lovely Bones. He played the murderous Mr. Harvey, all twitchy movements and squeaky voice; he was Norman Bates without the overbearing mom.
“I don’t like to watch things about serial killers or kids getting hurt,” he said, “but this was something beyond that. It was an exploration of loss and hope.”
If the latest film from “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson is to be believed the afterlife looks a lot like a Pink Floyd album cover from the late 1970s. In “The Lovely Bones,” a loose adaptation of the bestselling book by Alice Sebold, he goes heavy on the computer generated imagery to create a slick looking world, which despite the best efforts of the cast, is almost bereft of emotion.
In case you’re not a member of Oprah’s book club, who chose “The Lovely Bones” and propelled it up the best seller charts like a rocket, it is the story of Susie Salmon (“like the fish”) a 14 year old girl murdered in suburban Pennsylvania in 1973. Susie, however, didn’t go quietly into the long goodnight. From a place somewhere between Heaven and Earth she watches over her distraught family and tries to guide them through their time of despair.
Some of the now controversial CGI—early trade reviews called the film indulgent and “evocative of “The Sound of Music” or “The Wizard of Oz” one moment, “The Little Prince” or “Teletubbies” the next”—is quite beautiful and some of it is overkill. When Susie is making her arrival in “her heaven” it is a beautiful representation of a spirit floating away. Hugh shots of her never-to-be boyfriend Ray, reflected in a body of water that separates them and Ray again on a gazebo, surrounded by an undulating landscape, are a bit heavy handed. Jackson is the real deal, a skilled filmmaker and visualist, but he has to learn to trust the story and not let the technology do the talking.
Performance wise Jackson has cast well and gets good, solid work from his actors, particularly Rachel Weisz as the grieving mother, Susan Sarandon as the boozy grandmother and Rose McIver as the spunky sister Lindsey but it is the two central roles that the whole movie hinges on.
As the murderous Mr. Harvey Stanley Tucci is creepy; all twitchy movements and squeaky voiced. He’s Norman Bates without the overbearing Mom and wonderfully cast. Tucci, it appears can do anything. Earlier this year he played Julia Child’s loving diplomat husband in “Julie & Julia” and held his own opposite Meryl Streep. Now he’s the creepiest bad guy this year since Hans Landa drank a glass of milk with a French farmer in “Inglourious Basterds.”
At the heart of the film, however, is an arresting central performance by Saoirse Ronan as Susie, the little girl who never got to kiss a boy or see her fifteenth birthday. Her luminous presence gives the film whatever soul it has and her generous screen presence is a good tonic for the effects heavy scenes she plays in the “in between,” the blue horizon between heaven and earth.
“The Lovely Bones” should have been a better movie. It’s not terrible, mind you; it just doesn’t push the emotional buttons that a story about the murder of a young person should. Jackson is still in epic “LOTR” mode, taking a small, intimate movie and needlessly cluttering it up with bigger than life images that get in the way of the feeling of the piece.