IT’S ALL about the tea.
For rising star Saoirse Ronan, it’s one the reasons she loves returning to Ireland after a stint working away.
Earlier this year she starred in The Host, based on the novel by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, and she found herself marooned for a while in New Mexico.
“It was the end of the whole shoot and I was a bit tired and mam had gone back,” she recalls.
“She had to go because of her visa and I was a bit sad that she’d gone — I’d wake up in the morning and mam wasn’t there doing breakfast and lovely things like that.
“But the crew just make me some tea and it completely relaxed me so I love having tea when I go home.”
At 19 years old and with a string of high-profile films to her name, including the likes of Atonement, The Lovely Bones and Hanna, Ronan is currently brewing a strong career.
Her most recent outing sees her team up with acclaimed Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan for Byzantium, a modern-day gothic thriller replete with blood, death and sultry vampires.
Ronan stars alongside English rose Gemma Arterton, the pair playing mother and daughter, both immortal and carrying their fate as both blessing and curse.
“I hadn’t really seen that much horror before and to be honest I didn’t really know that it was going to turn into a horror,” Ronan says of the film.
“I am really glad it did though because it is quite cool. But what really attracted me to the story was the fact that it was technically a vampire story but told in a completely different way.”
The film was originally imagined as a stage play by Moira Buffini, who wrote Tamara Drewe (in which Arterton also starred) and the recent Cary Fukunaga adaptation of Jane Eyre, and it focuses much of its attention on the mother-daughter relationship.
The producer of the film, Stephen Woolley, who also produced the Neil Jordan film The Company of Wolves, was immediately struck by poignancy of the play and commissioned Buffini to write a screenplay.
“This story has two lead characters and they are both female and that is rare and quite amazing,” says Ronan.
“They are the violent ones and that makes it more interesting because we don’t see that very much in films, although I think that’s changing.
“Over the past year there have been a lot of films made where the female lead is a very strong woman. Here is not about their sexuality, necessarily, it is about the strength that they have as women.”
Ronan plays Eleanor, who is quiet and melancholy (traits with which Ronan excels on screen), while Arterton’s Clara is sultry and angry, using her strength to feed on evil men. Eleanor, meanwhile, preys on those who want to die.
“We never actually refer to ourselves as vampires,” says Ronan, “and I think the story feels a bit more like folklore or something out of a storybook.”
The film was shot primarily on these shores, with the studio work unfolding at Ardmore in Bray, Co Wicklow, while some of the more dramatic exterior shots were filmed off and around the Beara Peninsula — all of which suits Ronan, who likes nothing more than working in Ireland.
She says that she does not plan on leaving these shores fulltime in a bid to boost her career. A move to London or New York, for example, is not on the cards.
“I love both of those cities but I have never felt that I’d have to make big trips to LA for work or anything like that,” she says.
“I always send off tapes for auditions. I love London and I love New York as well but Ireland’s my home.”
Ronan was born in New York, in the Bronx, moving to Co Carlow when she was three years old.
“I don’t really feel that I am part of Hollywood because I don’t really go there,” she says. “I have just made films that have done well and I have been lucky in that way. I love being somewhere like Ireland because it’s such a grounded place and nobody makes a great fuss of you.
“We are a very grounded people and so when I come home, it’s just, ‘Oh, yes, Saorise is back,’ and that’s it.”
The actress is also well aware of the financial difficulties that her family and friends are facing.
“Economically it is difficult, yes. Young people are having a very difficult time at home, young families, especially.
“It is very hard to make a comfortable life for yourself, almost impossible. A lot of people want to go abroad.
“They just want to get out of here. But at the same time there is still that Irish spirit at home. That’s always there. That hasn’t left us.”
Naturally, her career started in Ireland, Ronan making her debut on RTÉ in The Clinic, although her star rocketed when she won the role of Briony in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Atonement, for which she received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
Her subsequent films, Death Defying Acts and City of Ember, earned her a win and a nomination from the Irish Film & Television Awards before The Lovely Bones then cemented her stardom with another IFTA win and a BAFTA nomination.
She shines most brightly, it seems, when playing dark and complex teens, though her next performance, in director Kevin Macdonald’s film How I Live Now, allows her to explore a different type of character.
“I am very excited about it,” she says of the film. “I do play a teenager and she’s a bit of a bitch and she wears a lot of make up and has piercings and grungy clothes and she is not mature at all.
“That was wonderful because I don’t get to play that kind of stuff. She is someone who comes on a bit but she is very much a New York City girl and kind of into that celeb world.”
While Ronan has prospered in independent films and lower-budget studio pictures, she says that she is not averse to tackling a blockbuster one day. Trying the stage, however, would be a whole different ball game.
“I don’t really mind what type of film it is as long as it is a good film and a good story,” she says of her on-screen choices.
“I don’t really class films as ‘indie’, ‘Hollywood’ or ‘blockbuster’ or anything like that. As long as there is a good story and a good director attached to it, I am game.
“But I have never done theatre. I’d like to but I think I need to psyche myself up first.
“It is something that takes guts to do but I would love to do it. Film and theatre really aren’t the same thing. They require a different performance and I’d be very nervous.”
If she did get nervous, the crew should now know what to do in order to calm her down — a nice cup of tea should do the trick.
* Byzantium opens in cinemas on May 31
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved