‘Brooklyn’ Star Saoirse Ronan on Leaving Home: ‘You Can Never Go Back’

The Irish actress, an Oscar nominee at the age of 13, says she understood the homesickness at the heart of John Crowley’s film

Last Updated: November 5, 2015 @ 7:31 AM

You wouldn’t think that a movie called “Brooklyn,” starring an actress who was born in the Bronx, would be all about Ireland.

But John Crowley’s intimate and emotional film, which opened on Wednesday and will be a strong awards contender this year, follows a young woman who moves to New York from her small town in Ireland in the 1950s – and its star, Saoirse Ronan, grew up in Ireland but was born in the Bronx in 1994, after her parents had moved to New York in search of better job prospects.

“Personally, the connection was very strong straight away,” said Ronan on a recent trip to TheWrap studios. “I grew up in Ireland but I was born in the Bronx, so these two places very much make up who I am.

“When the script came along I had been waiting for the first Irish project to be involved in, and it really had to be right. I read this, and you couldn’t get something that’s more perfect.”

The 21-year-old actress, whose first name is pronounced sirsha, is accustomed to playing English or American onscreen: She was the former in “Atonement,” for which she was nominated for an Oscar at the age of 13, and the latter in Peter Jackson‘s “The Lovely Bones,” this year’s Lifetime movie “Stockholm, Pennsylvania” and others.

“I felt that responsibility,” she said of finally getting to be Irish onscreen. “There’s been so many depictions of Ireland [on film] that are just a bit of a caricature, a bit watered down. Unless it’s a Jim Sheridan film or a Lenny Abrahamson film, not many people have really captured that spirit. So it was exciting to be able to do that.”

“Brooklyn” is a little miracle of a film, emotional without being overly sentimental; it’s old-fashioned but never sappy, quietly tapping into a vein of homesickness and displacement that Ronan herself says she experienced before shooting the movie.

“In the year between when I signed on to the movie and when we actually made it, I had moved away and gone to London,” she said. “I had very much gone through that state of homesickness.”

It hit her, she added, even though she went to London not as a young woman looking for any kind of work, but as a successful actress.

“I think it goes beyond any situation you’re in, or even the reason why you leave,” she said. “When you move away, the realization that you have, which you’re not prepared for, is that you can never go back to how it was. You’ll never have quite the same relationship with your home that it was. It’s daunting, it’s scary.”

With the film set in the 1950s, Ronan added that she did have to work on ridding her character of at least one aspect of the 2015 Saoirse Ronan.

“John said I have terrible table manners, which I don’t agree with,” she said. “But apparently he thinks I do. I put my elbows on the table a lot, and I slouch quite a bit when I’m eating, and I hold cutlery the wrong way. I don’t know.”

A shrug. “So I had to work on that, because he forced me to.”