All this publicity couldn’t have come at a better time; her new movie How I Live Now — in which she plays a steely teen forced to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear war — opens in the UK later this month. If Ronan does eventually get to wield a lightsaber, it will only be the third most exciting project she has in her docket. That’s because next year Ronan is set to appear in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut How to Catch a Monster. When we spoke to the actress, we asked her about all of the above because, well, we just couldn't resist.
First off, what have you been up to recently?
"I had a really good summer. I finished a film in June in Detroit before going home for about a month or so. We went to the beach and to the west coast of Ireland, where we go a lot. I spent a little bit of time between there and the city.”
Being from Ireland, did shooting a film about a country torn apart by violence have any added significance to you?
“You know, there were times when it did. I feel very passionately about that stuff because it’s my history, but there were times when I needed it to hit home that there were terrible things happening to our country. It was great to be able to tap into my feelings on Ireland. I always find that helps in those kinds of situations.”
Do you think a world war of the scale depicted in the film has the potential to erupt in this day and age?
“I don’t know. I mean everything that’s going on now is so scary. It’s terrifying because we probably don’t know half the stuff that is happening. I’m quite scared of all that stuff. I think the thing about this film is that it is quite realistic in that way; it is the sort of thing that could happen at any moment. That’s what I liked about the way Kevin [Macdonald] shot it. It wasn’t a big CGI film. There weren’t all these epic shots of the war. It was very raw, and still looked like the real landscape. That’s what made it more terrifying.”
Why do you think works of young adult fiction and dystopian futures always find each other?
“I think maybe it’s because when you’re a teenager, everything is more passionate and heightened. Most things are happening to you for the first time when you’re 16, 17, and 18; everything is really fresh and new. There’s usually a love story in dystopian stories, too. I think that kind of threat on your first love makes it a passionate and exciting read for a teen because they feel that way. I think they feel that sort of stuff. It draws a younger person in more when there is that threat.”
Do you believe in that kind of love that exists between Edmond and Daisy?
“Yeah, I think so. There are couples now that seem to have that — there’s only a few, though. But it’s amazing to see it happen. I hope that it’s true.”
This film has already been compared to The Hunger Games and Twilight because of the fact that there’s a strong female character. Are you a fan of those franchises?
“Yeah! I am.”
Have you made a conscious choice to avoid doing franchises like that to help preserve your anonymity?
“I’ve tried to. I did a film called The Host that people were claiming would be the next Twilight, and it wasn’t. I wasn’t expecting it to, because it’s not that kind of story. I loved The Hunger Games story. I read the book when I was younger. I wasn’t thrilled with the romance in it, but the eerie atmosphere that passes the whole way through the narrative was great. I thought the film was a pretty good adaptation, too. I think that if a film has a good, strong story and they stick to it, it’s fine. It’s just when they really get pop cultural and commercial that it loses its oomph. I’m surprised people are saying How I Live Now is like that because it’s not.”
It has a smaller, indie feel.
“Yeah, it does, and that’s what’s really nice about it. I’m glad that the adaptation of a young adult novel has been made like that.”
As you get older, are you looking forward to playing “adults” on screen?
“I am. It’s tricky at the moment because I’m 19. It’s very hard for you to find the right role that suits your age, maturity, and what you want to do, but it’s also hard to convince people that I’m not 15 anymore. It’s a tricky period to be in. I am ready, though. I think when you get into your early twenties, the roles suddenly become more exciting. There’s one film on Mary Queen of Scots that I might do next year, and I’m so excited about it. It’s a great role to have.”
How was it working with Ryan Gosling on his directorial debut?
“He’s great. He’s the best. He’s very, very honest and self-assured; very confident and comfortable with who he is. And because of that we all felt immediately relaxed with what we’re doing. Everything was improvised, really. We’d learn the dialogue the night before, and Ryan would make us ad-lib the whole thing. Every day was a surprise; you didn’t know what was going to happen, where your character was going to go, or what relationships were going to form. It took me a while to get used to because I’ve never done anything like that before, but it was great. He was very humble, but very confident that this kind of thing would work.”
Does it help to work with an actor-turned-director who’s been on both sides of the camera?
“I think it did in this case. He had such high respect for all of us. Anything he didn’t feel was honest for our characters, he’d change. He respected the instinct of the actors because he does that himself.”
What was it like shooting with Wes Anderson?
“It was great and really surreal. When you’re doing a Wes Anderson film, you know you’re doing a Wes Anderson film; you feel it. You’re on sets that look like Wes Anderson sets, and wearing pastel colored clothes. Again, the style of acting was unlike anything else I’ve done — the whole style was different. He’s got this formula that he knows works. He will storyboard the entire film shot-by-shot and voice every single character beforehand. He would show you the scene before and explain what he created.”
So, it was basically the exact opposite from working with Gosling.
“Exact opposite. I went straight on to Ryan’s set after. It was great.”
Why do you still choose to live in Dublin? Do you ever see yourself moving to Los Angeles?
“I read a really good article a few weeks ago by Hugh Laurie for British Airways' High Life magazine. He was praising the city. He was basically saying all the Irish and Brits love to hate L.A. — everyone loves to hate L.A., but at the same time, it’s sunny there with good food and great places to go. The only thing you need is a car to drive around in.”
Plus, you can drive 30 minutes outside the city and be surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
“Yes! It’s beautiful, the whole place. I wouldn’t mind it for maybe six months, but being close to Dublin, to live in that sort of place that’s grounded and down to earth with the people and the history is what I’m comfortable with. I would like to live in a different place, though. I know I’ll live in New York one day because it’s an icon to me. I was born in New York as well.”
On a totally different note, what designers do you love most?
“I’m wearing Burberry right now, and I really like their stuff. I really like Mary Katrantzou. I wore her to the premiere last night, and I like Miu Miu.”
All the young actresses like Miu Miu.
“I know. Miu Miu is very giving and really supports the people they dress. I do really like their stuff; it’s classic, beautiful stuff. I like Rodarte, as well. I recently saw the Céline collection, and thought it was great. Lanvin is great. I think it changes from season to season. You can see a piece and think it’s great, but the rest of the collection isn’t so. Personally, I wear a lot of jeans and baggy pants — comfortable stuff.”
So many of your colleagues have had a hard time navigating the minefield that is showbiz. How have you managed to stay so grounded?
“I think because I don’t want to be not normal. I just don’t want to be like that. You see people like that and pity them in a way. I started when I was very young, but I’m really glad the work hasn’t changed because it is, innately, the most important thing to me. I can’t get away from that. I find it very, very difficult to make a film just for the money. I’ve always been that way when it comes to work. Perhaps it means the events and the glamorous side doesn’t fuss me; they’re nice to go to, but I know it’s not my job. That’s not what I’m here for, and I can’t imagine never not feeling that way. Also, my parents, my mom in particular, are so down to earth and don't fuss, apart from when she met John Travolta. To have people like that around me keeps me that way, as well. It’s really about who you surround yourself with.”