Brooklyn is the story of a young Irish girl Eilis Lacey, a lass that leaves her home town to emigrate to America, only to be drawn back into the comforts of her home country. It’s a classic case of “not being able to go home again”, illustrating both the listlessness and malleability of a character willing to cut some of the ties of her past in order to embrace a brave new future.
The film’s central character is played by Saoirse Ronan, an actor born in the Bronx, raised in Ireland, and finding roles in films shot around the world. The echoes to her own life are obvious, and during our conversation last TIFF we began by discussing this complicated notion of national identity in the face of so much displacement.
The film parallels much of your own journey. Ireland or the US, which do you think of as home?
Ireland, that’s where I’ll raise my kids, that’s where I’ll setlle down. I reckon that could change, but I don’t think it will. Yet New York is a really huge part of me, it’s where I was born and I lived there until I was 3. It very much made my parents into the people that they are.
My mom, who I’m basically a clone of, is a fiercely independent woman who’s very hard working and that really kind of came out of her when she went to New York. She had to work hard, had to be independent and she had to rely on herself. They were over there on their own – the Irish community, they all really kind of supported each other.
I have a huge respect for both places because it’s made me who I am. It’s funny because I was born there and my mom was very adamant about having me in the States because they had been illegal, they didn’t have a visa for a few years. Then mom got it and dad didn’t and they got married over there and she said, you know, if she were ever to come back to America, I wouldn’t want her to have to go through this. And of course I did and it’s great! So there’s the fact that I can call myself one who comes from both places, it is a real gift that they gave me.
Yet when push comes to shove, Ireland’s home.
They’re both home in different ways. Ireland, that’s my childhood, that’s where I went to school, that’s where my family are, that’s very much my roots. It’s almost like these two different personalities I get to make up who I am in New York. I’m moving there next year for a job and I’ll probably stay there because I love it so much. It’s that new kind of chapter in my life that was always waiting to happen. I moved away to London when I was 19 because that was kind of a more sensible first step, but it was always going to result in New York. That was always the goal.
In some ways this is role is a turning point, moving away from a young woman role to a young adult character
I wasn’t thinking of it in relation to the journey that she goes on, even though I was very much in that place in my own personal life. I had never been in kid films, so I had always just thought about myself as an actor really. But when I got to about 18, 19, up until now really, it was tricky to showcase that you are ready to move on to that next step of taking on roles that were just a little bit more mature and where you were at personally. Brooklyn came along at the right time for me. A lot of people would have known me from something that I did when I was 15 and I didn’t want to rely on something that I had done so long ago. I always want to work, and I always want to do the things, the work that I’m passionate about, but I definitely needed another film for this stage that I was in now.
How have you seen the change taking place?
It becomes a lot more involved as you get older and you’re more aware of how the machine works. I feel like really my whole approach towards the actual work hasn’t really changed that much. It’s based on instinct – I don’t work in a sort of method way or anything like that. I can definitely see how throughout your career or whatever, how you do start to change the way you work for different roles. I understand a bit more that as you get older, with your life experiences, they come more in to play in your work. It did with Brooklyn.
This was very much what I’m living through right now, and so it was very easy to step in to. Well, not easy, but it was less of a journey to step in to that place because I was already kind of there.
When it comes to the industry and the business side of it, being aware of how people operate and how not everyone has the same mentality or the same goals when it comes to what we do, that’s been a good learning curve, definitely, to know what to watch out for.
A rarity, in this film you get to speak in your Irish accent
I’ll never lose my Irish accent. I always want to sound like a leprechaun!
Accents really fascinate me more than anything else. It’s always the first thing I think about, the voice of a character really defines who that person is I think. It’s almost like a musical instrument when you use it in the right way, to hone in on different sounds and just how your mouth works and things like that.
Even with a Canadian accent, a Canadian accent is more kind of forward I think than an accent from the States. An Irish accent is very out here, Scottish accent is kind of a bit more defensive, and it comes out of this community. There’s not a danger of me losing my accent for sure. But thank god I started out with doing accents because I wouldn’t work otherwise, I wouldn’t get a job!
Grand Budapest Hotel, that’s the only other time I used an Irish accent. She wasn’t from Ireland necessarily, but that was just something that Wes wanted to do, but Brooklyn has been the only time I’ve played someone who’s from where I’m from. I just think it’s really exciting to be able to jump in to all of these different worlds through the way you speak.
Do you feel more Irish here and do you feel more American in Ireland? In other words, do you still find that kind of distancing that your character goes through?
That’s a good question. Sometimes I do, yeah. I think over here in Canada and in the States it’s like what Eilis goes through, where the Irish are kind of celebrated. We love coming here because people like us! I’m terrible by the way, you wouldn’t want to know me, but they like the Irish!
Yet when I was a kid in Ireland, I was the outsider. Not only was I not from there originally, I wasn’t from the county that I grew up in. I always sounded like a Dub, I had a Dublin accent but I didn’t grow up in Dublin. I was sort of the black sheep a little bit. I remember one of the kids saying to me on my first day, you’re from America and you’re weird and no one would talk to me for my first few days at school when I was five.
What county are you from?
Wexford, where the film takes place, is really close to Carlow, isn’t it?
Very close. We used to go to Wexford all the time when I was a kid and they had the big cinema. They had 3 screens in their cinema instead of the one that Carlow had, so if you didn’t like the film that was on in Carlow you’d go to Wexford.
I always had a sense of not quite ever being from one place. Now I kind of love it, I don’t mind that. It means that I have two homes and that’s very fantastic, but when you’re a kid it can be a little bit tricky.
You’re about to do some work on stage – to date is working with Wes Anderson the closest you’ve come to doing theatre?
Wes, yes is very theatrical, but also, Joe Wright can work in a very theatrical kind of way as well. I guess because just Wes he creates a very immersive kind of experience where he’ll play music on set. He would work on the physicality of a character, the way they walked and the way they spoke. It was kind of wonderfully technical. I like having technicality and then being able to hopefully breathe a bit of life in to them. Wes is like that too because it is very one-two-three with his. It’s like, this is what I want you to do and so you have to like bring that to life.
In this film you’re back to working with an Irish filmmaker. Do you find there’s a particular sensibility?
When Irish people get together, whether we know each other or not, we’re very familiar with each other. I just did a job in New York and at the end of my shoot, me and a mate went to one of the U2 gigs at Madison Square Gardens. We were hanging out with everyone afterwards and their whole crew were Irish. I’d never met these people before, I’d never met Bono, but it was like we’d known each other our whole lives. That’s kind of the way we are – I don’t know whether it’s because we’re a small country and we’ve all kind of had to stick together a bit, but there is definitely that very familiar kind of family sense. I have found that with my Irish directors, with Neil Jordan and John Crowley, that we’re just very straightforward with each other. It’s like your cousin is directing you or something, or your uncle.
You’re going to a U2 show, having a pint and going to go see U2 in New York, you’re not doing that when you’re in Dublin.
Well, no, I mean, I have gone to see them in Dublin, that’s for sure. But I know what you mean – it’s that when we’re away from home, we find each other. You’re always going to find someone from home and it’s lovely. Brian Dennehy was on this job I just did and he’s very Irish, he loves to talk about Ireland. I felt closer to home there than I had in other cities I’ve been in because you’re, you feel open to talk about your home and to celebrate it and that’s really great, that’s a nice feeling.
You got to work with two unique leading men with Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson
They’re both very different and work in very different ways. The dynamic that Emory and I had was really interesting because we work very differently and we’re very much kind of like yin and yang. He’s a lot more method than I am, did a lot of prep for the film beforehand. I didn’t because I’m so unprofessional! No, I rely on the script more than anything and the director. It was really nice to have that bouncing back and forth between these two very different personalities. With Domhnall, it worked really well because Emory is really different to me and so he represents this like culture that’s new to Eilis, yet Domhnall and I are very similar. He’s a Dub and it was very much just like hanging out with a mate.
And also has a name that nobody can pronounce.
I get really defensive about his name! Every interview I’ve had where somebody’s gone and Dam-nall’s so great, I’ve gone hold up there a second, let’s rewind.
So, you going to be doing a STAR WARS film?
No, I don’t think so.
…I mean, Domnhall’s doing one
Yeah, I know, tell me about it. He couldn’t tell anyone. He was on Brooklyn when he got the job. I didn’t realize they were doing like 10 of them. I have to get one of them, surely!