Grand Budapest Hotel: Saoirse Ronan Talks Muppets, Cakes and Mexico
Whoops, I just outed Saoirse Ronan's surprise cameo in Muppets Most Wanted… to Saoirse Ronan. You'd think she would have been aware of that, but although she shot an amusing little sequence where she ballet danced on "The Muppet Show" in Ireland, she didn't know she'd made it into the finished film until I told her. She also psyched me out by saying she didn't have a birthmark on her face in the shape of Mexico in her new film The Grand Budapest Hotel, and ladies and gentlemen, she's a great actress. I really thought I was in hot water there for a second. I'm not sure how that's going to come across in the transcribed interview below, but we're cool. Hopefully she'll invite me to her future Saoirse Ronan parties.
But her it is, my conversation with Oscar-nominee Saoirse Ronan about working with Wes Anderson on his latest movie, why it's the only film she's ever worked on that she wasn't afraid would suck, what those fancy cakes tasted like, what I did wrong the one time I tried to ride a horse, her childhood fascination with Riverdance and her upcoming film How to Catch A Monster, written and directed by Ryan Gosling.
The Grand Budapest Hotel and Muppets Most Wanted are both in theaters now. See them.
CraveOnline: Is starring a Wes Anderson movie like putting a jaunty feather in your cap? Were you a fan of his before this?
Saoirse Ronan: [Laughs.] I was. I really was a huge fan of Wes’s. I had seen pretty much all of his films and it’s one of those things, I guess it’s like being in a Tarantino film or something, where when someone like that is sort of their own genre almost, and always uses the same people and has used the same crew for years. You never dare to dream that you’d be asked to be in one of those films, you know? So when I heard that he was interested in me being in this, I genuinely thought it was a joke and I didn’t quite believe that Wes would want me in his film. But it worked out and it was brilliant.
I think that the dream element of it went on from there, just getting your head around being in a Wes Anderson film and then suddenly you’re there. From the hotel that we stayed in to the food that we ate every night every night, actually being on set and being surrounded by a beautiful set that had been made, had built from scratch for us to play in, was amazing. It was really amazing, it was a kind of pinch yourself moment, I have to say.
Now that you’ve been in a Wes Anderson film are you going to poke him to be in every one from now on?
Oh yeah. Yeah. Weird, he hasn’t answered any of my ten e-mails that I’ve sent him in the last week, so I don’t know. Maybe he changed his e-mail or something like that. I’ll try to get in touch with him some other way. I’ll fly over to Paris if I have to.
No, I would, if he wanted me to be in another one of course I would, because I think the thing is, you never know how a film is going to turn out but I have to say it’s the only film I’ve ever been a part of where I could kind of tell from the [outset] and judging by the level of detail that he works in, I knew it was going to decent. You know what I mean? I knew it wasn’t going to be terrible. [Laughs.]
It would have been a massive, massive shock if it had turned out to be an absolute mess because there’s so much craft and planning put into the production of this film before it even began, how the story is going to be told and what kind of shots he’s going to do, and how long each shot will go on for, and how long the dialogue scenes should go on for… I’ve never worked with someone who’s been so meticulous about all that stuff before and managed to also bring humor to a scene, and make a scene that can make you cry at the same. He’s very, very technical and at the same time manages to have so much life in his films. I really don’t know how he does it. That was why the fear wasn’t there before the film came out as to whether it would be good or not, because he tends to take that with him for every film that he does.
I always loved his attention to detail, the way that he dresses his characters, gives them all a uniform. You have a very a particular birthmark in this movie. Did he know exactly…
What are you talking about?
Oh, excuse me.
I never noticed a birthmark.
You’re right, I do have a birthmark.
Yes, thank you. I was nervous for a second there.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I know. You could have been going crazy there, but no, I know it’s there.
Did he know exactly how it was going to look or did they try out different birthmarks on you to see what looked best?
We tried it different sizes. I think we had one that was slightly bigger, which probably would have been sort of distracting. So he didn’t go with that size. And there were ones that were smaller, but eventually we landed on that size.
It came down to the curvature, slant that Mexico was on my face. Angles, all sorts. I still don’t know to this day why Mexico was chosen, but I imagine it has something to do with the elegant slants that we tend to see when we look at it on a map. It fits a face perfectly, you know?
Were you already an accomplished baker when you started filming?
I wasn’t, to be honest. Not that I’m not good at baking, I just don’t really do it. I like to cook. I’ve gotten into cooking a little bit just from being away and having to feed myself and things like that, but I used to bake when I was younger. My mom was never really a keen baker so I used to go to a friend’s house, a school friend of mine, and I use to go to her [and] I would get to bake. I used to bake little cupcakes and I made a pumpkin pie once and a cheesecake. That’s about as far as it’s gone though. I’ve never advanced to Courtesan au Chocolat.
Did you actually learn how to make the cakes from the movie? Do you serve those cakes at Saoirse Ronan parties?
“Oooh, let’s go to Saoirse’s place! She’s making the cakes…”
I didn’t know there could be a Saoirse Ronan party. For the next Saoirse Ronan party that I throw I’m going to make some Courtesans au Chocolat. Apparently there’s a video online that teaches you how to make Courtesans au Chocolat, and you can get the perfect shade for the icing and everything. So I might actually try to make it one of these days because they have this baker down the road in Görlitz, in Germany where we shot, and she made all of them. I’m sure she had people who helped her but they made all these beautiful little pastries from scratch, and when we finished as well you could eat them, which was lovely. So we used to take them home and eat the props afterwards.
Were they all the same flavor or were there different varieties?
I think they were all the same flavor, yeah. Give her a chance! She made like 200 a day. No, I think they just had fresh cream on the inside, and they had a chocolate thing on top, but yeah. They were very, very sweet, but really lovely. I don’t really have a sweet tooth but I really liked them.
It always occurred to me that actors get to learn the coolest skills to be in a movie.
What’s the niftiest talent you had to learn to be in a movie? Besides acting, obviously.
[Thinks.] What did I learn how to do…? I learned how to light a fire using a piece of wood and some moss and some twine. I haven’t used it to this day. I think probably one of the coolest things was probably learning martial arts for Hanna, you know, getting to do all that stuff. That was amazing. I think for a quite a while afterwards, just because martial arts are so centered around the strength of your core and breathing and how you hold yourself, I think that that’s actually just who I am, which was great. I started to do a little bit of it again now and it’s still there in my muscle memory and stuff.
So that was great to do, and there was this film I was supposed to do – it ended up not getting made – but I learned horseriding and I really, really loved it. It was amazing. I only had a few lessons but I got to the stage where I could gallop on the horse and everything. It was just really hard, really difficult, because you have to use all the muscles in your legs to basically hold on, you know? But it was an amazing feeling, and the relationship you can have with a horse… apparently especially women and horses seem to have an incredible bond. So yeah, so that as well.
I’m jealous of you. I sat on a horse once and pulled a muscle and they had to take me right off the horse, and that was my only experience.
[Laughs.] What, just from sitting on the horse?
Yeah, they just said, “Whip your leg out!” And I’m like, “Okay… OWWWWW! Okay, I need to get off the horse.”
Oh my gosh. That’s a horrible introduction to horseriding. I’m sorry that happened to you.
I know, and the horse seemed really nice. I felt bad.
Aw… Well, try it again and just don’t get too excited.
That’s my problem, I was super excited.
You’ve just got stay calm through the whole thing. You don’t want to pull any more muscles. You’ve got a job to do. [Laughs.]
I’m going to get on horse and say, “It’s okay, Saoirse Ronan taught me how to do this.” I’m curious, had you already studied ballet before Muppets Most Wanted?
[Laughs.] Have you seen it? I haven’t seen it. Has it turned out alright? Is it good?
It’s very funny.
And you just show up doing ballet and it’s like, “Hey, Saoirse Ronan! I didn’t know she did ballet!”
Am I literally in it for like five seconds?
Pretty much, yeah. There’s a lot of cameos that just come and go. Did you shoot a lot?
No, not at all. Not at all. I was asked to do it, and again it was one of those things where I was like, “What? That’s ridiculous. The Muppets don’t want me to be in there film!” But they did, and it was amazing. I turned up, they shot it in London, I think they were shooting everything Shepperton, or Pinewood I think, and I just went in the day before and tried on some tutus and met with the choreographer and we went through some very basic, very dramatic ballet moves. I improvised, you know what I mean? I just went with it, let the move take over. But no, I’m not a ballet dancer. But it was all so quick. I just went in for half a day and then I was just kicked out, it was Ricky Gervais or whoever was working that day.
I’m trying to picture their mental process. “Okay, we’re going to get Saoirse Ronan to do the movie. What’s she going to do?” “Ballet?” “Yeah, ballet. Ballet is good.”
Ballet! Of course! And not even Irish dancing, because they’re in Ireland. They got me to do ballet. [Laughs.] Because Ireland’s known for its ballet dancing.
Of course! Are you an accomplished Irish dancer? Can you do the foot thing? I actually don’t know what it’s called, I’m sorry. I’m embarrassed now.
Well, it’s Irish dancing. I was born in New York and there this big singing competition every year in Europe called The Eurovision Song Contest, and at the interval they have a performance from somebody or a band or whatever, and when we were in New York Riverdance performed. Eurovision happened in New York that year and Riverdance performed… You’ve heard of Riverdance?
Oh, I remember Riverdance. Riverdance had a zeitgeist in the 1990s.
Mystical, mystical people. But they basically incorporated Irish dancing but they did it in a very modern, American style. I wanted to be… I wasn’t really keen on Irish dancing itself, and I’m not really into the current wave or things like that, but I really wanted to be Jean Butler from Riverdance, who danced with Michael Flatley. For years she was the person I was going to become when I was older. That’s what I wanted to do, yeah.
I’m really excited for How to Catch a Monster.
I don’t know much about what it’s about, so I just imagine there’s a box propped up with a stick with monster bait inside it, and you’ve got a string that’s attached to the stick and you’re waiting for the monster to come along.
[Laughs.] And a lot of neon, and some bomber jackets.
It’s not really… I don’t know what I’m allowed to say about it. I’ve seen some footage of it, but it’s not a “monster,” per se.
It’s all an elaborate metaphor for… life?
It’s kind of a metaphor in a way. It’s basically about this American town, I suppose, that’s been hit hard by the current economic climate. It would remind you of a lot of towns in America, and all over the world, but we shot it in Detroit and it was the perfect place for us to shoot because so many parts of Detroit, especially downtown, have been kind of abandoned because there’s no work there. So in this city that the film is about, or this town that the film is about, there’s no work, there’s no jobs, there’s no hope, and it’s kind of about this guy who wants to get out of there but he lives with his mother and his brother, and next door there’s this girl called Rat who is stuck in a rut too. It’s sort of about how they all face their demons in the end, so it’s cool. I’ve seen about half an hour of it, I saw it a few weeks ago, and it looks really great. I’m really proud about it.
Is there anything else you’ve got coming up that you’re super excited about, that you want people to know about in interview format?
Yeah, I just finished a film called Stockholm, Pennsylvania, which will be out sometime next year, and that was written and directed by Nicole Beckwith, who is a New York playwright. And there’s a film I’m just about to do, I start Monday, which has become a very, very special film all of a sudden for everyone involved. It’s called Brooklyn, and it’s based on a book by Colm Tobin, who’s an Irish novelist. It’s almost an all Irish cast and John Crowley is directing it. Julie Walters is in it, Nick Hornby wrote the script, so I’m just about to start that and I’m very excited.