While I was at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, I got to talk to Saoirse Ronan about her latest film, How I Live Now. The film opens in theaters and VOD Friday, starring Ronan as Daisy, an American sent to live with relatives in England. Just when she’s getting along and falling in love with Eddie, England falls under a police state and they are separated. The Irish Ronan transforms into a veritable American punk in director Kevin Macdonald’s film. We also talked about her upcoming Mary, Queen of Scots film and her recently released festival film Violet & Daisy costarring the late James Gandolfini.
Crave Online: Is this the first movie in which you swear?
Saoirse Ronan: No, I say the C word in Byzantium, but very quickly and I don’t know if you would pick it up. Have I said it anywhere else? This is the first time that I’ve properly gotten a chance to curse a bit in a film, which was actually really nice because it’s such a natural thing. As an Irish person, people curse and that was the thing is that I wanted to play someone who could do all that sort of stuff.
For the flyover scene, did Kevin arrange real planes to fly over or was that CGI?
On the day, there was no sound. There were no sounds of planes at all. He would just go, “Plane!” and we’d go like that and then we’d go like that and we’d go, “What was that?” Then we’d carry on. They put that in afterwards.
How did you come up with the look of Daisy?
Well, it was between me and Marese [Langan] who did hair and makeup, Jane Petrie and Kevin obviously. We were trying to figure out whether we wanted her to be kind of goth or punk or what. It couldn’t be too iconic looking. We didn’t want it to look like we were trying too hard with the whole thing, but then at the same time, it needed to look like Daisy was trying hard to make an effort and make a point.
We tried out different hair colors and things like that and then finally we came across the bleach blonde wig, put the piercings on, found the right places for them to go, and when I put on that leather jacket, that was when I kind of felt like okay, I can do this. Before that, I was kind of uncertain, still was when we started shooting but very much beforehand, that I just wasn’t going to be able to bring as much attitude as I needed to bring to it. Then I put the leather jacket on and felt like okay, I’m a New Yorker, I can do this now.
The hair was a wig?
It was a wig, yeah.
You didn’t want to mess with your real hair?
No, I think it was just better for the film. I think for some reason it was better for them to use a wig so we did that. It was a really good wig.
What appealed to you most about the film, the police state story or the love story going on underneath that?
The love story. The reason I’d imagine why it’s left ambiguous who’s actually attacking them is because it’s only about the devastation that this war has left and has been causing, and how that affects the relationships between all these young people, and Eddie and Daisy in particular. It needed to be left ambiguous in order for us to keep the focus on these two young people trying to get back to one another.
Sure, but there is still the story about dealing with the effects of an event like this. I don’t know which is the A story or the B story. They’re both going on.
They’re both going on, yeah, and they both kind of help each other. As a spectator, I’m kind of more interested in the love story because that’s the heart of the story.
Did you audition for the role of Daisy?
I did, yeah. I had met Kevin quite a few times over the course of about a year and he really wanted to cast unknowns and nonactors, so I really had to fight for my part. I met him a good few times and he was trying to figure out what age she needed to be, things like that. Then I finally auditioned for him and got the part.
Were you like, “No, I’m not that famous?”
I was like, “I’m not that well known. I haven’t been in that many films.”
“They can’t even say my name!”
Yeah, exactly, nobody knows who I am. I tried that and that didn’t work. So I read for him and a week later we started auditioning boys for Eddie.