Ahead of the release of director Peter Weir’s The Way Back in Irish cinemas on the 26th of December, we caught up with actress Saoirse Ronan in New York to talk about the film. The 16 year old Irish star of productions like Atonement and last years The Lovely Bones is fast making a name for herself in Hollywood and gives a stunning performance in The Way Back as Irena, a young Polish girl who finds a fragile kind of safety with a group of escapees from a Siberian gulag in 1941.
I came in when it started to get a little bit warmer, lucky for me
CLICK: Tell me what The Way Back is all about?
SR: The Way Back is about a group of men in 1941-42 who escape from a Siberian gulag which is considered inescapable really. And they walk through forests and over mountains and through deserts and on the way they meet this young Polish girl who I play called Irena and she was in a work camp and had a tough life and she gets close to them, in particular Ed Harris’ character Mr. Smith. It’s just about their journey and how they all work together. That’s it really!
CLICK: How did you come to be involved in the project?
SR: God, let me think now. I suppose it must have been a couple of years ago. I read the script and loved it and my dad read it and my agent and we all agreed it was a terrific script and it was written by Peter so it was fantastic. And Peter wanted to meet me so he came over to Dublin and we talked for an afternoon and he was really lovely and I read for him and then he gave me the part!
CLICK: It’s an incredible story, did you get a chance to read the original book?
SR: You know I haven’t read the book yet because I couldn’t get it for ages – I kept asking them to get it for me while we were shooting but they couldn’t. But I have it at home now and I’ve read parts of it but I’m going to read it all before the press starts. But it’s amazing though, the fact that it is based on a true story.
CLICK: Not only are you the only girl in an all male group but I understand you also started shooting several weeks after the rest of the cast – was that tough?
SR: It was a little bit tough for me because it’s always nice to start a project with everyone else. It can be a little bit nerve-wracking when everyone else knows each other but in the end I actually think it was important that they bonded before I came on board. It was very organic the way it was done because then we were able to build a relationship throughout the shooting process sort of in parallel to the way it was done in the film.
CLICK: Were you secretly happy to miss out on the really cold early scenes?
SR: Yea I know isn’t that funny! I came in after they’d done all the snow stuff and the gulag and I just did a bit of walking! I was happy, although we shot in Bulgaria as well so it was snowing there at the time and it was cold. But yea I came in when it started to get a little bit warmer, lucky for me.
CLICK: One of your earliest scenes is with Ed Harris, what was he like to work with?
SR: Ed Harris is just incredible. He’s such a brilliant actor and with these beautiful eyes. He’s captivating when you’re working with him and I really liked working with him. He’s really lovely and a really nice guy and his wife and daughter were on set and he was just really nice to be around.
CLICK: Director Peter Weir doesn’t make many films, were you familiar with his work before?
SR: I was yea. He’s amazing; he’s such a talented man and has such a good eye for things. Actually while we were shooting one of the producers told me that really, as you say, he doesn’t make that many movies – just about one every five or six years – but the quality of the movies that he makes is so high that pretty much all of them have been well received. He was a wonderful man to work with – he really cares about his actors and has a great vision and he’s been around a long time so it was lovely working with him.
CLICK: Did it help to have another Irish person [Colin Farrell] on set? It’s a very international cast.
SR: It is international yea. They were all helpful but it was nice having Colin there because he’s Irish and dad knows him and he’s a really lovely guy, very down to earth. And he gives a great performance. He wrapped before the rest of us, so I really started to miss the Irish food – like tea and things like that. So he sent me over a big package with Tayto crisps and Barry’s tea bags and chocolate and all these lovely things and it just made my bloody month! It was great. That's the kind of a guy he is.
CLICK: You filmed in some incredible locations around the world – what was your most memorable place?
SR: Morocco was very memorable. It’s so different from Ireland in the way it looks, its climate and people and food, everything is really different and very beautiful. And I’ve actually been back since on some of the same locations shooting a different film so it was nice to go back there. But it’s really, really stunning there and when you walk around the dunes where we shot a lot of the film, it’s just breathtaking.
CLICK: The desert scenes looked really uncomfortable, was it as hot as it looked?
SR: It was! Every single day it was between 45 and 50 degrees so it was really hot! And as you a fellow Irish person knows, we’re not used to the heat! So it was tough sometimes but it was fine. We had a swimming pool back at the hotel!
CLICK: Irena comes along at a point where the group is starting to fall apart and helps to remind them of their humanity. Did you see that as an important part of the character?
SR: Yea I think it’s very important; I think it’s the most important part of Irena and one of the most important things in the film as well because before she comes along its just a group of men trying to survive together and that’s going to be a tough thing to do, especially with Colin’s character there who stirs everything up. So to have a young women there, it makes everything a little bit more civilised I think, even though she’s a bit of an animal herself it helps draw some light back into the darkness they’re going through.
CLICK: You’ve just reteamed with director Joe Wright for Hanna – how was the shoot?
SR: It was great, that was the film that I went back to Morocco for. It was lovely to be working with Joe again and some of the same crew from Atonement. We shot in Germany and Berlin which is such an interesting city and a cool place to be. I think people like it so far, so hopefully it will turn out well.
CLICK: And now you’re working on Violet and Daisy in New York – what can you tell me about it?
SR: Yea, it’s about two hit girls – Hannah’s not a hit girl she’s just a killer, there’s an important separation there! But Violet and Daisy are two hit girls who have to kill this guy played by James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano of all people! It’s going really well and it’s directed by Geoffrey Fletcher who wrote Precious. It’s great because we’re on location a lot so we’re getting a good chance to have a look around the city in Brooklyn and Uptown and Midtown.
CLICK: How are you finding taking on more action-heavy roles, like Hannah and Violet and Daisy?
SR: It was different, you know, I had to train for a couple of months beforehand in the gym and weapons training and knife training and I’ve never done that before so it was a lot to think about. When you’re doing massive fight scenes and trying to act at the same time it can be a bit difficult but I really enjoyed it because I’ve always been a sporty person, I like to be active so it was good doing a bit of running about!
CLICK: Do you have any other projects lined up? Are you planning some time off at some stage?!
SR: There are a few things that might be happening next year but nothing definite. I’m going to do Violet and Daisy and then do press on the way back and then just go home for Christmas.