saoirse ronan on growing up and moving to new york

In her new film, the young Irish actress plays a young Irish woman leaving Ireland and moving to New York... which is exactly what she's about to do in real life.

by Samuel Fragoso
13 November 2015, 12:28pm

The facts of Saoirse Úna Ronan's story are often muddled. Saoirse was born in The Bronx on April 12th, 1994, only to move to County Carlow, in the south east of Ireland at the age of three. Her relocation to Carlow was short-lived, as her family soon packed up their bags and moved to Dublin, then, later, London. Now 21, the young but experienced Irish-American actress is moving back to New York City, where she will be performing on a new Broadway production of The Crucible, alongside Ben Wishaw and Sophie Okonedo.

Her upcoming foray into the theatre is one of many successes in her short but illustrious career, only 21, she's already racked up 18 film credits and an Oscar nomination. When we spoke, Ronan was promoting the 19th, Brooklyn, a John Crowley-directed period drama adapted from a Colm Tóibín novel, which features her strongest performance to date as Eilis Lacey, who emigrates from Ireland to New York. 

Yet her mind couldn't be further away from the movies, she was preoccupied with her own relocation, and the happiness and pain that accompanies moving away from home. It takes all of two seconds of talking to Saoirse to understand that she possess that intangible it quality movie stars are made of.

Brooklyn really captures that dreadful uncertainty you feel upon moving to a new place. Are you ready for you move to New York?
I think when you've got good mates there, it's great and you feel a bit safe. But I felt that in London, like, 'what am I doing? What am I doing here?' When you're not working and you're going to the city every day.

But you do a lot of work I'm assuming?
Well, yeah, I do, but I didn't while I was there. I did a film called Lost River. I didn't really work in that year and the only thing I had really done was Brooklyn right in the middle of that. So I was going through this thing, like, I don't know what my purpose is.

When you left, how did your family take it?
They were fine, they were great.

No guilt tripping?
Like, I know it broke my mum's heart for me to go, but the way she put it was, "Listen, I've been with you for every stage of your life, from when you learned to walk to going to school to moving away."

When I moved out, I just thought my mum would be sick of me by now.
Just be an absolute dick when you're at home, then she'll be like, 'You should go back to San Francisco.'I know, but listen, she's always going to feel that way, she's always going to want to live in the house with her. And so was mine.

Living with parents has its benefits, though.
Yeah, so, you know, it's great to have a dinner cooked for you every night.

Are you living on your own now?
No, I'm back in Ireland living with my mum at the moment, but I'll be living on my own in New York.

The one thing that dawned on me was that you have to buy toilet paper. It doesn't just appear in the bathroom.
[laughs] I KNOW! There was one time where I was in my flat, and I was so sad that day, I can't remember why.

I thought you were going to say you were out of toilet paper… You can be honest
Haha, well, I was in my apartment, I wasn't like on the loo or anything, but I realised that I had run out of toilet paper. And it was raining and it was miserable outside, so I was like a bit down that day, and I put on my Aran jumper, which is like an Irish jumper, and it always made me feel a bit better. I grabbed my phone and thought, 'I'll be back in minute, I'm just gonna go up to the shop.' And I go out and I shut the door, and I turn around, and I don't have my keys on me, and I've locked myself out of the fucking flat. I was stuck out there and I was trying to get in touch with my landlord, who wasn't a very nice person, and he wouldn't get back to me, and I was stuck on the street for fucking ages, and then somebody finally came back and it was the worst, because all I wanted to do was to go out and get toilet paper. That was all I wanted.

You seem pained.
I was in pain! Physically. But, yeah, what I found, my first week in the flat on my own, I was sitting on the couch, I'm hungry and there's no food in the kitchen. So do I have to go out and get the food? And there's no one there to make the food and there's nobody there to get the food.

That's where you recognise that you're privileged.
Exactly. First world problems. I called my mum up and I was like, I realised I was hungry and I had to get the food myself and clean-up afterwards.

And all of a sudden, you have more love for your mum.
I fell in love with her in a deeper sense that I ever thought I would.

Yeah, the emotional rollercoaster brought on by moving is exhausting.
It is, and you're lost, you feel very lost, and really the only thing you can do is ride it out. That's all you can do. There's no quick fix, there's no easy way out of it. And I think, Father Flo [a character in Brooklyn] is right when he says, 'Home sickness is just something you have and eventually it'll go on to somebody else.' And it does. This is why Brooklyn really affected me so much: it's the sense of when you leave home, when you leave the place that you've grown up, and no matter how many times you return, home will never be the same again. Because you've had an experience that's separate from the people at home, from where you grew up, from your family that's just yours, and no matter how small a change it is, it will change you. I remember when I moved to London, I remember thinking, 'Until I have my own children and settle down, I'm not gonna have that sense of home the same way.' But yeah, it made me think of that kind of stuff and where I wanted to be when I was older.

You always expect people and things to remain unchanged.
That horrible stressful place that it always was.

Was it that horribly stressful for you?
What, supermarkets?

Your upbringing.
No, not at all. I had a really great upbringing. I was brought up in the country, my family are from Dublin, we live back there now.

Are you a city person?
I do love the city. I was desperate to leave the country when we lived in Dublin, but I miss the country now. I don't want it all the time, I like the city, and I think the city is very much a young person's place. I'm genuinely so excited to go to New York.

Like your character in Brooklyn, have you had a tough decision where you didn't know how to move forward?
I'm very much one of those people, I think maybe because of the way I work as well, if I feel something, I need to talk about it, and I can't go against it, and I can't brush it under the carpet. If it's there, it's going to stay there I need to kind of stay true to it and answer to it. Yeah, you've had situations you're in where you know in your gut that it's not the right thing and it's up to you to either carry on with it and get a bigger and bigger knot in your stomach or do something about it.

The knots can be troubling.
Yeah, exactly. Only you can do that, that's your responsibility to yourself as an adult or a young adult or whatever.

Did you think this was how your life was going to unfold?
There's never really been a game plan for me. Whenever I've been encouraged to think in a strategic way, I feel even silly saying "my career", I just don't think in that way. All I can do is follow my gut.

Has your gut ever lead you to a place that
No, it's only been when I've been told to do something against that.

Ah, so your gut's always right.
But it is for everyone, you know what I mean? I think if you're a good person and you're being honest to yourself, you won't go far wrong. I think even with the work you do or where you live, or relationships or whatever it is, you ultimately have to ask yourself in your heart of hearts, is this totally right for me? And it's cheesy, like a TED Talk or something, but it's true. That's been my only guiding light when it comes to work. It's to just go, 'Is this the thing that I couldn't bear to not do?' With Brooklyn there's no way I could have given that up. 


Text Samuel Fragoso

Saoirse Ronan