Based on a novel by Colin Tóibín, Brooklyn, which stars Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan, is a love letter to the East Coast. In the film, which takes place in the early 50s, a young girl named Eilis from County Wexford, Ireland goes to Brooklyn in search for something different, in an effort to define herself without her family.
Eilis’ coming of age story is much more as she learns to know and love an Italian teen Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen). Tony is charming, loving, but best of all, opens Eilis to a world of new experiences as he introduces the Irish girl to the warmth of Italian culture and cuisine. So often stories focus on the grit and crime that lingers in the shadows of Brooklyn, but with the help of Vancouver being used as a movie magic backdrop, Brooklyn is romanticized and painted as this magical place where fairytales are born and first loves are discovered.
Saoirse Ronan sat down in AOL Build’s studio for a chat about feeling in touch with her character and the Oscar buzz around Brooklyn.
You’re raised in Ireland, but you were born in NY. How do you define home?
From the time I was born, I’ve come from one place and being in another. I was born in the Bronx. Obviously, I’m sure you can tell. This accent is the epitome of the Bronx [Sarcastically]. We moved back to Ireland when I was three or four, so from the moment when we went back, I wasn’t from the country, I sounded like I was from Dublin. When I was ten I started working in The States and the U.K. So I’ve always been adapting to different places. [The movie] is about establishing yourself somewhere else. The idea of having a base that wasn’t Ireland for me was something I knew I needed to do because it terrified me. It’s very daunting when you leave home. When you get that realization that you can’t go back to how it was ever again it’s scary. It’s something that you have to adapt to more than anything else. I was going through all of that and was going through that homesickness while we were making the film.
Because of that was it difficult to take yourself out of the film?
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m so used to playing people who are so different from me. Their situations are so different from mine, so going back to Ireland and bringing the work back home after 11 years of working away was surreal. The script was beautiful. It was like the equivalent of someone coming up to you and perfectly articulating exactly how you’re feeling at a certain point in your life. To have that every day you couldn’t help to be affected by that. It was hard to balance my own emotions.
Can you turn yourself off emotionally?
I have to be because we didn’t have time to waste. I’m usually one of those people to switch on and off. With this it was very hard to snap yourself out of it. There were moments where it was hard to switch off, but you have to be ready to switch off and move on to the next thing, because we just had so much to do.
What was the process like in getting this role?
Director John [Crowley] had signed on a few months before me, and he had me in mind for it. He came to me as soon as he had signed on, and flew to Ireland. I had been at home at this stage, and we talked for hours about leaving home. I didn’t know the kind of effect this would have on me at that stage, but I knew this was the right first Irish project for me to be involved in. I had never played an Irish person before, and I was waiting for the right piece to come along. It was such a burst of these two different worlds that meant so much to me, but was always kept so separate.
Is Oscar buzz on your mind with this film?
I’m not deaf, I can hear it and I know people have been really lovely towards the work that we’ve all done on the film. I’m lucky that I’ve been on both sides of that discussion before where you do put in the work and it doesn’t go well, and with discussions like that now I’ve gotten a lot of perspective on how things can go. I can honestly say without sounding cheesy that the reception that we’ve gotten individually is that you can relate to it. Not just because you’ve moved away, or are going through homesickness, but because I’ve met a lot of young journalists who are in a long distance relationship and can tap into it that way. I’ve met people who are parents who sent their kids away to college, and they’re the ones that are left behind. I’ve never experienced that to this extent before.
Listen, everyone says ‘it’s really universal’ when they publicize a film, but it really is everyone’s story. Everyone’s an immigrant – that’s American.
Brooklyn is out in theaters now.