When it came to signing on for the film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s dark, difficult but ultimately uplifting best-seller The Lovely Bones, both of the movie’s young stars agreed that their decision was based on one man: Peter Jackson.
Calling him a “great guy” first and an “amazing director” second, both Oscar nominated lead actress Saoirse (pronouned Seer-shah) Ronan, who plays murdered teen Susie Salmon, and New Zealand’s Rose McIver, who plays Susie’s younger sister Lindsey, were keen to work with the celebrated director and found him to be one of a kind.
“He’s one of my favourite directors to work with. He’s so different to anyone that I’ve worked with before,” offered Ronan while in Toronto to promote the film. “We don’t do that much rehearsal before we shoot a scene; we just kind of go in and do it. It’s very fresh and he’s very open to ideas, although he has a very strong vision – him and [co-screenwriters and producers] Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens]– have a very strong vision of what they want, which is great because you feel an awful lot safer, but he’s still open to ideas.”
“People have asked me if he’s an ‘actor’s director’ but he’s not really a departmental director, he’s a director, which is brilliant,” said McIver, seated next to her co-star. “I mean, he’s aware of all those bases that need to be covered when you’re making a film, so he knows everything about the technical side. I mean, he shoots all of the stuff himself. But he’s very good with actors as well and doesn’t limit himself to being one kind of director, which is refreshing.”
And it’s due to his versatile talent and renowned eye for special effects that Jackson is able to deftly weave in and out of the Salmon family’s suburban ‘70s-era home to the other-worldly CGI creation that is Susie’s “in-between” world.
After her untimely death at the hands of a neighbourhood sociopath, played by an unrecognizable Stanley Tucci, Susie enters a trippy type of purgatory filled with images both fanciful and frightening from within her teenaged imagination. From there, she’s able to watch her family come to terms with her death and help her tormented, grieving father (Mark Wahlberg) seek out her killer.
Ronan and McIver both enjoy a believable intimacy with and affection for their on-screen folks, including Rachel Weisz as the mother who deals with the tragedy in her own complex way, and readily related to being part of respective tight-knit families.
But trust, and vulnerability, came into play in a big way for the young thesps during the uber-tense scenes involving Tucci’s savage Mr. Harvey, whom they said could not be farther from the actor’s family man persona.
“I remember the cornfield scene, which was the first scene we did together, we didn’t really know each other before that,” shared Ronan. “And in between takes, I’d go up and give him a hug – that’s the kind of relationship we had. And then the cameras would start to roll and he was thinking about killing m[y character]. That’s how good an actor he is. He just makes you feel very comfortable and I feel like it’s okay to go there.”
‘There’ turns out to be some rather ugly places for young Susie, who, according to Ronan, was a character that required a certain amount of strength and time to firmly grasp, since she chose to read Sebold’s novel after filming.
“For me, to discover who Susie was, I had to go on this journey. It wasn’t one of those characters, I don’t know why, that I completely got straight away. I think the reason was because she was so normal, because she was a very normal teenage girl and that’s what’s very heartbreaking about this story.”
“And I did go pretty deep. Eventually, Susie sort of became a part of me and it was very natural to go to that place every day, even if it was a really emotional scene, which I had to do quite a lot, or a happy scene. I got to experience lots of different emotions and Pete was always involved.”
McIver concurred, crediting Jackson, and his regular contributors Walsh and Boyens, for making both herself and Ronan feel protected and supported during production of a film that deals with disturbing, weighty and mature matters.
“With Peter and Fran and Phil – the filmmakers – it was so important to have a safe environment. With this subject matter, you can’t really venture in there and you can’t commit to it unless you feel really secure. I mean, you want to be able to go into it and leave. And they made us feel like that was totally feasible,” she said.
Filming in Pennsylvania and New Zealand, where Ronan said she’d love to move if she wasn’t already settled in Ireland, on a rather long shoot with a group that functioned more like a surrogate family than colleagues was a remarkable undertaking for the 16-year-old, and she confessed, changed her.
“It was a very special experience. I don’t think I can pinpoint exactly how I’ve grown, except that I’ve grown as an actor, I’ve grown as a person. For a long time afterwards, you sort of go into a state of depression. It’s a family. We were all so close. To leave all of that, after all that time, was a very difficult thing to do.”
Top 100 Most Anticipated Films of 2010: Peter Weir’s The Way Back
Director/Writer: Peter Weir
Producers: Weir, Joni Levin and Duncan Henderson (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)
Distributor: Rights Available.
The Gist: This is a fact-based story of the escape of soldiers from a Siberian gulag in 1940. This is based it on several sources, most notably the Slavomir Rawicz book “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” about being account of being captured by the Red Army in 1939 and his journey to freedom with other inmates. The group crossed the Siberian arctic, the Gobi desert and the Himalayas, finally settling in Tibet and India…..(more)
Cast: Mark Strong, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess and Ed Harris.
Why is it on the list?: Remember when Harrison For was trying to make an ice machine in Central America? Humans vs. Nature appears to be Weir’s specialty and there’s nothing better than an escape film in the great outdoors (this is set in Bulgaria, Morocco and India). I’m putting my money on Weir and that this film won’t bite.
Release Date/Status?: I’m assuming a huge premiere at a major film festival as it has yet to find a buyer for the U.S.
“I feel like a ’70s chick now,” quipped 15-year-old Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan, adding she loves the era’s music, a typical teen’s enthusiasm for the newly discovered in her voice.
The young Irish actress (her name is pronounced “Sur-shah,” but friends call her “Sursh”) with the arresting ice-blue eyes, immersed herself in the sounds of the mid-’70s for her role as 14-year-old murder victim Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones.
The movie opens Friday.
The film, directed by The Lord of the Rings franchise helmer Peter Jackson, is set in 1973 Pennsylvania. It’s based on Alice Sebold’s 2002 bestseller about a girl who watches her family, and the neighbour who killed her, from the afterlife.
“Fleetwood Mac is one of my favourite bands,” Ronan said passionately as she curled up on a Yorkville hotel room couch with her co-star Rose McIver to talk about The Lovely Bones.
New Zealand native McIver, 21, plays her younger sister, Lindsey, who ages from 11 to 19 in the film.
Both actresses embraced the unfamiliar world of polyester pants and David Bowie for the movie, which has a soundtrack by English composer Brian Eno, who made his mark in the ’70s with Roxy Music.
“I’m fascinated with the music – not the fashion, but the style where it started off from. It was a very interesting era, when things started to become bold,” said Ronan, her Irish lilt coming as a surprise after hearing her mastery of a middle-America accent onscreen.
Ronan pointed out that teens today tend to have common ways of expressing themselves, thanks to globalization and the pervasive reach of popular TV shows.
That wasn’t the case in the 1970s, “and because I’m not like that anyway, I felt it was very easy to go there. I feel like I’m not like one of those (modern) kids.”
The Lovely Bones was shot two years ago, when Ronan was an unknown 13-year-old actress. All that changed in 2008 when she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Briony Tallis in Atonement.
Both Ronan and McIver needed to do some homework to play typical American teens.
“I had the luxury of spending a few days at an American high school,” said McIver. “Just seeing the cafeteria, and we went to a homecoming game and saw American football being played, and all these things that were completely foreign to me.”
“We don’t have those kind of high schools back home,” added Ronan.
McIver also relied on her own diaries, kept through her school years, to help get her in touch with different stages of Lindsey’s life. Physical alterations, like pigtails and braces, helped her look younger, along with medical tape that was used to flatten her womanly curves.
“Poor thing, I felt so bad for her,” Ronan said.
“Especially during the running scenes,” added McIver with a laugh, mock-gasping.
Susie, of course, doesn’t age over the eight years that spans her family’s grief and desperate attempts to find her killer and her remains.
Jackson has crafted an elaborate series of settings for the almost-heaven place Susie inhabits, where the scenery shifts from meadows and woods to fanciful places that challenge the imagination.
Shooting those scenes demanded much from Ronan. She was often acting in front of a bare blue screen – digital effects and scenery were added later – and had to rely solely on Jackson’s descriptions to help her imagine her surroundings.
“We would play music every single day. It was very important and reflected the mood of the scene and it helped more than anything else,” said Ronan, adding the playlist varied among ’70s hits and albums, and classical.
“Pete would talk to me in between takes and he would describe what was going on and I would react to it,” Ronan added.
So what did she think when she saw the final version of The Lovely Bones, when her moving to music and Jackson’s direction meshed with his vision?
“Oh, I was completely blown away,” said Ronan. “The in between was very, very beautiful.”
For all the eye-popping digital fireworks on display throughout Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, it’s the film’s fifteen-year-old star, Irish native Saoirse Ronan, who lends the Alice Sebold adaptation its real emotional heft. In the role of Susie Salmon, a teenage murder victim who navigates the afterlife while keeping watch over the family she left behind, the remarkably expressive Ronan is the film’s anchor, without which Jackson’s lavish visual feast would amount to little more than empty calories.
In an exclusive interview, Ronan spoke with us about her strong attachment to Susie, her experience on the sometimes turbulent Lovely Bones set, and the kinship she feels with a certain teenage star of another high-profile literary adaptation.
When tasked with a particularly traumatic or emotional scene, some actors will draw upon a similarly painful experience from their own lives to help them get into character. Obviously, you didn’t have that luxury with Susie. How were you able to relate to her?
Saoirse Ronan: Yeah, you’re right. Thank God nothing like that has happened to me yet, so I couldn’t draw on any experience of my own. But one of the most important things — probably the most important thing — about portraying a character is understanding. After a while, I think Susie started to become a part of me, and it was very easy and very natural for me to understand what way she would react to something or deal with something. I never really thought of her as being a dead girl. She was someone whose body had died but not her soul. It was sort of like everything had been taken away from her, and I supposed I was just able to put myself in that position.
The production hit a rough patch early on in the shoot when Ryan Gosling, the actor originally cast to play your father, was fired and replaced by Mark Wahlberg. How did you hear about the change and what was your reaction?
SR: We had worked with Ryan only for about a week, really. I think Ryan is a great guy. I didn’t get to know him that well, but during the time that I spent with him he was a really nice guy. I heard the news from Pete, who rang me up and told me that it wasn’t going to work. It kind of threw a spanner in the works, but I’m glad that they picked someone like Mark who is a father, is naturally able to work with kids and communicate with kids. And so I think that if for some reason Ryan was unable to do it, then someone like Mark was the obvious choice.
I know that you waited to read Alice Sebold’s original novel until after you finished shooting. Did reading the book change the way you viewed the film?
SR: It didn’t really change my perspective; if anything, it made it stronger. I read the book, and I’m not really a quick reader but I was able to read this book in three days because I just felt like the whole story flowed. I’d already been through that experience and gone on that journey, so I was able to relate really well and connect really well with all of the characters. I was able to imagine, for example, Stanley (Tucci) playing Mr. Harvey and me being Susie. So it didn’t really change the way I felt about the film version.
When reading a novel, most of us develop our own images of its characters based upon our interpretation the text. It must have been a bit surreal for you, having already played Susie, to picture yourself within the context of the book.
SR: Yeah, it’s weird. I really sympathize with the likes of Kristen Stewart, who’s playing Bella in Twilight. I think teenagers can make their points more well known than adults, and they feel quite strongly about things — [especially] with a book like Twilight, which I read and loved and that everyone just was sort of obsessed with. And if anyone has their own image of what Bella should be like and then they see Kristen, everything is blamed on her, you know? Luckily, that hasn’t happened for me, but because I’ve done about four movies now that have been based on books, I can see how people would be like that — and even how I would be like that. But I wouldn’t blame the actor or anything. I felt a little bit of pressure, not only because [The Lovely Bones] was a book but because the whole movie was, in a way, on my shoulders. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When I interviewed Kristen for New Moon, I was struck by how protective she was about her character.
SR: Yeah, it doesn’t seem to her like she’s making a movie that has about three sequels and is based on a book and all the teenagers are going to see it. It seems to her that this is a very serious role that’s important to her, and I respect her for that. I felt the same way when I did Atonement and people would come up to me and say, “God, that was an awful child that you played. She was such a bitch.”
People really said that to you?!?
SR: Yeah! People said that to me … so I can see why Kristen would feel defensive about her character.
Speaking of Twilight, I heard that Robert Pattinson snuck into the Lovely Bones premiere.
SR: Yeah, I heard that when I was at the after-party. I didn’t see him, though.
You figure he’d at least have the courtesy to say hello.
SR: [Laughs] Actually, someone said that to me: “God, you think he’d come up and tell you how awesome you were.” And I was like, eh, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s okay. I can see why he would just want to sneak in. I mean obviously, if he snuck in and didn’t do the whole red carpet, then he just wanted to see the movie, which is great. He didn’t want to do the whole, “Oh look, Robert Pattinson’s here!” He seems like a really nice guy, though.
I guess it was considerate of him to not want to steal the spotlight.
SR: Exactly, yeah. Because he would have. [Laughs]
Peter is currently gearing up to produce the two Hobbit films in New Zealand. Did you consider hitting him up for a role?
SR: I’ve been doing a little bit of hinting, you know? I was saying, “You know, I could be a young Cate Blanchett or somethin’. I’m tall. I’m pale.” [Laughs] I can’t wait to see what they’re gonna do with it. Guillermo [del Toro] is such a good director. I read the book and I loved it, so I can’t wait to see it.
Byzantium Role: - Release Date: 2012 Genre: Drama - Fantasy - Thriller Official - Info - IMDB - PhotosThe Host Role: Melanie Stryder/Wanderer Release Date: 23 March 2013 Genre: Sci-Fi - Thriller Official - Info - IMDB - PhotosViolet & Daisy Role: Daisy Release Date: 2011 Genre: - Official - Info - IMDB - PhotosHanna Role: Hanna Release Date: 8 April 2011 Genre: Action - Adventure - Thriller
Official #1 - Official #2 - Info - IMDB - Photos - VideosThe Way Back Role: Irena Out on DVD: 19 April 2011 Genre: Drama
Official - Info - IMDB - Photos
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