Saoirse Ronan talks about latest role in ‘Mary Queen of Scots’

She knows you will mispronounce her name. How badly you botch it continues to amuse her. “I get everything from Sally to Sore Cheese,” laughed Saoirse Ronan, the 24-year-old Oscar-nominated actress who hails from Ireland. Her name — which means “freedom” — really isn’t that tough.

“It’s Sur-sha,” explained the star of “Lady Bird” and the much-awaited holiday film “Mary Queen of Scots.”

Based on the book “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart,” Ronan plays Mary Stuart, who charges into battle as she attempts to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England (Margot Robbie). Poor Mary doesn’t just face life in prison but loses her head for her efforts.

Already there is Oscar buzz for Ronan, who was previously nominated for “Lady Bird,” “Brooklyn” and “Atonement.”

Review-Journal: Tell us about your perfect Sunday.

Saoirse Ronan: It just feels good when I’m home doing not much of anything. I love to read and write in my journal. I’ll make Earl Grey tea. I love to cook or watch a fun movie like “Bridesmaids.” There is no star treatment when I’m home. I’m just another girl at the nail salon or shopping with my parents on a Sunday. It’s perfect.

What’s the difference between a movie star and a queen?

It’s a public way to live your life, plus there is a lot of handshaking and meeting strangers. There’s the whole public persona versus the real you. You need strength from an early age to survive it.

Is it true that you and Margot Robbie — as dueling queens — barely saw each other during filming?

It’s funny because last year, I was nominated for “Lady Bird” and she was nominated for “I, Tonya.” We actually spent more time doing the awards circuit together than we ever would shooting together. It might sound strange, but there was an incredible support system that we built during those times backstage at the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

Were you nervous to do such a big epic?

A historical epic was new territory for both of us, and it made us feel vulnerable in a great way but still vulnerable. Above all, we were so thrilled to be taking on two fierce women. This film is about sisterhood, leadership and women in power. It is also a timely story about a woman’s journey. To watch Mary be so ambitious and vulnerable at the same time as she led was an incredible joy.

Elizabeth vs. Mary. Explain.

We’re watching Mary and Elizabeth in these impossible positions where they had so much power and responsibility. At the same time, they were ruling two countries in a man’s world. And they were advised in a way that didn’t serve them or the countries they were ruling. They really needed to have good heads on their shoulders while relying on the people closest to them. It was really about who they could trust. And that’s a universal story that will never go out of fashion.

You’ve been waiting for years for this movie to happen.

I signed on to be Mary when I was 18 years old. It’s been six years for me and interesting ones at that. I’ve been with this project since I was leaving my teens and coming into womanhood myself. Mary was always in the back of my mind. She was this presence that loomed large, and I’d think about her. While we were waiting to see if we would ever make the film, I was always wondering how we would do it and why we would do it.

You researched the time period. What part of it could you never live with today?

There was so much tension in that time period, but you often had to let it simmer. You spent your time waiting for just one letter to arrive. The whole relationship between these two women was based on these long periods of just trying to communicate. It’s not like they could pick up a cell and just text. It’s not like Mary was saying, “Damn you, Queen, I know you read that text I sent to the palace.” This distance contributed to an incredibly tense relationship built over the years between them when they couldn’t actually meet up in person. In so many ways, that was a fantastic thing to play because it really built the tension, but it would drive me crazy in current times.

You played a teen from Sacramento in “Lady Bird” and now Mary, Queen of Scots. Which accent was easier to do?

The Sacramento accent was so much harder than a Scottish accent! Of course, Scottish and Irish accents are very different, but they’re both quite melodic and muscular. I’m sorry, but a Sacramento accent seems sort of lazy in comparison. I’m used to making everything sound like a song.

And the corsets for Mary?

I can report that the corset makes you stand upright and quite straight. You also have to learn to breathe when you move. You breathe through each movement.

You were born in New York, where your father was an actor from Ireland. Then your family moved back to Dublin where you grew up. How did you get your start in acting?

It was one step and then another based on the idea that my dad was an actor. I wanted to try to follow in his footsteps. Plus, I was surrounded by actors and directors and creative people from a very early age, and maybe it was catching. Acting just felt natural to me. I was always pretending to be someone else.

You’ve been nominated three times for an Oscar — “Atonement” when you were 12 and then “Brooklyn” and “Lady Bird.” What do you remember most?

Oh, it’s so glorious each time. Brilliant. You never expect it to happen — or happen again. I do remember the first time. I was doing an interview, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see that George Clooney was suddenly and quite by accident standing on the train of my mum’s fancy dress. My mom kept tapping George on the shoulder and repeatedly said, “Excuse me, George. EXCUSE ME!” Later, she came up to me and said, “You’ll never believe what George Clooney just did to me!”

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