In the last year or so, Saoirse Ronan has played a vampire (Byzantium), a parasitic alien and its proprietor (The Host), a teenage assassin (Violet & Daisy), and in her latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel (out tomorrow), a pastry chef named Agatha who smuggles get-out-of-jail tools in desserts delivered to prison inmates. Ronan, who brings a bit of home with her on every set by traveling with Irish Barry's Tea (if you ask about it, she'll make you a spot), chats with ELLE.com about choosing complex characters, her Bridesmaids birthday party plans, and her unbridled love of brogues.
How would you define your style? How has your stylist Grace Moore helped it evolve?
You know about Grace! Oh, that's so nice! She's one of my best mates. If an Irish designer is good at what they do—and there are a few in particular: Simone Rocha is one who is doing so well at the moment, Tim Ryan is another great designer—I want to wear them. I think about what I wear. I also feel like this is what everyone says, but I wear a lot of casual stuff. I wear jeans mostly, and trousers. I found that I started to dress an awful lot like my mom, so I wear a lot of '90s, long, floral dresses now, and a lot of print shirts and jeans. That's what I'm most comfortable in. And brogues. [Kicks up a leg to show off her lace-up shoes] I have so many brogues! And I wear them whenever I can. If I could convert people to brogues, I'd be so happy.
When Wes Anderson sent Ralph Fiennes the script for 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', he told the actor, "Just read the script and tell me who you want to play." He couldn't do that with you—unless they considered you for Tilda Swinton's character?
Listen, if there's a character that has a birthmark in the shape of Mexico on her face, there's no contest. It was always going to be Agatha for me. But I still couldn't quite believe it when my agent called me and said that Wes Anderson wanted to send me the script to read.
It seems as if you've gotten to bypass the cliché teen movies that most actresses your age do...
[Makes choking sound] Ack! I didn't want to do those.
But after you pass a certain age, many actresses find that there aren't as many great roles to choose from, right?
No, there aren't. The project that I'm working on right now is called Stockholm, Pennsylvania and the two leads are female characters. The [woman who wrote the play from which the screenplay was adapted] Nicole Beckwith, is quite a feminist anyway, but in a great way—she doesn't ram it down your throat or anything. But it's really interesting because no one's quite used to the idea that a film can just be about two women. But, for me, I think part of it comes down to luck. You can't completely control what happens to your career. There are scripts that I read years ago, and at the time, I thought, 'No, I'd never do anything like that!' And now, because my interests have changed, and because I'm older, I'm really interested in that stuff now. I always kind of think that if you see a female character played by an actress that could be played by a man, that's always really memorable. Those are usually the kind of people I'm interested in seeing on screen. It's more interesting than playing women who are defined by their sexuality.
Your portrayal of a Jedi knight could have been that way, had your audition for 'Star Wars: Episode VII' gone in your favor!
Yeah! Exactly. It's exciting because there are roles out there for women like that now, but I found it very interesting that people still aren't used to the idea of a film being solely about women, or focusing on women, without it being like a gimmick or anything. Like even the same with 12 Years a Slave, the fact that that's an almost entirely African American cast, well, except for [Michael] Fassbender and all those people, that's such a big thing for us, and it shouldn't be. It'll be great when it gets to the stage when that's just the norm, and the same with women as well.
Do you ever worry about your career?
I had an anxiety dream last night where I was in a big hotel room, it felt like maybe a penthouse room, and there were a few other people there, and we were all staying together in this one room, and there was a courtyard outside, and there was a mob. There was like an Italian mob that started to drive by. They kept looking at me, and I was trying to duck down, and get out of their eyesight. None of the other people that were there were concerned about it, but I was. I was worried that they were going to come in and take us all away from each other. I got up in the middle of the night, I needed to get a glass of water, and they were there! I went to close the curtains, and they were there! And one of them was looking directly at me. I think they were looking for somebody. They were looking for a girl, and I said, 'I'm not the girl you're looking for.' And then they went away, and that was it. Maybe it was because I was reading a script yesterday?
At least with 'Grand Budapest,' you'll be considered for comedies more.
Maybe, yeah! I hope so. I love comedy more than anything else. I grew up watching mainly comedies. I grew up watching things like Three Amigos and Johnny Dangerously. I know it's extremely difficult. It's the hardest thing to do. I'm a big fan of Bridesmaids. I'm having a birthday party in the next few weeks—my birthday isn't until April—but while I'm still in the States with all my mates over here. We're going to try and get a chocolate fountain, an Eiffel Tower, heart-shaped cookie, little toy dogs as party favors, and everybody has to wear a bridesmaid dress. And if you're a guy, you have to wear a cop outfit like Chris O'Dowd. So I'm really excited about it. It's not going to be quite as fancy as the bridal shower in the film, but if I had enough money, I would give out real dogs. If I had enough money as Helen Harris III, I would.