As the title character in Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots, the 24-year-old Saoirse Ronan takes on a role that she’d yearned to perform since she was 18. “I always felt a real connection to Scotland and the history, probably because I think there are so many similarities between Scottish and Irish history,” explains Ronan. Producer Tim Bevan, who first worked with Ronan on Atonement, knew just how perfect the role was for her. “We have known Saoirse since she was a little girl," explains Bevan. “Saoirse has done amazing work since and just becomes whoever it is she is playing.” Since taking on the role of a young Briony Tallis in Joe Wright’s epic film, Ronan has become one of the world's most acclaimed young artists, having already received three Academy Award® nominations. Part of what sets her apart is the thoughtfulness with which she choses projects. “It’s important for me to play intelligent women, because I think in art, you have a responsibility to portray real life,” explains Ronan. Ronan brings a palpable humanity and empathy to each character she plays. "Saoirse doesn't have a dishonest bone in her body and that translates directly into her work, on to the screen," actor Colin Farrell notes.
With Mary Queen of Scots now in select theaters, we look back at Ronan's remarkable journey from young star to acting royalty.
Atonement | A creative artist
In casting the character of Briony Tallis in Atonement, the 13-year-old whose little lie utterly changes the lives of everyone around her, Joe Wright needed an actress who could express multitudes: intelligence, naiveté, imagination, and cunning. Responding to a video audition sent from Dublin, Wright found in Ronan a preternaturally skilled actress. “She’s the most talented person I ever met in my life, inherently so,” explains Wright. As a young teen from a happy family, Ronan had few harsh memories to call up during her performance. Instead, she, like Briony herself, treats acting as a purely creative process. “She has an extraordinarily strong imagination, and that imagination allows her to empathize with other people and to empathize with the character she’s playing,” adds Wright. For Rolling Stone, “Ronan is the film’s glory. Note to Oscar: This is acting of the highest order. Ronan simply takes your breath away.” Oscar did take note, nominating Ronan for Best Supporting Actress.
Hanna | The heart of an action star
In 2010, Ronan repaid Wright’s casting her in Atonement by suggesting him to direct her in the high-octane fairy-tale thriller Hanna. Having been trained by her ex-intelligence agent father (Eric Bana) in the solitude of the arctic, Hanna (Ronan) is let loose on the world at age fifteen to hunt down a rogue CIA director (played Cate Blanchett). In the role, Ronan must be two people simultaneously: a naïve young girl and a polished assassin. “I learnt new skills like knife fighting, stick fighting, how to shoot a gun, martial arts,” Ronan tells MTV. At the same time, the actress found a way to communicate the lost child inside the body of an action star. “What keeps us hooked is Ronan, a young actress of seemingly limitless abilities, and the tension she creates between Hanna’s inhumanly agile body and quizzical eyes, which turn cold only when she pulls the trigger,” writes New York Magazine.
Mary Queen of Scots | A command performance
For the last few years, Ronan has shone playing young women coming of age. She received Academy Award-nominations for Best Actress for playing the young Irish immigrant coming to America in 2015’s Brooklyn and the rebellious teen carving out a future for herself in 2017’s Lady Bird. In Mary Queen of Scots, Ronan gives a commanding performance as a woman taking on the responsibility of leading a nation. Dealing with the contentious, controlling noblemen in her own land and the powerful reach of Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) in the south, Mary pushes Scotland to become a world power all its own. In casting the film, Ronan was the filmmaker’s first choice. “Saoirse is completely extraordinary and has all the range to play the power, ferocity, suffering, and sacrifice of Mary,” explains Rourke. Taking her career to a new level, Ronan radiates power and vision as a woman in control of her life and fate. “The film’s most thrilling pleasure is a show-stopping lead performance from Ronan,” exclaims The Guardian. “She’s note-perfect as Mary: vulnerable, terrifying, strong, sexy and effortlessly dominant when taking charge of the men who are trying to outsmart her. It is an astonishingly confident and committed turn and, in a just year, she’d be showered with more awards attention."