Saoirse Ronan is majestic in ‘Mary Queen of Scots’
LOS ANGELES—In a fitting nod to her title role in “Mary Queen of Scots,” Saoirse Ronan walked into a meeting room at The London Hotel in West Hollywood wearing shoes with Elizabethan ruffles.
“Very queen-like,” the young actress quipped as she took off one shoe (the pair was custom made by designer Ada Kokosar) and momentarily displayed it on the table.
Following her 2018 Golden Globe best actress win for “Lady Bird,” Saoirse is in top form again in director Josie Rourke’s film adaptation of John Guy’s book, “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart.” Saoirse is compelling as the iron-willed Mary Stuart who has to deal with seemingly endless Machiavellian power games when she returns from France to Scotland and tries to reclaim her throne.
The film’s highlight comes toward the end when an imagined royal face-off (“confrontation scene,” we like to say in the Philippines) between Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie, in heavy white makeup to cover her character’s small pox scars), takes place.
The other characters in this political drama, circa 16th century, include the Earl of Moray (James McArdle), John Knox (David Tennant), Sir William Cecil (Guy Pearce), Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn), Lord Alwyn (Jack Lowden), Bess of Hardwick (Gemma Chan), Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and English Nobleman (Philip Gascoyne).
Excerpts from our chat with the Irish actress:
Toward the film’s end is a royal face-off, a fictional dramatic encounter between you as Mary Queen of Scots and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I. I understand that you and Margot did not see each other during filming until that crucial scene. We had both made a decision in rehearsals to stay apart. We met briefly a few times before we started and through friends. We knew the other one was cool, and we knew that we like each other, or at least I like her. We both decided to stay separate, so I didn’t know what she looked like (in character). I didn’t know what she was going to do with the character, nothing. I didn’t know what was going on in the English Court at all, and vice versa. And that was really helpful for me.
When we actually did that scene, we shot the first half of it where we didn’t see each other. Then, they set up the cameras at the moment of the reveal. Both cameras simultaneously shot our close-ups as I pulled on the curtain. So we didn’t rehearse that moment. We just shot it.
What you see in the film is basically two actors who had kept themselves apart for a month. Margot was coming to the end of her journey in “Mary Queen of Scots” and mine was just about to begin. So it was this very emotional, loaded day for us. In the first take, we were shaking, full of adrenaline and emotion. It was amazing. It was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had on a film set.
Were you surprised by the way Margot looked? (As Queen Elizabeth I, Margot sported heavy white makeup to cover the small pox scars on her face.) I was surprised because it’s strong. It’s not far-off from what Elizabeth would have looked like at that stage. When she got into the Golden Age, it was a very severe look. But yeah, it’s shocking to see that on a person, especially someone like Margot.
I know what she (Mary Stuart) looks like. To see her be essentially unrecognizable took my breath away … as you see in the film, she has no makeup and is very young and fresh. She has dirt on her face, her hair is bedraggled and her clothes are torn. She has been in battle. Elizabeth has created this fake image of herself. So they are both on two ends of the spectrum. They are two very extreme versions of a ruler.
When did you first learn about Mary Stuart? I learned about her when I studied history in school.
There are so many portrayals of her, and they just aren’t the full story. It wasn’t really until we delved into this and I started to read about her that I knew what had gone on, how untrue and unfair a lot of the documents about her were.
In your research about Mary Stuart, what surprised you the most about her? What surprised me about her was that she was actually politically astute. She was a great politician. She knew how to play the game. She grew up in the French Court and moved over to Scotland. She knew the wheelings and dealings of the monarchy and in the Palace. She is not painted out to be that way by a lot of historians, so that was surprising for me.
Having played a queen, what is your opinion on modern-day monarchy? It has definitely given me more of an insight into the humanity of a figurehead. With shows like “The Crown,” they have helped to humanize members of the monarchy.
It’s nice to have more of an understanding about their lives. And realize that this isn’t necessarily something that any of these people asked for and they were born into it, whether they liked it or not.
Over the years, writers have mentioned you as the next Meryl Streep. Well, she’s playing my aunt in “Little Women” so that’s a good thing.
Can you comment on being compared to Meryl Streep? In this movie, your performance not only reminds me of the acting prowess of Streep, but in some scenes, you resemble her as well. Great, brilliant, wonderful. And nothing could make me happier than being compared to Meryl Streep or looking like her or being mentioned in the same breath as someone that gifted. So yeah, that’s really nice.
Mary gave birth to her son when she was 24. You are 24 right now. Yeah (laughs). I better get on it.
Do you want to have children someday? I have always wanted to have kids, but not right now. I would love to one day. I am very close to my parents. Yeah, it’s something that I always expected to have at some stage. But not at the minute, though (laughs). A dog first.
Don’t you have a dog? My mom and I share a dog. But it’s more my mom’s dog than my dog. She is my mother’s child. She has taken my place (laughs). I’m second now. Fran is first.
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