From writer/director Greta Gerwig, the heartfelt and humorous Lady Bird is a beautifully human story that explores what life is like for Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (played to perfection by Saoirse Ronan), as she fights to figure out who she really is and what she wants. As the audience, we get to know and love the perfectly imperfect Lady Bird through her relationships with her loving but deeply opinionated mother (Laurie Metcalf), her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and the young men who come into and out of her life.
At the film’s L.A. press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Saoirse Ronan to chat 1-on-1 about why the success of Lady Bird feels like a girl power moment, how she identified with the character, the very real relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, why the friendship between Lady Bird and Julie (Beanie Feldstein) is the real love story of the film, and that it’s a modern day period piece. She also talked about inhabiting Mary Stuart for Mary Queen of Scots, going through a transformation for the role, and the similarity between herself and Mary.
Collider: This is such a great film, with such heart to it. Did you immediately get that from reading it?
SAOIRSE RONAN: Yeah! It was a very well-rounded script, in terms of the story and the characters, from the very first time that I read it. Actually, the draft that I read, initially, wasn’t far off from what we ended up shooting with, anyway. Nothing really changed. It was really nice to have that. Even then, we knew we were making something very special to us, but with a film that small and one that has a female lead who’s younger, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be a success, commercially. So, the fact that that’s happening is amazing. It’s really exciting, actually, for myself and (writer/director) Greta [Gerwig]. It really feels like a girl power moment to have a film like this actually reach a wider audience. And not just the gender, just a film being so intimate is not necessarily seen as profitable. It’s great that that whole idea is starting to change now.
Was Lady Bird someone that you easily identified with, or did you have to find her?
RONAN: Definitely, when I was younger, and even now, I will burst into song or dance unprompted. I never necessarily thought I would have the opportunity to play a character who does that and who has the guts to do that. I think she goes a step further with it. I could definitely relate to her need to figure herself out. She knew there was something that she could be, but didn’t necessarily know what that thing was. At its core, it’s just a very human want to want to find yourself or fit in or flee the nest, so that you can figure out your place in the world. In a way, it’s the beginning of that story.
Lady Bird has enough confidence to jump into stuff, but she’s also not really sure if those are things that she wants to keep doing.
RONAN: She’s got a lot of blind faith. She is impulsive while also being incredibly thoughtful and considerate. One of the biggest lessons from playing this character and just from talking about her, since we started doing press, is that people aren’t just one thing. It’s so easy for anyone to describe another person as one thing or another, but we’re so complex. We contradict ourselves, all the time. I think that’s what Lady Bird brings out. She’s got so many complexities to her.
Have you ever wanted to rename yourself, or have you always been happy with the identity that your name has given you?
RONAN: I did want to rename myself when I was younger, actually. At first, I thought Lady Bird was so different from me, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’ve gone through the same things or been like that. Not as much now, but growing up, my name was so unusual. Even in Ireland, most people couldn’t pronounce it, so when I was a kid, I wanted a more regular name, like Hannah or Neeve, or something that would help me to fit in a little bit more. The older I got, the less I felt like I wanted or needed to fit in, so that left me.
The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother is so real and so truthful. What was it like to work with Laurie Metcalf and play that dynamic with her?
RONAN: It was fantastic from the get-go, really. Laurie is a very sincere person, and she’s a very open and generous actor. You learn a lot, just by being around her and seeing how willing she is to try anything. She really is open to going down any avenue. There’s so much thought put into what she’s doing, and then it takes ahold of her and she really embodies it. It’s amazing, always, to watch actors, especially when they’re as experienced as someone like Laurie is, just really inhabit someone totally and feel like it’s in their bones. That’s the way it felt when you would watch her, and it encourages you to do that, too, or at least want to do that. And just as people, I like that she’s upfront. There was no nonsense with Laurie. I always gravitate towards people like that, so it was lovely to work with someone like that. And we were really lucky that the way the schedule was mapped out, emotionally, it served us very well. We shot all of our argument scenes first, and all of the stuff in the clothes store and her picking me up from Kyle’s. We did all of these emotionally weighty scenes throughout the shoot, and then one of the very last scenes that we shot was the scene in the car, at the beginning of the film, which was great. As an audience member, I felt like you were being welcomed into this particular moment in all of these people’s lives, but you’re aware that so much has happened before you’ve come along. A relationship has been built with her and her mother, and most of it has been good. This is just the tough part. You can see the love there, and that’s down to the writing. We were very lucky that we had so much on the page already.
The friendship between Lady Bird and Julie is also such a special aspect of the film. How did you find the experience of working with Beanie Feldstein?
RONAN: Beans and I do get on like that. That’s what our relationship is like. For me, that’s actually the romantic relationship of the film. Lady Bird and her mother’s relationship is the real heart, and that’s the core and where we gravitate back to, but her relationship with Julie is the big romance. Lady Bird takes her for granted for a bit, and then realizes what she’s lost and runs back to her and takes her girl to the prop. It’s this big sweeping romance that’s so brilliant to watch, between two friends.
This film is set in the early 2000’s. Did it feel like you were making what could technically be considered a period piece?
RONAN: I was born in 1994, and apparently the ‘90s now are retro. It’s mental, isn’t it? Even the fashion is retro now. It felt like a modern period piece. The internet hadn’t really taken over yet, nobody has iPhones in the movie, and if you want to talk to someone, you’ve got to call them on a landline. Technology and the internet has transformed the last few years for us, and it’s separated it an awful lot from pre-internet, so it does feel like a change. I feel like there was an innocence for Lady Bird and her friends, that maybe we don’t have as much anymore.
It seems like you had so much fun playing Lady Bird.
RONAN: I did!
And then, you took on playing Mary Stuart in Mary Queen of Scots. How did you find the experience of playing Mary, who had a much more intense life?
RONAN: Mary did have a lot of fun, in the earlier part of her life, but by the time she was put under house arrest for 17 years, it was a much tougher life. It was great work. We had a script by Beau Willimon to work with. I think a lot has to be said for just having a really great script.
Were you able to identify with someone like Mary?
RONAN: Weirdly, I could totally identify with Mary. I found that with Mary and Elizabeth, and with any woman in power, they remind me of actors. There’s so much hand-shaking that you need to do. There’s a public persona that Mary had to put on with people, and she had to have so much strength from such an early age, and that’s something I could totally identify with, being someone who’s grown up doing this earlier than you would usually. She was thrown into that world very young, too.
Both you and Margot Robbie (as Queen Elizabeth I) look remarkably different in your roles. Was it fun for you, as an actor, to go through a transformation like that?
RONAN: It was! It was so brilliant. I was chatting with one of the other actors and saying, “When I’m on set, I’m still me!” And he said, “No, you’re Mary! You’re still nice, but you’re Mary.” I noticed that with Lady Bird, I had a specific walk that I would do that Greta described as a march. I led with my elbows. With Mary, I found myself with my hands on my hips a lot. The movement was completely different because of the clothes that you’re wearing and your status, and all of that. It’s great fun. I’ve always really appreciated it. For Mary Queen of Scots, I worked with Wayne McGregor, who’s this amazing choreographer in the UK and he’s one of the best in the world, and he really helped when it came to starting from the outside in. I think that’s a really good way to go sometimes when you’re figuring out a character.
Lady Bird is now playing in select theaters, and opens nationwide throughout November.