“My mum and I are ridiculously close,” Saoirse Ronan says, sitting cross-legged on a couch in the A24 offices in New York. This was before the 23-year-old Irish actress won a Golden Globe Sunday for her title role in Lady Bird, and began her acceptance speech with a shout out to her mother, who was watching from the audience via FaceTime. It was a particularly sweet moment given the mood of the film, a coming-of-age story about a high-school senior in Sacramento but, even more so, a reverie about the way mothers and daughters fight and love.
The movie, which marks Greta Gerwig's directorial debut, opens on the fiercely independent, pink-haired Lady Bird (a nickname she gave herself and insists everyone call her) sitting in a car with her mom. An argument about her college applications escalates, and Lady Bird jumps out of the moving vehicle. Ronan laughs as she recalls this because in real life, her relationship with her mother is quite placid. “It’s the opposite. We never fight.” But, she says, “The only time that we almost fight, or as I say, we love each other a little bit less, is when we’re in the car.”
When we meet, Ronan is getting over a cold, so she’s packed the production studio conference room that serves as her interview headquarters for the day with creature comforts: dimmed lights, tea, a humidifier misting eucalyptus into the air. She's recently finished filming Mary, Queen of Scots, opening in theaters later this year, and her only complaint about her stint as a monarch is: “I didn’t get to sit on a throne, which is a bit crap.”
Here, the actress opens up about finally getting to go to her first prom in Lady Bird, looking up to Gerwig, and the one thing she still can’t figure out about her character.
How does Lady Bird actually come up with the name Lady Bird? You don’t know, and I don’t know. It was only probably the last day of shooting that it suddenly struck me that I didn’t know why she called herself Lady Bird. I had never asked the question before. Apart from Laurie [Metcalf]’s character, everyone just accepts that that’s what she’s calling herself now, which I love. I was reading something recently about Lady Bird Johnson, and I was like, is it her? But I also don’t want to ask Greta. I don’t want to ruin the mystery of Lady Bird.
Did you have a nickname growing up? My dad used to call me Puddin’. But I never had an alter ego name. I didn’t have a Sasha Fierce.
What do you think Lady Bird gets right about the way women relate to each other? That the nonromantic relationships women have are as important as any sort of boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. When I was growing up, all these films I loved, it was always about one thing. And I think you realize as you grow up that from day to day you’re a different person, and the people around you help to make you who you are. Lady Bird is in this in-between moment in her life, and she’s sort of at odds with herself. She pushes away from the people closest to her and then comes right back when she realizes that that’s what will give her the bravery and courage to go off on her own.
In a lot of ways, Lady Bird is about mothers and daughters. You’re quite close with yours, right? Oh god, yeah. She came out during Lady Bird because I had done all of the Brooklyn press and then went straight into a play and straight into Lady Bird, and so I was exhausted. You know the way you just need that one person who’s, like, that reality for you and that sort of anchor?
And you said that you two, like Lady Bird and her mom, fight in the car. That’s the only time we even mildly fight. If I’m driving and she’s giving me directions, it drives me insane because she’s terrible at it. She’ll say, “Alright, you’re taking the next left up here. No, no, no! I meant the next left.” Because I’m a mind reader. We have 10-minute arguments where we’ll upset each other, not talk for three minutes, and then come back together crying because we hurt the other one’s feelings.
In Lady Bird, fighting seems to be a way of saying “I love you.” The way the characters are written, nobody is vilified. Nobody is just bad. Nobody is just a bitch. There’s always a reason for it, and there’s enough attention paid to all these characters and the relationships that Lady Bird has with them that you have a good understanding of why this person is the way they are. There’s respect paid to them, you know?
Did you go to prom growing up? I never went to prom. We didn’t have prom at home. We had the debs, like debutantes. But I didn’t go to a high school most of the time, so I wasn’t around for that stuff. It was quite nice to do it on a film set because even if you haven’t grown up in America, you’ve grown up with American pop culture like Saved by the Bell and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, where prom is the big thing. It was my first time.
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Who was your first crush? Zack from Saved by the Bell, and my second crush was Harry Potter. I went to Harry Potter World with AJ Michalka. It was a magical day. I got a wand and a Gryffindor jumper.
Are you House Gryffindor? Obviously, yeah. I actually did take the test, and I am Gryffindor.
Do you have a favorite spell? See, don’t judge me for this, but I’m actually only starting to read the books. I know. Because when the films came out, they were so good, I thought, “I’ll just watch those.” I don’t know enough spells yet. But if I had to: instant tea. If there was a spell that could just magic a cup of tea in front of me at the drop of a hat.
I feel like that doesn’t even require magic—just a hot pot! You must be a big tea fan. Huge. Irish breakfast, Barry’s Tea. That’s the best, hands down.
You went royal for the upcoming film Mary, Queen of Scots. What did you like most about being a queen? The fact that, at the end of the day, all of the decisions are down to you. I got to wear the most incredible dresses, designed by Alex Byrne, an amazing costume designer. I didn’t get to sit on a throne, which is a bit crap, but there’s so many scenes where I’m essentially on a throne, and I’ve just got men around me. Or Mary has men around her that have to sort of bow down to what she says. That was quite empowering.