Macdonald and Ronan Bring ‘How I Live Now’ to Life
Saoirse Ronan and Harley Bird in HOW I LIVE NOW. ©Magnolia Pictures.

Saoirse Ronan and Harley Bird in HOW I LIVE NOW. ©Magnolia Pictures.


Note to editors: In question #4, the word “bitch” has been replaced by “*****”



Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD-When director Kevin Macdonald was given the book “How I Live Now,” he loved it. Known for his film, “Last King of Scotland,” it gave him the impetus to want to make a film about teen angst and love. However, it would be a while before the project came to fruition due to scheduling conflicts.Finally, having been given another chance, the filmmaker jumped at the chance to work on it.

After an unsuccessful exhaustive search for a non-professional actress to play Daisy a.k.a. Violet, his casting director mentioned Saoirse Ronan. Granted she was a bit older than the original character, Macdonald realized that he should have considered her all along.

The character is a bit of a departure for Ronan, as her previous roles had her playing complicated characters versus the angsty teenager Daisy/Violet.

Adapted from the book of the same name, the film stars Ronan as an American teenager who is shipped off to the English countryside to live with her cousins. In the midst of her arrival, she is an angry, withdrawn and anorexic girl who must slowly open up and connect with her family as an escalating conflict in Europe forces her to grow up fast.

Q: Why make this book into a film, especially with its dark themes?

Macdonald: I was keen on making a love story out of this. You say it’s dark but I think when you’re a teenager is when you think so many negative things and question things in the world.

Q: The fact that there is a possibility of nuclear war, your character is able to work through this and help her cousin was the idea terrifying to you?

Ronan: Yeah it’s terrifying in a way really the idea. The thing that really struck me in watching the film. I mean I couldn’t sit back as an audience member. The one thing that really did strike me is the scene that was familiar to me that was similar to the kind of place I grew up in. The cabin with a ground open with George and Tom. That was their home. To see a place that apparently is so safe can be completely obliterated and destroyed and emptied of its people. It’s terrifying because it could happen.

Q: You’re such a great actress in such great roles, why did she have to audition for this role?

Ronan: (to Macdonald) Why did you have me audition?

Macdonald: She’s not that much good you know. (He laughs.) No, because the part was originally written to be a little bit younger so I would cast an American. Also, I had in my head that all the casts should be on lens. I had a casting director in the U.S. who met thousands of girls on both coasts and I couldn’t find anyone that I liked. I couldn’t find anybody that had that necessary… I never worked with amateurs. I thought I would find someone perfect who have never acted before. It was hard to find and then casting director recommended Saoirse but she’s a bit older. We met and she came in. She read a scene and I was like “Oh my God! What an idiot! Why didn’t I see her right at the beginning.”

Q: I’ve never seen you do this type of role before. How hard was it to get into your character’s skin?

Macdonald: (to Ronan) How hard was it not to be nice?

Ronan: It wasn’t that hard. I think the tricky part was finding the balance between somebody that comes across unlikeable and quite abrasive but still have an element of vulnerability that you ultimately care about. The one thing I was worried about when I reading (the script) was you need to make sure she’s not a ***** all the way through because no one’s going to care whether she gets back to Eddie or no one’s going to care what really happens to her. You need to grow to hopefully love her. I think it was hard to find that balance at the start. That harshness and the coldness that kind of attitude that’s in your face has to slowly be pulled back.

Q: Did you read the book prior to shooting the film?

Ronan: I hadn’t. I waited until afterwards. It depends on the film.

Q: Did you read “The Host?” (The previous film she was in based on a book.)

Ronan: I did because the book was this big (makes a hand gesture). For this one, the script had been changed a little bit. To me, I just feel that in most cases it’s a different version to the story and a different angle, written very well and strong so it was better for me to focus on that (the script).

Q: Kevin, you said it was hard to replicate the book?

Macdonald: Well, I’m not sure to replicate the book. When you adapt the book, you can never make an exact copy of it. You have to give your interpretation. It was difficult to adapt because it was in the first person and you’re inside Daisy’s head and that’s difficult to do. You have to find a way of exteriorizing, if that’s a word, what’s going on inside her head. I had to worry about finding the dramatic structure and was a challenge for a couple of years to write.

Ronan: He hasn’t seen his kids in about five years.

Macdonald: (He laughs.)

Q: Were you protective about the children at all especially working with Harley Bird?

Macdonald: I think that actually when you’re that age, you don’t think about the consequences of it. When Harley sees a dead body she’s….

Ronan: Ewwww!

Macdonald: She says, “Can I put my finger on it?”

Ronan: I think she a bit naive to the situation. All the stuff that was going on around us. It was a film set so it didn’t look really real in person and not that the art department didn’t do a good job. She knew it was make believe. I was protective with her in the sense she was a young kid on film set. She was doing long days as long as me for most of the film pretty much. She worked very very hard.

Macdonald: And you knew what it was like as a child.

Ronan: I knew exactly what it was like. and it was important that she got rest and ate well. It was important that she was taken care of by all of us as well as her parents which they did. As a kid, I started at her age. I knew how important it was to have older people respect me and want to talk to me and listen to what I have to say.

Q: Did you have someone do that for you when you filmed “Atonement?”

Ronan: Well yeah. I worked with great people. I mean my parents were like that and I had my mom with me the whole time but people I worked with were so great to me and always hung out with me and had a laugh. Someone like James McAvoy, I’ll never forget how great he was on “Atonement” and how he took care of me so much. He’s just a very nice guy and I’ll never forget that for as long as I am working because I remember how that was as a kid.

Q: Was it interesting shooting it in England while playing an American?

Ronan: Actually, yeah! Everyone else were English and I wasn’t and she has this New York vibe to her. I mean that helped in a way because in a way, she’s sup;posed to be a bit alienated and intimidated by the place. By me having this sort of not necessarily American but that teenage modern attitude towards everything in the countryside – animals, sheep. It was good to make yourself feel like you’re in that foreign place.

Q: Did you have any scenes that were intimidating to you while filming?

Ronan: Yeah! I did. There were a few scenes I was nervous about and they went fine. Thank God. There’s always for an actor and sure for a director as well, there’s always one or two big scenes that once you get through those you can say, “I can relax a little bit.”

Q: What were they?
Ronan: Oh well! (She laughs.) It wasn’t the sex scene funny enough. It was great. Between Kevin and the whole crew everyone was supportive of each other.