SLEEK in a slim-fitting, electric-pink Moschino trouser suit, Saoirse Ronan looks every inch the hot young star from her head to her toe… oh! For as she cosily tucks her feet up on to her hotel suite couch, I spot that Saoirse’s (pronounced ‘Sair-sha’s) tootsies are snuggled inside some very ‘well-loved’ sheepskin slippers — the sort any fashionista would rather die than sport in public.
It’s a sign of how at home this 24-year-old is with stardom. Bagging her first Oscar nod (for Atonement) aged just 13 and her most recent (for Lady Bird) less than a year ago, she seems completely unflapped by the fact she has to change, do her hair and make-up, and hit the red carpet in less than three hours for the London premiere of new film, Mary Queen Of Scots.
‘We did one in New York about a week ago but it was only myself, Margot [Robbie, Bafta-nominated for her support role as Queen Elizabeth] and a couple of others there,’ the Irish actress says, giving me a direct, double-barrelled blast of her bluer-than-blue eyes. ‘But because it was mainly a UK cast this one will feel like a reunion.’
She’s particularly missed her ‘girl squad’ of Mary’s four chambermaids.
‘We saw ourselves as the 15th-century Spice Girls,’ she says. And is Ronan excited about the actual Spice Girls reunion tour this year? ‘So excited!’ she says. ‘All us four Marys are going to try and go.’
It was six years ago when Ronan signed up to play Mary. At that stage there was no director, let alone a script.
‘I was just signing up to play her,’ she admits. ‘I was 18 and I had been pre-warned by other, slightly older, actresses that when you get to about 18 the roles stop coming in. You only get offered, like, the girlfriend or the sister or whatever because you’re considered neither a woman nor a girl but something in between. For some reason, they don’t know what to do with that.’
So the chance to play Mary was ‘gold dust’. The timing eventually proved perfect: Ronan was just hitting huge, Golden Globe-winning success with Lady Bird.
‘I was being thrown into that world in a way I hadn’t been before and having to make professional decisions that weren’t going to keep everyone happy but were what was right for me,’ she says of the similarity between herself and Mary, who ascended the Scottish throne, aged just 19. ‘I had to stop being a people pleaser and Mary was going through a much more extreme version of that act of defiance.’
That may sound like a veiled reference to breaking free from her parents, who had helped manage Saoirse’s career since her debut at nine. But Ronan is still tight with them, particularly her ‘mam’, who was her Oscars date last year.
‘We went to the after-party and had a bit of a drink and a bop — it was lovely,’ says Ronan, making one of the most exclusive parties of 2018 sound like it was 1980s night at her local. No wonder it’s the humanising of Mary Ronan responded to in director Josie Rourke’s feminist take on her story.
‘That’s what I think was so great about The Crown as well, that you suddenly weren’t seeing them as figureheads but as humans,’ she says.
We see Mary bleed from her period as well as have sex and give birth. Which was harder to film? ‘We shot the labour scene for hours and hours,’ she says. ‘It was exhausting but empowering. I felt like an animal. I literally mooed like a cow and to work that into the life of a queen… I loved that.
‘The sex stuff is always quite technical, it’s kind of like choreography,’ she adds, which is the nearest we get to talking about her dating Queen of Scots co-star Jack Lowden.
‘I don’t ever talk about anything that’s true or false unless it’s to do with the work,’ is all she’ll say.
Whether or not mam will be her ‘plus one’ at this year’s Oscars, there’s no danger of Ronan’s head being turned. Instead of partying, she’d rather be home knitting.
‘Eliza Scanlen, who plays Beth in Little Women [see box], got me started,’ she says. ‘For the minute it’s just a very, very long scarf.’
I’ve heard Julia Roberts is a keen knitter, I tell her.
‘Meryl does it too,’ Ronan points out.
Now, that’s a knitting circle you’d kill to join.
Queen of screen
In the new film, the cell where Mary is held is, in fact, the crypt at Gloucester Cathedral, which also doubles as Hampton Court.
Costume designer Alexandra Byrne used denim to recreate the sweaty, clingy style of Tudor clothes.
To make Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting look genuine, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie were kept apart for weeks.
Pox of tricks
Margot Robbie spent hours having Elizabeth’s smallpox scars drawn on to her face and painted over with make-up.
Taylor Swift’s beau, Joe Alwyn, doesn’t just play court fixer Robert Dudley, he also woos Emma Stone in The Favourite.
Mary Queen Of Scots is in cinemas from Friday
Ronan on Little Women
Saoirse Ronan’s next film reunites her with Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig. It will be the eighth movie adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved 1868 coming-of-age classic about four impoverished sisters.
Ronan got her pick of the parts so, of course, she chose Jo. As she explains: ‘I don’t think I would’ve been right for any other role — if I’d have been younger, maybe Beth. When I went back and read the book out to a friend of mine and Jo was described as being this long, gangly, comical, loud girl my mate was like, ‘That’s you!’ And I was like, ‘I know!’
Also joining the cast is Ronan’s Lady Bird co-star, Timothée Chalamet, as Laurie and Emma Watson as Meg, who replaced Emma Stone when the latter dropped out to work on The Favourite.