Nominee Profile 2020: Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”

by Scott Orlin December 20, 2019
Saoirse Ronan

HFPA

One presumes Louisa May Alcott might be a little humbled realizing that more than 150 years after she published her novel “Little Women”, artists would still be reimagining her tale of four sisters, Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy March, as they share their journey from childhood to adulthood. Set in Concord, Massachusetts during the Civil War, the story centers on their navigation through sibling rivalry, first love, loss, and marriage.

This literary right of passage for young girls has been interpreted more than a dozen times in the various film, television, and theatrical adaptations. Just don’t count Saoirse Ronan as one of the viewers. In her preparation to inhabit the role of Jo in the latest big-screen reworking, she steered clear of any visual references.

“For me to have gone back and watched any of what the other actors had done, especially when there have been people like Winona Ryder, Katharine Hepburn, and June Allyson, I would have just had it in my head. I would be comparing what I am doing to what they did,” she candidly admitted during an interview this past November with the HFPA. Where Ronan did find inspiration was in a book suggested to her called “Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother”, a biography which proved invaluable as a resource into the complicated relationship.

A self-labeled perfectionist, the actress found her usual approach comprised mainly due to the freedom her director Greta Gerwig afforded her on set. “This was the first time ever that I was on a job where I felt I could try something and not be afraid to mess it up.” That resolve has been rewarded with her fourth career Golden Globe nomination for playing the main narrative voice of the film, Jo, an aspiring novelist. Ironically, the Irish-raised actress garnered her first nomination back in 2007 for Atonement, also playing an aspiring novelist, albeit one a few years younger.

Little Women marked a reunion between the lead actress and director, who both garnered critical acclaim for Lady Bird. That effort earned two Globes: one for Best Comedy and one for Ronan herself as Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. Ronan testifies to seeing an evolution to Gerwig, who seems to have taken a natural command on her set, giving her actors the confidence to explore the space they were in.

Since making her acting debut at age 9 in the Irish medical series, The Clinic, then following that with her first film appearance alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd in I Can Never Be Your Woman, the actress has actually been finding her way as one of the most prominent artists of her generation, scoring Oscar and Globe nominations, culminating in her Globe for Lady Bird.

Just don’t expect success to inflate her ego. “I am just trying to get back to the mindset I was in when I was a kid,” she sums up. “Back then, I didn’t have any hang-ups. I didn’t have my insecurities. I was crippled with doubt and insecurities when I did Brooklyn and Lady Bird and I just remember being desperate to get back to that 12-year-old who did Atonement. Nothing fazed me then. I was just there to have fun. As you get older it gets more in your head so I am just trying to hold onto that innocence as much as I can.”