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Interview: Saoirse Ronan On Byzantium and The Host

From her genre breakout in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones (2009) to her starring role in the acclaimed action outing Hanna (2011), Saoirse Ronan has been one of the most interesting young actresses of recent years. With her upcoming vampire venture Byzantium (released in the UK on 31 May) the Irish-accented (but New York born) thespian celebrates her newfound adulthood with a big bloody bang - playing a 16 year fanged-frightener, mothered by the unlikely visage of ex-Bond girl Gemma Arterton. Talking exclusively to SFX at the Glasgow Film Festival, Ronan shares details about her latest opus and also speaks about The Host , the Stephenie Meyer adaptation which is scheduled for release later in the year.

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In Byzantium you portray a 200 year old vampire. Are you a fan of this genre in general?

“Yeah, I am. I always get a thrill out of watching vampire films. My favourite one is actually Interview with the Vampire – mainly because I love the gothic and romantic sensibility of it. So, as you can imagine, I was really excited to be working with Neil Jordan.”

Speaking of romance, you get to have your own love story in Byzantium . For someone who is only 18 was this a challenging aspect of the film to come to grips with?

“As long as you feel comfortable with the person it’s okay, and Caleb Landry Jones, who I take a shine to in Byzantium , was fantastic to work with. The romantic aspect of this film is a big part of the story but it is secondary to the relationship between my character and her mother, Clara. The men who come into their world are shown to jeopardise it a little bit. They can never understand the vampire way of life, you know?”

Right, because you get to slaughter people in this film. Was that fun?

“Yeah, it was great fun. But I only kill old people [laughs]. That is because I want to show mercy. I know that they are going to die soon so I consider it okay to kill them.”

So you are basically the Harold Shipman of vampires?

“Yeah, basically [laughs]. That should probably be a quote in the film. I am called an Angelic vampire. Clara's scenes are more aggressive than mine: there is a lot of anger and hatred in her. She is getting back at all of the men who have done her wrong. Whereas for me it is more spiritual – it is something I just have to do. We approach the killing in different ways.”

Despite being only eight years older than you, Gemma Arterton plays your mother, Clara, in Byzantium . Was she maternal towards you?

“She was actually. She is very motherly by nature and also very mature. She was very maternal with me on the set, which I never expected because she is not that much older than me, but it was really nice. Her character in Byzantium is a prostitute who becomes a vampire. Once you become a vampire, or a ‘succreant’ as we like to call them, you stop aging. So in the present day we are both about 200 years old but we look the same age we did when we became vampires. My character cannot age past 16 years.”

You also have The Host out at the moment. Did you have the chance to talk with Stephenie Meyer about your character?

“Yes, I got to work very closely with Stephenie. She is a friend and she was actually the first person that I met for The Host . She was visiting Ireland and we met up and had a good chat. She told me she wanted me to play Melanie, which was really nice because it is her book and her baby. During the shoot she was on the set almost every day.”

Was that not imposing for the film's director, Andrew Niccol?

“No, Stephenie was great because she wouldn't impose herself too much. She was very respectful. She knew Andrew was the director so she just stood back and observed. She is used to seeing her books being adapted into films by now.” [laughs]

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For anyone who has not read the book, can you describe your character in The Host ?

“Well, effectively I play two roles. I play a human and I play an alien. Only within the same body. My character, Melanie... Her family was part of this human resistance against these souls who have inhabited the planet Earth to protect it. These souls take over human bodies and put themselves inside us. This is so that they can use our bodies to perfect their new planet. I am on the run and then I get taken over but I don't back down. Usually the humans just back down but I convince the aliens to take me back to my family. It is all very complicated [laughs]. And, as anyone who has read the book will know, there is also a complex love story going on, which the film sticks quite closely too.”

It sounds as if you have had a good time making The Host. ..

“Yes, absolutely – and it is such an interesting concept. It is based upon the idea of Earth being perfect. That is why these souls want to inhabit it. So we ask if the Earth is really what we, as humans, want from it. Do we appreciate it enough? And when you take the human emotion out of our planet, what do we have left?”

And you are also going to be starring in the directorial debut of Ryan Gosling, is that correct?

“Yeah, it is his directorial debut called How to Catch Monster and I can’t wait for that.”

Is this also a fantasy film? The current plot description indicates that we can expect 'a secret underwater town' in the movie...

“It is not really a fantasy film... In fact I can't say too much about it at the moment. All I can say is that it is the type of film you would hope Ryan Gosling might direct.”

The Host is in cinemas now. Byzantium is released on 31 May.

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