“You don’t quite know where home is anymore…” hmv.com talks to Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen and director John Crowley
In Brooklyn Saoirse Ronan plays a young woman who leaves her poor Irish town to find a new life in Brooklyn, New York. There she finds lodging, work, and then love in the form of Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian-American. But family tragedy sends Eilis back to Ireland where she must decide if her home is there or back in America.
Brooklyn – which hits DVD shelves on Monday (February 29th) - is based on the 2009 best-seller by Colm Tóibín. John Crowley (Closed Circuit, TV’s True Detective) directs from a screenplay by Nick Hornby (An Education, Wild).
Ronan, Cohen and Crowley sat down with hmv.com to discuss their relationship to the book, filming in Montreal, and Crowley forbidding his actors to improvise.
What was your initial reaction to the book?
Saoirse: “I read it in my mid-teens and I loved it because it was an Irish story that really paralleled so many other people’s experiences when they’ve moved over to the States. Especially from a small place like Ireland. It’s one of those places where people know each other. Then to go to this huge city and everyone’s busy and rushes past each other and no one stops to take a second… Now I love New York, but it’s very different culturally for people moving over there.
“That’s what I responded to in the book. I don’t think it really had the same impact on me as it did when I could have gone back and re-read it before the film. Because then at that stage I had become more in touch with New York myself and had my own very special relationship with the city and have become more and more patriotic about being Irish as I’ve gotten older and lived and worked away.
“And also just moving out on me own. Everyone tends to go through the same pattern of almost floating over these two places for a while. You don’t quite know where to land. And even though it’s exciting it’s also a bit scary, and you don’t quite know where home is anymore. So I got so much more from it by the time we made the film.”
John, you did not allow improvisation on set. In what ways did Saoirse and Emory help create their characters? Was there much discussion?
John: “Not discussions. We had a week’s rehearsal in Ireland for the whole cast before starting, and they were key. That was where you lay out the terms gently for actors. I wanted them to be specific with the dialogue unless there was a reason to not be. That’s a shock to some actors in the film world; not the ones that come from the theatre setting.
“Emory was astonishing in The Place Beyond the Pines, but a lot of work he had done in film came from a darker place. What was new for him here was that he could work from a place of joy. And I think a lot of young male actors mistrust that; it doesn’t feel as truthful as working from your rage. He had to trust that working from that place would open up his vulnerability and make that character sing. He began to play with that and it really began to fly, to begin the transition.
“Saoirse is in every single scene so rehearsal was about not overloading her. It was about getting her to spot the emotional target of the scene and never pushing it to the point where that emotion is released in rehearsals. You want to go so far and stop to make sure that the camera is the last component that sort of chemically changes what happens when it points at the actor’s face. You want the moment to crack wide open for the first time or for the emotion to pop.
“So none of the emotion that you see in the film was being openly rehearsed. I would pull her back from anything that was too teary, too emotional, too sad. But I would make it clear that we were stopping here but 50 yards down the road is the target we’re going to hit on the day. Because she had so much to do on the day.”
Emory, John says he encouraged you to work from a place of joy instead of rage. Was that a big deal for you?
Emory: “Yeah, because I always start with a character’s pains and fears. We all knew I could do that and work on his openness and his light. I started with his fears in terms of my process, and [John] encouraged me to work with it from a place of joy. It was difficult but it was part of the reason why I did the film: to work from a place of joy. It was about finding my own capacity for openness and understanding, and empathy towards that.”
Talk about shooting in Montreal.
Saoirse: “There’s a small, familial kind of feeling there and real community. We shot in McGill which was gorgeous, Mile End, and it was great. I had a really great time. I didn’t get to try poutine while I was there though.”
What about you, Emory?
Emory: “It was a little odd being in a film called Brooklyn and shooting in Montreal. But I saw why they went to Montreal for the period. It’s very clear when you get there; this gorgeous, gorgeous city. I like Montreal a lot.”
Who’s got the better bagels?
Emory: “New York. Bagels, Chinese and pizza: that’s New York City.”
Brooklyn is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday (February 29th and available to order on the right-hand side of the page.