Saoirse Ronan and Brie Larson were given the prestigious Outstanding Performer of the Year award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Monday, Feb. 9.
Ronan arrived at the Arlington Theatre at approximately 8 p.m. as a group of onlookers watched from outside the barriers. Brie Larson could not attend in person, due to filming commitments for “Kong: Skull Island.”
The tribute began with a flurry of montage clips from each actresses’ films, set to Lady Gaga’s “I’m on the Edge of Glory.” When it was over, Larson appeared onscreen, saying that she “loved [the montage]” and that “Saoirse is so incredible and inspiring. Our work cuts well together.”
The “Room” actress was able to appear after all. Making SBIFF history, Larson called in via Skype to recount her history as an actress.
“I started auditioning when I was six or seven years old,” she said. “Been at this for about 20 [years]. It’s been a very long road, but I wouldn’t want it to be any different. I wouldn’t change it — it brings me closer to who I am.”
After a year of acting in plays, her mother got her an agent and she started appearing in fake commercials for Jay Leno.
Larson got her first big break in “The United States of Tara” as Kate Gregson, a role she was initially rejected for. “It set me on my path,” she said. She would go on to co-star in “21 Jump Street,” “Short Term 12” and “Room,” the film she was awarded for.
For her role as Ma, a woman kept captive with her son in a shed for seven years, Larson lost fat and gained muscle and consulted with a trauma specialist. She described how she and discovered the film on an emotional level as shooting went on. Like her character’s son Jack, she ended up missing the warm security of “Room” after the crew moved out into the chilly cityscape of Toronto.
Larson graciously accepted her Outstanding Performer of the Year Award before leaving the call to catch her plane.
Then, Saoirse Ronan, clad in white, walked onstage with a box of popcorn. As she sat down, she said, “I just realized Brie and I are wearing the same dress,” much to the audience’s amusement.
The actress, famed for “Atonement” and “The Host,” was awarded for the romantic drama “Brooklyn” — which is where she was born, according to the moderator.
Not so, Ronan corrects him: she came from the Bronx. “Obviously. Clearly I was born in the Bronx. Could you not tell by my sassy attitude?”
Like her character Eilis Lacy, Ronan’s parents were Irish immigrants. Her mother worked as a nanny and her father worked a variety of jobs, including actor, bartender and construction worker.
One of her first acting gigs came when her father cast her in a surrealist short film. “I started acting when I was very young. Being exposed to a group of young, creative people who interacted with me when I was a kid inspired me to be like them.”
Ronan’s early experience made her adept at accents, which she demonstrated to the audience by adopting typical Valley Girl twang. She would go on to star in “Atonement” alongside Keira Knightley, which earned her her first Oscar nomination.
She later played the teenage assassin Hanna in the film of the same name. Ronan recounted doing weightlifting and practicing martial arts for the role. A clip played, showing her killing Michelle Dockery’s character. “I snapped Lady Mary’s neck,” she tells a laughing audience. “So sorry.”
For “Brooklyn,” Ronan was able to deeply sympathize with her character. She eventually moved away from her family to live in London and became very homesick.
“There was a part in a movie when I tell Jim Broadbent ‘I want to be an Irish girl in Ireland.’ I know that feeling … everyone’s come from someplace else. We need to make that first step out the front door, and it’s frightening.”
Then event concluded with SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling taking the stage to sing the praises of Ronan, causing her to tear up as she graciously accepted her golden trophy.
“There’s no point of taking a photo now, my makeup’s ruined. It’s important me to remember how important the work is and how important it is to make film and stories on stage or a film set. It’s what I love to do, and I get to work with wonderful people. Thanks for listening to us go on for the last hour. I hope you have a nice night, and thank you for coming.”