Studio Ghibli, the animation company that has long been hailed as the ‘Japanese Disney’ returns to the big screen this month with their latest offering: Arrietty. A retelling of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, this beautifully animated and environmentally thoughtful film once again showcases the jaw dropping talent of hand drawn animation and other-worldly escapism that Hayao Miyazaki and his team claimed as their trademark years ago. If you’re in Manchester you can catch Arrietty at the Cornerhouse. In the meantime however, here’s an interview with Arrietty herself, the extremely talented Saoirse Ronan.
So what originally attracted you to Arrietty?
I think it was the idea of being involved in an animation actually. I’ve never done a cartoon before and I’ve always really enjoyed doing voice work for films that I’ve done, usually in post-production whether it be VO or ADR or something like that, so I’ve always liked just focusing on my voice, so to get to do that and let that be the whole film was a really cool idea.
Were you a fan of Studio Ghibli’s movies?
Well I was, I had seen a couple of their things. I have a friend who’s an absolute nut (for Studio Ghibli) and when I told her that I was going to be in Arrietty she freaked out! But I’ve seen Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro as well and things like that. Their style is just so different to ours, it’s so beautiful and I think it’s more innocent. I mean I grew up with things like Pokémon which I absolutely loved so I was familiar with that kind of style.
Voice work is quite a different acting process, was this hard to adapt to?
It was different because you have to be a bit more dramatic I think. Because it’s your voice and because it’s an animation you really need to act everyting out and that wasn’t really something I was use to as much so it took a little bit of getting use to. But the people I was working with, they do those things all the time and they always work for Studio Ghibli so they were well use to it and they knew what to say to me!
What about The Borrowers, where you aware of that show growing up?
Yeah I loved The Borrowers. I watched the…I think they did it in the nineties, it wasn’t a cartoon it was a proper film…It was the one with John Goodman and it was terrific so I’ve always really liked that idea.
A lot of your movies deal with adult subject matter. Did you enjoy the change of pace doing a more light-hearted kids project?
Yeah it was nice to do something like that. I’ve only…well I’ve done a couple of kids films so it’s always nice to go back to that and again. It was just with my voice so everything was going through that and it was something that needed to be thought about really because I did have to be quite innocent and act quite young and so I wouldn’t say it was a challenge but as you just said, it’s something that I haven’t really done in a while and people haven’t seen me do.
You’ve re-teaming with Joe Wright (director of Atonement and Hanna) a few times, did you enjoy working with him?
I do, I really enjoy working with Joe. We had worked together when I was a good bit younger, when I was 12, so to come back again about four years later to do something completely different; I think it was good for both of us. Hanna was something that neither of us had done before and to be involved in an action film and be involved with fights scenes, and for him different types of shots and for me lots of training and things like that and working together on that sort of thing I think it was good. And I think it was good that we had worked together before and knew each other.
Do you enjoy the more physical roles, did you enjoy the fighting in Hanna?
I did enjoy it yeah, it was tough enough but it was something that I wanted to keep pushing myself with and I’ve always enjoyed sports and things like that I just haven’t really had the chance to do them in the past few years because I’ve been working. It’s not really like you can become part of a basketball team because you’re not around for long enough! So to be able to for this for Hanna, to get into the gym and start doing martial arts which my dad had done since he was ten was brilliant and it was a great way to focus as well. So yeah I really enjoyed it, I’d like to do it again. I wouldn’t like to do it straight away because it was tough but I would like to go back to it yeah.
A little bit of a break?
I think so. A bit of a break from the dumbbells and the bamboo sticks and things like that!
You’ve worked with an impressive amount of huge stars, do you ever get star struck?
No I’ve actually never been star struck by anyone, I don’t know…well I suppose I do know why. It could be because I was around film sets from an early age, but I wasn’t really around famous people. I think I just always viewed them as normal people. I’d be closer to being star struck if I met someone from the music industry or maybe fashion, just something that I wasn’t directly involved in then I think that would be more of an instance where that might happen, but it’s never really happened to me before. But I’ve been very lucky with the people that I’ve worked with, they’re all great…the likes of Stanley Tucci and James Gandalfini and Susan Sarandon, getting to know people like them and getting to just work with them is brilliant.
You’ve mentioned recently that you’d like to work with Quentin Tarantino one day..
Yeah this is getting around a bit, I did an article and they asked me to talk about something that I liked and I was like ‘what should I pick?’ so I picked Quentin because he’s absolutely brilliant.
Do you have a dream collaboration project?
Well I would like to work with Quentin that would be really cool because I’d just be interested to see how he works, like every single film he has made has been like an art piece so to do something like that would be really cool. But there are lots of actors that I’d like to work with again that I’ve already worked with, like Stanley (Tucci) and people like that because they are great. I’d love to work with Jim Sheridan the Irish director, it would be great to work with him and there was an actress I was thinking of the other day that I’d absolutely…I’d love to work with Joan Cusack because I love her, I think she’s really great. She’s been in so many things over the years, she’s never really done the leading lady thing, which isn’t a bad thing, but she’s around all the time, I love her!
Going back to Arrietty, do you have much time for cartoons these days?
Well I don’t have the cartoon channels unfortunately, if I did I’d probably be watching them right now as I’m talking to you but I absolutely love cartoons and I love all the new animated films that are coming out. I’m going to actually keep up on the Japanese animation more because there’s a lot of great ones that I haven’t seen that just seem to be fantastic. But when we were doing the press tour for Hanna we went to San Francisco and that’s where they have the Pixar studios and I went in and I was so excited to be there, it was better than being in Disneyworld because I love all the films that they make and they’re so so talented! We did a Q and A with these people and I just didn’t really feel worthy that we were actually getting to speak for them, it should have been the other way round! But yeah I do keep up on cartoons, I wouldn’t know of many of the cartoon shows now though. I like those quirky ones like Ed, Edd and Eddy and The Cramp Twins, do you remember The Cramp Twins? And I love Family Guy but I don’t know whether you could call that a traditional cartoon!
Arrietty is showing now at Manchester’s Cornerhouse cinema. To check times click here.
Interview by Simon Bland.