Believe it or not, Saoirse Ronan was looking forward to The Scene in “The Lovely Bones.”
Said scene is the film’s pivotal moment, and what many leaving the theater will be talking about: Ronan’s character, 14-year-old Susie Salmon, is lured into a claustrophobic underground playhouse, where she’s raped and murdered by George Harvey, played by Stanley Tucci.
“It was quite a few months into the shooting. Stanley and I, in the back of our heads, were thinking, ‘Can we just get this thing out of the way?’ And I think even more so for Stanley, because he’s (playing) a bad guy,” Ronan said during a telephone interview, trading questions with her “Bones” co-star Rose McIver. “But I was also looking forward to doing a challenging scene like that, because I like to do those kind of scenes.”
It says a lot about the 15-year-old Ronan that she doesn’t shy away from such intensity. It’s what earned the Irish actress a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her breakthrough performance in 2007’s “Atonement,” and a role in Peter Weir’s upcoming World War II drama “The Way Back.” And her acting in “Bones” would likely be less effective if she didn’t feel comfortable with director Peter Jackson, who also co-write the screenplay, adapting Alice Sebold’s novel alongside Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
“He’s very involved,” Ronan said. “It’s made clear to you the kind of vision that they have. They’re very willing to try different things, whatever makes the scene better. You feel safe.”
“I’ve worked with directors that are marvelous at their jobs and bring wonderful, different creative ideas to the table, but Peter’s so significantly different,” added McIver. “He knows exactly what he wants.”
McIver plays Susie’s sister Lindsey, the first to have suspicions about their neighbor Harvey. The 22-year-old New Zealander debuted with a role in 1993’s “The Piano,” and is best known as Summer Landsdown in the TV series “Power Rangers RPM.”
Because Susie dies early in the film and her subsequent time is spent in a colorful limbo between heaven and earth, the two actresses don’t share much screen time. But in order to create chemistry within the cast, Jackson had them spend two weeks in the Philadelphia house that served as the Salmon home in the film, along with on-screen parents Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, younger brother Christian Thomas Ashdale and grandmother Susan Sarandon.
“We built the initial bond, and it was so much easier to work from there,” McIver said. “Those things always strengthen throughout a project, but it was certainly a good place to start.”
“We did the rehearsals, but we didn’t necessarily go over many of the scenes,” added Ronan. “We just hung out and talked about the film.”
The film’s subject matter may be dark, but Ronan and McIver are quick to point out the PG-13-rated “Bones” is not necessarily for adults only. Notably, the aforementioned death scene cuts away before any violence occurs, creating psychological, rather than literal, horror for the audience.
“The scene itself is very intense,” Ronan said. “Everyone knows what’s going to happen. It’s building, and you can feel the intensity in the cinema. It would have really overwhelmed the whole story, because it’s not actually about that scene. It’s about everything that comes after.”
“Pete, Fran and Phil have made a film that’s so layered, a 14-year-old could go to the cinema and watch it, and take away from it as much as is healthy for a 14-year-old to take,” McIver said. “Anybody who’s older or had different experiences will read into those scenes in a completely different manner. It’s wonderful that it can cover such a vast audience.