With her Irish accent and long association with period movies (from her breakout role in Atonement to her Oscar nomination for Brooklyn to the highly anticipated Little Women), it can be surprising to find that Saoirse Ronan had never worn a corset onscreen until her new film, Mary Queen of Scots. In the costume drama, Ronan plays Queen Mary of Scotland, and Margot Robbie plays her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England, whom history has positioned as Mary's neighboring rival. Of course, plenty of palace intrigue and treachery ensues. And Ronan, as she always seems always do, finds the fun in the melee. Here, she talks about the indignities of period costume and finally getting to act like a total boss on set—except in the eyes of her horse costar, who Ronan says was "the biggest diva I've ever met in my life."
How did Mary Queen of Scots evolve for you as a project?
I signed up to Mary Queen of Scots when I was 18 years old, so I've been on it for about six years. It's been through quite a journey, people have come and gone, and we didn't know when we were actually going to get it made. Every single summer I'd hope that it was going to be the year that we'd finally shoot it. And then we finally did last year, and it was just the best. We just had a big group of pals come together to make it. We shot up in Scotland for a few weeks and then when down to London, just had the best time. And I basically had your hair, Lynn, in the film. I was paying homage to Lynn Hirschberg in Mary Queen of Scots. That's the reason why I took the film on.
[Laughs.] Every time in the movie your hair would toss, I would feel a little pride.
Because you know how it feels.
So is this the first time you've played a royal?
This is the first time I've played any queen or any monarch. And ...
And did you feel differently playing a monarch?
I did, actually. Mary had to hold herself in a certain way when she was sort of presenting herself to a court or the public first when she was on her own, and was in, you know, intimate quarters with the people that she was closest to. So it was really fun, because I got to play around with physicality and how she'd move and stuff—and just felt like a bit of a boss. [Laughter.] Really.
[Laughs.] I know.
Yeah, and I got to learn how to ride a horse for Mary Queen of Scots. My horse is also Wonder Woman's horse.
And he is the biggest diva I've ever met in my life. [Laughter.] His name's Prince. And Prince doesn't do anything for anyone, especially me. So, I'd be on the horse and I'd be like, "Come on, Prince. Let's go!" And I'm trying to be all sort of Queen-like and he'd just look at me and he'd go, "I'm not ready to go yet." And then he'd go from being like really, really cocky to getting really nervous. And he did this thing before we would go into a take if he was feeling a bit anxious about it, where he'd cough. So, Prince had this nervous cough that you'd hear right before we'd do a take, so they'd be like, "Okay, and rolling." [Laughs.] And it would be my horse. [Loud cough.] So, if you hear that in the film...
And then you knew you could go.
Yeah, and then we knew it was going to go wrong.
You basically were acting for the horse.
Yeah. Everything I did was for that horse, just to get his approval.
Was that also the first time you've worn a corset?
It was, actually. I think it was for quite a few of us. Mine wasn't too bad, but a few of the other girls had an awful time with it.
Did you have the thing where you couldn't eat for various parts of the day?
No, you could eat, but you just couldn't sit down for very long. And because we had like six skirts on we had to sit on, like, these sort of stills that I'm on now, and you'd have to lift your skirt up and sort of hover above the still, and then drop. [Laughs.] But you weren't able to just, like, slouch onto a couch or anything, so we had to sit like this for 12 hours a day... [The corset] was not good for the organs.
So everything was squishing up or down?
I reckon they were. Yeah, everything was being moved left or right and up and down.
When you went to the Oscars last year, were you nervous?
No, I wasn't. I think when you know you're not going to win, it takes the pressure off [Laughs.]. So, you can just sort of enjoy the night. And I knew when Fran[ces McDormand] was going to win that she was going to do something wonderful. I didn't know what it was going to be, but I just knew she'd do something really memorable. And for her to like include everyone in her moment was amazing. It was just so cool, and so badass to do something like that. So, I loved that, but no, it was fun. And I had Greta [Gerwig] there and Timmy [Chalamet] and, you know, we had all kind of gone through it together. It was like, "Oh, okay. This is the last thing now. This is the last party." So, you kind of want to make it count.