Add farm animal birthing aid to the list of Saoirse Ronan’s acting resume.
In the “Ladybird” and “Little Women” star’s Sundance 2024 entry “The Outrun,” based on Amy Liptrot’s memoir, she embodies a character based on Liptrot named Rona, who returns to her native Orkney Islands to cope with her past and try to overcome her drug and alcohol addiction. In one scene, Ronan as Rona fully helps a sheep give birth. She detailed the training for the experience in an interview at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP.
“I had been in Australia shooting another film and I came back, had a couple of days at home, and then flew up to Orkney because the lambing season starts at a slightly different time to mainland Scotland,” she said. “I met this guy called Kyle, who’s this 23-year-old guy who runs three different farms on the Orkney Islands.” Ronan explained that, “He coached me through it and we would practice tackling the ewes, which is the hardest thing to do is to pinpoint the one that’s about to go.”
“I won’t go into it in great detail, but there’s a lot going on at the back that makes you sure that she’s ready to give birth, and once you know that for sure, you have to pinpoint it and tackle it to the ground and keep her there and calm her down, put your leg on her back so she doesn’t move and just get your hand up there,” Ronan continued.
“It’s hard because it’s hot, and it’s sleepy, and it’s wet. It’s really difficult to get ahold of the lamb and pull it out and keep it safe. I was so conscious of the fact that I might break the lamb’s neck. When you see one of those takes, that was probably the third lamb that I delivered, but the first couple, I was completely terrified and I had to look like I’d been doing this my whole life.”
Ronan revealed that she delivered seven lambs in total to get the take that director Nora Fingscheidt was looking for. Fingscheidt described capturing the process as venturing into documentary territory.
“It’s like you’re on safari. You have to be alert all the time, and then when it happens you better get the right shot from the right angle [at] the right moment,” Fingscheidt said. “It’s very tense, but wonderful when it works out.”
Ronan and Fingscheidt recalled waking up at 4:30 a.m. for three or four days waiting for hours to nail a take. This scene was the last of 7 lambs that Ronan helped deliver.
“It was the most amazing experience, even separate from making the film, and that being sort of a way into the character, honestly as a woman as well, to be helping a female animal deliver their little baby into the world and to hear the noises that this animal makes, and how shocking [it is]. [It’s] like nothing else you’ve ever heard, all of that was so it felt like this real out of body experience,” Ronan added. “But it was really, it gave me a whole new appreciation for the farm, for farm animals, for where our meat comes from, for the work that goes into the maintenance of a farm, and also not every farm is like this, but the care that’s given to these little babies on their on their mothers afterwards.”
Ronan also described her process portraying a drunk woman, on which she based personal observation of others struggling with alcoholism or addiction.
“It was the physicality and it’s also, if you know drunks, there’s a look in their eye that’s dead. There’s a fire there, which I know very well, so I wanted to capture that. So many people get drunk acting wrong. I was very aware that it’s not [slurring and being sloppy]. People aren’t like that when they’re drunk, especially not when they’re an alcoholic, and it’s medicinal,” she said. “It’s like their immunity has been built up to it, and their brain has been affected by it and altered by it. The one person that I looked at more than anyone else was [Stephen] Graham in ‘The Virtues,’ which was this incredible series that Shane Meadows did a few years ago. It’s the best drunk-acting I’ve ever seen.”
“I’ve actually worked with Stephen since and I’ve thanked him because it was so honest. I found it quite upsetting to watch because you really felt like you were seeing someone you knew in a really, really bad way,” she added. “So I tried to hold onto what he did as much as possible.”
Ronan continued: “Wayne [McGregor, the choreographer] was incredibly helpful [in coaching me in] not falling about the place, but anchoring yourself and going into a room, and acting like you’re not drunk when you really are. That’s the best way to look like you’re a mess. There were a little tricks like that, that I did along the way and that were helpful to me for sure.”
“The Outrun” is a sales title at Sundance.
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