Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) © DW Studios

Based on the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, and directed by Oscar-winner Peter Jackson, this centers on Susie Salmon, who was just 14-years-old when she was murdered in December 1973 on her way home from school.

Following her death she continues to watch over her family, while her killer remains at large. Trapped in the Hereafter, she must decide between her desire for vengeance, which is keeping her tied to Earth, and her yearning to see her loved ones heal and move on

Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) plays Susie in this hauntingly intense movie.

Have you read Alice Sebold’s novel?

Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) © DW Studios

I hadn’t heard about the book before I heard about the film, because when it came out I was quite young, but when I did get the role I waited to read the book after I’d made the film, because I was a bit too young to read it.

I heard it was a tough read, especially the first chapter, and after reading it now I realize it is quite tough. But I eventually did read it, and it was beautiful and I thought that Peter, Fran (Walsh) and Philippa (Boyens) did a great job adapting it.

What did you like about playing Susie?

What I loved about playing Susie was that she was just a normal teenager, with dreams and hopes for the future, full of life and love. And though she is taken away from her family, her dreams are as alive as they ever were, even though she is haunted by the nightmare of her murder.

This is such a difficult part for someone so young, how did you cope with it?

Working with Peter, Fran and Philpipa was a fantastic experience. They are so down to earth and, being parents themselves, I knew they had my best interests at heart. They understood what the loss of a child would do to a family, and their love and support helped me so much to portray Susie.

We talked a lot about the struggle Susie was going through in the afterlife, letting go of her family and the world they lived in, so she could finally move on and enjoy her beautiful new life.

Can you talk about shooting the murder sequence?

The murderer George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) face to face with Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) © DW Studios

We didn’t talk about it that much really beforehand, I don’t think Stanley (Tucci, who plays George Harvey, the murderer) would have wanted to. It was quite a few months into shooting before we actually did the scene, and so I don’t know about the crew, but both Stanley and I were quite anxious to get this scene out of the way.

We went in on the day and as I said before everything I needed was already written for me, and Pete was there so I felt very safe. And luckily Stanley and I are very comfortable with each other and we get on well, and I think that was essential in order to get that intensity on screen, we could bounce off each other and sort of freak each other out.

I know I wouldn’t have been able to stay in that place for the whole time because when the camera started to roll it was extremely intense. First of all, Stanley is such a great guy and to see how he changes it’s frightening, and for someone who gets on well with him it certainly feeds whatever performance you need to get out. But I enjoyed doing the scene.

Can you talk about working by yourself with the green screen in the in-between world?

Saoirse Ronan with director Peter Jackson © DW Studios

Yeah, there were quite a few scenes of me in the in-between and we actually did go on location as well in New Zealand, which was beautiful. But when we used blue screen, there were different things that they figured out would help me.

Of course how well written the script was, everything that I needed, or most of it, was in the script already. We would also play music during the shots, music that would reflect the mood of the scene, so that would help me so much. And people talked to me during takes as well and described what was going on around me, so I was able to react to that.

It was nice because I never really felt like I was on my own because I felt like I had my little guardian angel (Peter Jackson) there.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.