John Crowley says that “Brooklyn,” his acclaimed new film about a young Irish girl who emigrates to 1950s America, presented a chance to explore his own past. “When I was in my late 20’s, I moved to London to direct plays. I was struck by how homesick I was.” explains the Irish born filmmmaker during our exclusive webcam chat (watch below). “It didn’t make any sense to me because I thought I was a young, urban sophisticate, and I had moved there to direct a play at the National Theater, so there was nothing wrong with my life as it were there.”
“Brooklyn,” based on the 2009 bestseller by Colm Toibin, recounts the immigrant experience through the eyes of one young Irishwoman, Ellis (Saoirse Ronan). “There’s something fresh to the fact that the story’s from the point-of-view of a young woman,” Crowley explains, “because a lot of the narratives about immigration tend to be from the point-of-view of young men. It had an emotional immediacy that, if we had the right actor, we’d be able to capture and get on the screen.”
And he says the found that “right actor” in Ronan. “Where I suppose you could say we got lucky in terms of the amount of depth she brought to the performance was that in the time between me meeting her to discuss the role and when we actually got to shoot it a year later, she went through a lot of the same things that Ellis goes through.” How so? “She moved away from home, moved to London, got a flat, got a boyfriend, had a life for a while which was all very good, but she was struck by how homesick she was, and it made no more sense to her than it had to me all those years earlier.”
For this Tony-nominated director, “one of the things that this story does is it captures what’s universal about moving to another country, which is that you’re not from the country that you’ve moved to, obviously, and it takes a long time to settle down there. But more importantly, when you look back at what you used to refer to as home, it’s changed: your relationship to that country is different and something final has shifted in you.”
Check out our full interview below for more on the making of “Brooklyn,” including the challenges of recreating the period, and how the story relates to today’s world.
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Photo: Saoirse Ronan in “Brookyn.” Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures