Saorise Ronan tells STACK about shooting love scenes with Kate Winslet for director Francis Lee’s acclaimed new LGBT+ drama, Ammonite

Saoirse Ronan’s 25th birthday was certainly an unforgettable occasion, spent semi-naked making out with her co-star Kate Winslet for a love scene in one of the most talked about movies of the year, Ammonite.

The culmination of the growing sexual tension between Ammonite’s two female leads, director Francis Lee had been shooting his film largely in chronological order when Winslet came to him with a special request to reschedule the sex scene for Ronan’s birthday – even though they were not slated to shoot it for another four days.

Oblivious to Winslet’s special gesture at the time, and finding out months later, Ronan today tells STACK, “It was the greatest birthday present I could have asked for!

“I had a wonderful time and, because it was my birthday, it also gave us the excuse to drink on the job and have a couple of glasses of Prosecco before we got into it. So, in hindsight, I am very appreciative that she scheduled it for on my birthday – even if I had no idea on the day!”

Set in the 1840s, director/writer Lee explores an imagined love life for real life palaeontologist Mary Anning, about whom little is known other than her famed fossil discoveries on the beaches of Southern England’s Lyme Regis.

“I first came across Mary Anning when I was looking for a gift of a fossil for my ex-boyfriend,” says Lee, whose 2017 debut feature, God’s Own Country, garnered much critical attention.

“As I read more about her, she instantly appealed to me. I am very drawn to survivors, class, gender, and landscape in my work. Therefore, Mary resonated very personally for me – a working class woman working on the unforgiving seashore, with virtually no education, thrust into being the breadwinner for the family at the age of eleven following her father’s death, and rising to become one of the leading, but totally unrecognised palaeontologists, of her generation.”

In Lee’s story, Ronan portrays Charlotte Murchison, a young married woman brought to the seaside by her husband to convalesce following a stillbirth. Here she meets Winslet’s Anning and the two women develop an intense relationship, altering their lives forever.

In preparing for the film’s intimate scenes, Ronan sought the advice of gay friends. “I have so many friends that are bisexual or gay and their relationships are all different, so I also don’t know how fair it is to say, ‘Oh the gay community is like this, this is how we are! Because of course not every relationship is the same, but I think in terms of the more intimate scenes, that was something that felt true and felt right.

“My female gay friends have said that there’s an intimacy that you can experience with another women that is kind of what I paralleled. And we were given the reins essentially to take control and decide for ourselves where those scenes would go, which was such a great opportunity to actually be quite creative with the sex scenes and not for it to just be your bog-standard guy-on-top, girl-on-top kind of thing, but to actually explore the intimacy between two people – and also between two people that haven’t been touched in a very long time,” says the actress, celebrated for her roles in Lady Bird and Atonement.

Ronan says she felt in safe hands with Winslet. “I think with Kate as a person, and also as a performer, she’s incredibly open and very accessible and you see that in the characters she plays. There’s nothing hidden. It’s just been an absolutely joy to get to know her more than anything.”

Ask her how she feels about her and Timothee Chalamet – her co-star in both Lady Bird and Little Women – being referred to as the Millennial version of Kate and Leo (Winslet and Di Caprio, co-stars in Titanic and Revolutionary Road), and she smiles.

“A few people have said this to Timmy and I and we will gladly take that torch and run with it for as long as we’re allowed.

“Kate and Leonardo obviously have an amazing work relationship and have played completely different characters with one another, and I hope Timmy and I will also continue to work together.

“However, I would say, if we were in the ocean and I was on a door, I would let Timmy come on the door. I would not allow him to sink to the bottom of the ocean like Kate did. That’s the only difference I would say – I’m less selfish than Rose was.”

Ammonite is in cinemas now