Actress Saoirse Ronan was overcome with excitement as she ripped the wrapping off her birthday present – because the wrapping in question happened to be Kate Winslet’s clothes.
And the present? A day filming a lesbian sex scene with the Hollywood legend in new period romance movie, Ammonite.
Kate arranged the 25th birthday treat for her close friend and co-star Saoirse by asking the film’s director to change the shooting schedule for the moment when the story of two Victorian women in a budding romance exploded into passion.
“It was the greatest present I could have asked for,” said Saoirse, the Irish star of Brooklyn, Little Women and Atonement.
“I had a wonderful time. I’ve never done a sex scene so intense and full-on before. But to be able to do that with her… I did feel very safe, like we could go anywhere with it.
“I am very appreciative she scheduled it for my birthday. It also gave us the excuse to have a couple of glasses of Prosecco before we got into it.”
And Kate, 45, admits the on-screen chemistry between the two straight actresses continued after the cameras stopped rolling.
“We totally adored each other,” the Titanic star said. She also told how their sex scene was a bit of an eye-opener as she has always been the submissive partner in love scenes with men.
Kate said: “To be in a situation with Saoirse where it was utterly equal, it made me feel kind of angry at how that hasn’t occurred to me before. Why shouldn’t I have felt equal to my male counterparts? That’s the way society is, and now we have to make a noise about it.”
It was revealing for Saoirse too after director Francis Lee gave the pair the go-ahead to improvise their lovemaking as they saw fit.
“It was such a great opportunity to be quite creative with the sex scenes; to explore the intimacy between two people who hadn’t been touched in a very long time,” she said.
“It felt kind of true and right. The gay women I know say there’s an intimacy you can experience with another woman and that’s what I paralleled.”
Ammonite – due to open here on February 26 – explores the fictional 1820s passion between famed fossil hunter Mary Anning (Kate) and Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse), who had lost a baby. The two were close friends in real life.
Ammonites were sea creatures that evolved over 400 million years ago. Their fossils can be found on our shorelines – buried like the women’s passion.
The film is the latest in a career of challenges embraced by Saoirse, now 26, who is the youngest actress to have four Oscar nominations – for Atonement, Brooklyn, Lady Bird and last year’s Little Women.
Born in New York’s Bronx to a construction worker and nanny from Ireland, she moved to Dublin with her Catholic family at the age of three and grew up in County Carlow in South East Ireland. Saoirse made her acting debut on Irish TV series The Clinic at nine. Atonement made her a Hollywood star at 13, after she was home schooled.
“I’ve never felt young,” Saoirse confessed. “When you’re a teenager you want to belong to something. For me, that was being on a film set so I worked a lot.
“When I’m working I can’t really do anything else. I can’t go out. I can’t meet up with anyone. I don’t read anything.”
But such dedication has its rewards – she is now worth an estimated £7 million.
Saoirse, whose first name – pronounced ‘Ser-sha’ – means “freedom” in Irish, has spent three years living in Greystones, County Wicklow. Ammonite proved a challenge for her in many ways. She had to learn how to play the piano and sew – and then there was the wardrobe that came with an introspective Victorian woman.
“Just the clothes that she had to wear and how restrictive they were, I found that very restraining,” she said.
Kate, who trained for months to ensure she was a convincing fossil-hunter on screen , also had to rein in her usual energy to portray quiet paleontologist Mary.
“That didn’t come naturally to me at all,” she said. “So much communication at that time couldn’t be in physical gestures – it was in quiet looks and glances.”
Bizarrely, Saoirse felt most alive in the crashing cold waves of Lyme Regis, Dorset, where she filmed fossil-hunting scenes with a wetsuit beneath her Victorian gown.
“I love cold water and grew up next to the River Slaney, which is where I learned to swim,” she said. “So cold water is something I’m really drawn to. It’s actually the perfect hangover cure as well.”
The actress was impressed to see Kate plunge bravely into the icy sea. “She’s ready to do everything for the job,” says Saoirse.
“She’s willing to look as ridiculous as possible in order to get a certain shot or be cold and wet in the rain for as long as it takes to get a good take.”
Saoirse co-starred with Timothee Chalamet,
25, in Lady Bird
and again in Little Women, and the pair’s on-screen chemistry sparked rumours of a real-life romance.
“He keeps me on my toes,” Saoirse says.
“I’m never quite sure what Timmy’s going to do next. We do have a very natural rapport with each other.”
But she has long been dating Jack Lowden, 30, who played her on-screen husband in 2018 movie, Mary Queen of Scots – and her only other true love is Fran, her Westie-retriever mix.
Yet Saoirse is delighted that she and Timothee have been dubbed the millennial generation’s Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.
“It’s great to be compared to them,” says Saoirse, who could easily be mistaken for the president of the Kate Winslet Fan Club. “We will gladly take that torch and run with it for as long as we’re allowed.
“I just hope I am similar to Kate.
“I really respect the road she’s taken in the work she’s done, so it’s lovely to be compared.”
But there is one movie moment where Saoirse admits she and Timothee would disagree. “I would say if Timmy and I were shipwrecked in the ocean and I was floating on a door hoping to be rescued, I would let Timmy come up on the door,” says Saoirse, recalling the climactic scene in Titanic.
“I would not allow him to sink to the bottom of the ocean, like Kate’s Rose did with Jack. That’s the only difference, I would say – I’m less selfish than Rose was.”