Sunday 26 May 2019

Teen idol

Teenager Sarah Bolger has been acting since she was six and is best known for her role as Christy in In America. Sarah Webb spoke to her about boys, little sisters and her latest film

Sarah shows her glamorous side, in a floral, leather belted raincoat by Manoush
Sarah shows her glamorous side, in a floral, leather belted raincoat by Manoush

Sarah Webb

Her opening words, "Enough Irish men get into Hollywood, it's about time the girls did", is fighting talk from a 17-year-old -- but Sarah Bolger is no ordinary teenager. The Dublin schoolgirl is very much part of the new wave of young Irish female talent making a splash in Hollywood, alongside Carlow's Saoirse Ronan and Jayne Wisener from Coleraine.

Although Sarah can do 'glam' when called for, it's her willingness to take risks that makes her a true star and future leading lady, and we may not have to wait long as Sarah admits to constantly plaguing director Jim Sheridan for meaty parts for girls.

Sarah has been acting for most of her life. Her first role was at the tender age of six, playing a young girl in Love Divided with Orla Brady and Liam Cunningham, the true story of a mixed-religion relationship in 1950s Ireland.

"I was the first to start acting in my family," Sarah says. "My mum worked in the bank and my dad's a butcher." Derek Bolger owns Ennis Butchers, an organic meat shop in Rialto. "I went to a drama school [The Young People's Theatre School in Dublin] on a Saturday morning and a casting agent came by looking for a girl to play a small role and that led to my first movie." The casting agents, the Moiselles, are now great friends of the family. "They really got me started," she adds. "I owe them a lot."

After that, Sarah picked up parts in the made-for-television film A Secret Affair, based on a Barbara Taylor Bradford book; and most famously alongside her younger sister Emma, in In America, which was made by Sheridan. The film won many awards and was nominated for three Oscars; Sarah won a Phoenix Award (film critics' award) for best young actress.

"We had no idea how big [In America] was going to be until it came out," she says. "It was Emma's first film and my first 'real' film and it was a whole new world. Our parts were minor in the first script but they just grew and grew."

The Bolger sisters are very close. Of the two, Sarah is quieter and more reserved. "Oh, Emma's ready for Hollywood!" Sarah says. "She's great but she's pretty loud. If you don't see her you'll hear her." Emma recently played Heidi in the film adaptation with Pauline McGlynn.

Before meeting Sarah in a swish suite in U2's Clarence Hotel, I meet Monica, her mum, and Emma, in the bar. In fact, Sarah's right, I hear her younger sister before I see her, chatting confidently in a striking American accent.

Both girls have done extensive voice coaching in American accents. Many of their interviews are in America, so perfecting the twang is a must. Emma is keen to tell me about the award ceremonies she has attended and sounds remarkably au fait with the whole movie industry for a 12-year-old. "Twelve going on like 30!" Sarah jokes.

Monica 'minds' the girls, accompanying them to their interviews, casting sessions and increasingly, movie sets and film premieres. Although both her parents read her reviews, Sarah is a little more cautious. "I read some of them," she admits. "I'm very critical of myself." And does she ever google herself? "No!" She looks aghast and then laughs a little mischievously. "Emma does. Apparently there's some sort of fan site for us." There certainly is and Sarah's site has had almost 80,000 hits to date; Emma's, 20,000.

Like any normal teenager, Sarah goes to school -- Loreto Beaufort in Rathfarnham -- and is taking her Leaving Certificate next year. During filming, she has a tutor. "This time next year I'll be in the middle of my mocks." She groans. "I'm certainly going to do my exams. I want to have a back up 'cause acting doesn't always work out. I'd love to go to college and have some sort of qualification. I'm very interested in computers and maybe law. I like writing too."

In her new film, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Sarah plays Mallory Grace, 15, big sister to identical twins, Simon and Jared, 11, both played by Freddie Highmore, seen recently with Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When their mother (Marie Louise Parker of Weeds fame) divorces, the family moves to the Spiderwick house, a crumbling old Victorian mansion.

The filming was challenging for Sarah as she had to 'act' with imaginary goblins, trolls and even an imaginary twin. "I had to pretend to kill goblins and make it look real," she says. "I did three weeks of crash-course fencing here in Dublin and two weeks with the Canadian Olympic fencing coach."

She keeps fit by going to the gym and walking her two dogs. She also does most of her own stunts, most memorably rescuing teen spy, Alex Rider on a galloping horse in her last film, Stormbreaker. She's been described as a baby 'Bond Girl' and admits she'd love to do a Bond film one day.

Coming back home after months away on a film set, acting alongside Hollywood legends like Nick Nolte, isn't always easy. "My friends are great, really supportive," she says. "But when you go away for four months, almost five, people move on. You miss a huge amount; you miss things in their lives. Secrets. And it's difficult to come back and expect them to feel the same and be the same."

But she hasn't encountered much jealousy or nastiness. "I'm lucky. I have a close group of friends that have stayed my friends for years." They do, however, slag her about her younger co-stars. "If I'm doing a film with a boy, even Freddie, they always ask 'What happened?'" She grins. "You'd never have a chance on a film set, you're into work, into school, and you get home and you're so exhausted you just fall into bed." They tease her about her pronounced American accent. "When I say cell phone, people like scream at me."

When she goes out, she finds it difficult to know what to wear. "My friends always jeer me when we go out. I have a lot of clothes that you'd wear to formal events, like film premieres. So they're in tracksuits and jeans and I'm all dressed up. I kind of feel out of place but what can you do?" she shrugs. "That's my wardrobe."

Sarah is well-aware that social network sites like Bebo and Facebook could lay her open to stalkers. She had a Bebo page two years ago but took it down. And she's right to be cautious; google Sarah Bolger and you'll come up with over 700 direct mentions. Film forum boards such as speculate wildly about her love life 'Is Sarah dating Freddie Highmore?' and 'Pregnet!' (sic). She laughs when I mention this. She's clearly well-used to the limelight in all its myriad forms.

"There were so many rumours about me and Alex Pettyfer (her teenage co-star in Stormbreaker)," she says. "And he is very good looking. But I've never liked anyone I've worked with. Plus, you're never yourself, you're playing someone else all the time."

"Me and Freddie are good friends. But we only see each other for Spiderwick things. He's a very nice guy, but, no." In fact, Sarah doesn't have a boyfriend at the moment. She grins: "I wish I did. Fingers crossed."

She describes Saoirse Ronan's recent Oscar nomination as "fantastic". "I was thrilled when I heard," says Sarah. "I loved P.S. I Love You. That was such a brilliant film. I loved the guy from Grey's Anatomy in it. Danny! I adore Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. Never miss them."

As well as avidly following American dramas, she works incredibly hard. "When I have a script I keep reading and keep reading until I know it off by heart. There's a reason I'm there [on the set]; I have a job to do. The more you put in, the more you get out. It's easier than life."

Sometimes she gets recognised. "In the airport it's funny," she says. "People come up and just go 'Well done'. That's what I love about Ireland. There's no big deal about it."

With school she tries not to work back-to-back. She recently finished filming The Tudors with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Lady Mary and at the moment she's reading scripts for possible future films.

But meanwhile she's doing average teenage things: finding a dress -- for the Spiderwick premieres; finding a boyfriend -- maybe a handsome American actor.

Average teenage things if you're a Hollywood star in the making, that is!

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