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Bare bones

Written by alice sebold and published in 2002, The Lovely Bones has proved almost impossible to categorise.

The very first lines of the novel reveal the narrator is a 14-year-old girl, Susie Salmon ("like the fish"), who was murdered in 1973 by her neighbour Mr Harvey. From her new home, somewhere between Earth and Heaven, Susie watches her fractured family try to deal with her brutal death and comes to terms with her own fate.

Both upsetting and strangely uplifting, the book has near-devoted fans, but if anyone is brave enough to take a much-loved book to the big screen, it's New Zealand director Peter Lord of the Rings Jackson.

Jackson and his writing partners, wife Fran Walsh and screenwriter Philippa Boyens, have adapted The Lovely Bones into a film starring Carlow's Saoirse Ronan as Susie and Susan Sarandon as the unexpected saviour of the Salmon family, Grandma Lynn.

Here, the trio share with HQ their thoughts on the film, the afterlife and the remarkable power of Sebold's book.

brenda Mccormick: What made you decide to get involved with the project?

Peter Jackson: The Lovely Bones came out of a couple of things: reading the novel and being affected by it, and thinking it could be a terrific movie; and coming out of [making] the three Lord of the Rings movies and King Kong, and just feeling like we were looking for something smaller and more drama-based.

Saoirse Ronan: You're not going to turn down a chance to audition for a Peter Jackson movie, if it's the lead, especially.

Susan Sarandon: After 9/11, that was the book that a lot of firefighter families, for instance, gravitated towards, because for all of its difficulties, it's somehow reassuring. It talks about the ties, this energy that never dissipates, this connection that survives, so I was a big fan of the book.

BM Was it a difficult process turning it into a film?

PJ Adapting the book was the hardest thing. The book is not structured like a film, so it became a challenge, how to reorganise the events so they were more film-friendly, which you unfortunately need to do.

BM How did you find Saoirse?

PJ She found us. We'd done some auditioning in LA, seen some interesting people and a DVD arrived. It was something Saoirse's father [actor Paul Ronan] had made. She was terrific. I hadn't heard of her before, because Atonement hadn't come out yet, and we looked at that DVD and we stopped searching.

SS She's fierce. She's strong. I credit her family. There's a lot that's given talent, but she has great parents, very down to earth. She's very funny and curious, and has an amazing amount of energy.

BM Susan, did you enjoy playing Grandma Lynn?

SS I never said a word without a cigarette or a drink, so I felt at home immediately. She doesn't care about hurting anyone's feelings, and it's so much fun to do that because you don't really get a chance [in real life]. She's not burdened with sincerity, and is consistently inappropriate.

BM Ryan Gosling was originally cast as Susie's father, but was replaced by Mark Wahlberg. What happened?

PJ It was a difficult situation, but it was resolved in a very friendly way. Ryan had always worried that he was too young. I think he was 26. He's a very method actor and has to believe what he's playing. Mark coming on board was great because he was 35 or 36, a father-of-three, so he fitted straight in.

BM What about the casting of Stanley Tucci as Mr Harvey?

PJ It was a case of persuading him to do it. He says he almost turned it down. Once he felt if he could look in the mirror and not see himself but Harvey, I think it gave him a sense of comfort.

BM How was he when filming the scene that leads up to the murder?

PJ It was very tough for him. To act that character in any sort of truthful way; he's obviously got to live the moment.

SR Because Stanley's a family man, in between takes he would feel the need to take care of me, which I thought was very sweet.

BM Peter, you didn't show the murder on screen. Why was that?

PJ It's a film about love, it's about Susie's adventure and the way that people have to relate to the fact that she's dead and readjust their lives, and we didn't really want the film as a murder film.

BM Saoirse, did you find it easy to 'switch off' from the role?

SR Quite easy, because it's something you want to leave behind. When I'm on film, I'm the character, and when I'm not, I'm me. It's important to go back to your own identity so you don't forget who you are.

BM One of the criticisms levelled at the book is the lack of a deity in Susie's new world. Were you conscious of that?

PJ We did try to accommodate anybody's point of view. What you see in the movie is really what's called the in-between. It's a twilight zone, and it's only at the climax that the idea is that Heaven is in that [golden] light. You're welcome to put whatever you like into that golden light.

BM Do you believe in an afterlife?

SR When I made the movie, I did start to think more about the afterlife and whether our souls go some place else. I think they do.

SS I come down on the side of 'energy cannot be destroyed'. Organised religion has been very unimaginative, rather excluding and, therefore, infuriating, but the natural order of things is so extraordinary.

PJ I think I do, that's my answer. I'm not certain. HQ

The Lovely Bones is in cinemas from February 19th