Harper's Bazaar Australia


It’s 2.10pm on a sweltering New York afternoon. Lupita Nyong’o and Saoirse Ronan are perched on a pale pink couch in Calvin Klein’s midtown headquarters, where the air-conditioner is working to keep temperatures at near-Arctic levels. These ladies are two of the brightest-shining talents in Hollywood right now, but they’re far from your prototypical fragrance ‘models’. They’re girls with opinions. They clearly both possess an acute sense of self. And, shockingly, they’ve both found a way to exist in the upper ranks of the movie industry without letting it go to their heads.

“We’re coming together to actually change the course of our lives and make a better industry for everyone. At the core of that is a sisterhood.” – Lupita Nyong’o

Despite being put through the beauty-editor wringer today while fulfilling PR duties for the new scent Calvin Klein Women (standard questions include: What’s your first fragrance memory? What fragrance did your mother wear?), they’re still bouncing off each other’s energy five hours in. So we handed control of the interview over to them. But before they go rogue, a little background.

Born in The Bronx, New York, to Irish parents, Ronan moved to the motherland as a three-year-old and grew up in County Carlow, Ireland, before spending her teen years in Dublin. She began her career as a child actor and was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Joe Wright’s Atonement when she was just 13. A star turn in the 2015 smash-hit Brooklyn catapulted her to A-list actor status, and in January she snared a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy for her lead role in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Early next year, you can catch her in Mary, Queen of Scots as Mary Stuart, whose attempts to overthrow her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I (played by Margot Robbie), see her imprisoned.

Likewise, Nyong’o grew up lightyears from Hollywood. As the daughter of a Kenyan politician, she was raised in Nairobi. She moved to the United States for college and found fame when she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave. Since then, she has starred in Star Wars and Black Panther, and recently visited Australia to work on the upcoming Little Monsters. Among other projects, she is also in talks with Netflix to star in a movie with Rihanna. Clearly, she knows a thing or two about strong females.

Over to you, ladies.

LUPITA NYONG’O: We’ve been talking strong females all day! Saoirse, who is your ultimate female icon?

SAOIRSE RONAN: My mammy. She’s always been the closest person to me and understands me better than most. She’s instilled a sense of security and confidence in me. She’s done so much in her life, had many jobs and lived in many places. I feel a lot of support from my parents, and I’ve definitely given that back.

“It’s so important to connect with the rest of the world, because you can only do and see so much via the internet and social media. To actually experience a place is totally different.” – Saoirse Ronan

Mary, Queen of Scots is a film based on female relationships. Mary brought four of her best friends with her wherever she went, and one of [the actors, Eileen O’Higgins, who plays Mary Beaton] just happens to be my best friend in real life. That gave me such a sense of community and support, because I had done a lot of films on my own up until recently. A lot of friends who are in the industry — directors, writers — we’re at a point where we know we can develop work all of us can be involved in. It makes you more open to working with the other women around you, and that’s something I get excited by.

LN: I was fortunate that my introduction to the film industry came with people like Alfre Woodard and Sarah Paulson, who welcomed me into the fold with support and advice. It’s a sisterhood. I can call them anytime; ask them anything. Around the time of the Academy Awards season, Alfre hosts a dinner for black women working in Hollywood. These are women I look up to — women who have paved the way for me to have my career. And to be able to communicate with them, learn from them — it’s incredible! Even now, the larger entertainment industry is coming together in lots of ways. Of course, the #MeToo movement is something we all wish was not necessary, but it’s there. Time’s Up and that whole movement is about rallying women and men to fight for equality and take steps towards creating the equal world we all so badly want to see. We’ve all had these little communities, but now we are realising we all have so much more in common than we were aware of. We’re coming together to change the course of our lives and make a better industry for everyone. At the core of that is a sisterhood.

But in terms of strong female icons, for me, I would also say my mother [Dorothy Nyong’o, who founded the Africa Cancer Foundation]. Over the years she has managed to redefine herself — she’s a constant learner and not afraid to admit if she doesn’t know something. She is deeply allergic to remaining ignorant. When I got Star Wars, for example, my mother, who didn’t know anything about it, went online and, before you know it, she’s watched every film and was talking Jedis, the Dark Side and whatnot.

SR: What about you — you went to Yale, right?

LN: I did my graduate degree at Yale.

SR: Did that make your mother happy?

LN: For sure. My parents always had extremely high standards. It was never a question of whether you’re going to university, it was when. The only reason I’m doing what I do is I’ve had supportive parents. They made me feel anything was possible. They taught me that just because the world I lived in looked a certain way, didn’t mean it had to remain that way. Just imparting this idea to me — that your course is in your hands — is the gift that keeps on giving. You can decide to begin again at any point and redefine yourself. You’ve done that, Saoirse.

SR: When you do what we do, you can … be open to things being different. I remember reading an interview with you where you called yourself a global citizen, [as in] having the freedom to shape-shift, knowing there are all these possibilities. Obviously you love acting, but what’s in your next chapter?

LN: I love setting goals and taking up new skills. That’s what I love most about being an actor: with every role, you have to learn new stuff. Right now, I want to learn how to speed read so I can read scripts faster. For me, having goals outside of your direct career is also important. I want to travel more, but there’s never enough time. And indulge in other hobbies like braiding hair. I haven’t done that in forever.

SR: I also want to travel more. It’s made a huge difference to myself and my work. It’s so important to connect with the rest of the world. To experience a place is totally different. I was once told Ireland is a nation of leavers — we leave and one day return and bring back what we’ve learnt. … We’re very adaptable.

LN: A fashion or a fragrance question?

SR: [Laughs] I don’t follow trends — I just go with what looks nice. I’m inspired by the costume designers I work with. I suppose if my character has a certain look, it usually ends up influencing my style. Musicians I listen to also influence me. When you start to do more press, fashion kind of goes hand in hand with that. I have more of an appreciation for it as an art form as opposed to a commodity.

LN: Like you, I don’t follow trends — I’m not really aware of what’s hot and not. I’m led by what I feel. To me, style is more important than fashion. I’m inspired by flowers, nature, plants …

SR: When I’m away, I’m drawn towards greys and blues. They’re colours you see all the time in Ireland. Certain smells, also. My first fragrance memories were herbs from my mother’s cooking. Mum would use thyme every Sunday. It reminds me of home.

LN: The smell of coriander reminds me of home cooking. That, and the smell of the open stove with something roasting on it. And the smell of wet clay! Isn’t it funny what brings back fond memories? What I love about this new Calvin Klein scent is there’s this free-spirited element to it. It’s sensual but subtle and inviting.

BAZAAR : Thanks, ladies. You’d make great beauty editors. Calvin Klein Women EDP, $100 (50ml), from Myer and David