HOW I LIVE NOW
Daisy's Chain: The Characters
Daisy is spiky, unapologetic, forthright, a regular teenager navigating the intoxicating domain of first love before finding unexpected reservoirs of courage and resilience within herself to help her survive the most treacherous circumstances of her young life. For Ronan, the role came along at just the right time. "After Byzantium and Hanna and The Host, I was desperate to play someone who was just a normal teenager," says the Irish actress, referring to the three roles she shot prior to How I Live Now as, respectively, a vampire, teen assassin and a girl whose body is host to an invading alien consciousness. "It was perfect that she came along at that time because it was just what I needed, and I loved playing Daisy so much."
Unlike her co-stars Tom Holland and George MacKay, Ronan didn't read Rosoff's novel before starting the project, deciding to wait until afterwards on Macdonald's advice. "That's what I prefer to do anyway because a screenplay will always be different; it's someone else's take on the story," she observes. "I'm interested to see how the book compares. But the script is amazing."
In both the novel and the screenplay, Daisy comes across as vulnerable, ironic, superior, the proud owner of a rebellious disposition that's been forged by the death of her mother in childbirth and the sense of abandonment she feels at her father's hands. But in Ronan's opinion, "Daisy's not a natural rebel. It's something she's been pushed to do because it's her only way to express herself. I think she feels very chained up a lot of the time. Because she's been abandoned, she puts up this wall which comes in the form of her putting lots of black eyeliner on and getting her face pierced and dyeing her hair."
Arriving in the UK with piercings, bleached tresses and serious attitude, 16 year old Daisy is met at the airport not by Aunt Penn but by her 14-year-old middle cousin, Isaac. The stroppy American teenager is not impressed. But as she comes to adore both Brackendale and Eddie, Daisy's mood and maturity begin to change, before the cataclysmic detonation of a dirty nuclear bomb in London tips Britain into the abyss and changes all of their lives forever.
Lest we worry that Ronan had her face pierced for the film, her piercings were all fake and applied each day in the make-up trailer. "They stick them on with a bit of glue and if it's too hot they start to slip off," she reveals. "For some reason, whenever George is around, they all fall off. We were doing a scene where we had to kiss and all my piercings fell off. He told our 2nd Assistant Director, Jamie, about it afterwards so Jamie's now calling him 'The Manimal'. But it's been such a great release for me to play someone who's so different to me in every way, someone who's not a good girl. She's so messed up and difficult and doesn't give a hoot if she offends someone, although deep down she just wants someone to love her."
One thing that really helped Ronan was Daisy's diary. Before the start of shooting, the art department gave her a journal they had created for the character, which included song lyrics, poetry and other teenage-girl iconography such as photos that that actress had sent them herself. "Even though it had been put together by somebody who wasn't playing the part, they had shoved all this rebellion and guilt and anger into one little book and it really helped me," she recounts. "I started adding to it and writing down all these things that I've felt and I do feel, frustrations and negative emotions that you sometimes have."
Daisy's angry feelings manifest themselves in terrible ways; she doesn't just lash out, she punishes herself. In Rosoff's novel, Daisy's psychological torment is revealed quite overtly: she self-harms and has a serious eating disorder, elements that have been toned down for the film. The producers and Macdonald agreed that it would be too difficult to address such serious issues in a robust enough way without losing focus on the heart of the story, which is Daisy and Eddie and Daisy's coming of age. Thus, the film version of Daisy suffers more from obsessive compulsive disorder, and is a hyper-aware calorie-counter.
"The symptoms are still there so that people who love the book won't feel like they're missing out on anything," reveals Macdonald. "Having that darkness is important to the character and to the story."
Ronan and Macdonald were completely in cahoots on Daisy's motivations and emotional evolution during her journey of love, discovery and survival. "I absolutely love working with Kevin," says the actress. "He's got the patience of a saint. Being with all the guys, we have so much fun every day and are just laughing the whole time and he kind of has to put up with us. But I love that he's done so many documentaries and he incorporates that into the way he shoots. All the stuff we shot in Brackendale is very free and loose. And it's great when a director is emotionally invested in the characters themselves. He really understands what we're supposed to be feeling. He's become one of my favorite directors."
The fact that Daisy falls in love with her first cousin might be considered controversial, as it was when Rosoff's tale was first released, but Ronan doesn't see it that way and the filmmakers don't flinch from showing Daisy and Eddie's relationship becoming intimate. "I think it's stronger and almost more romantic that they are cousins," the young star argues. "It makes their connection stronger. She tries to go against it because she knows it defies convention but it's a lot more interesting than, 'Daisy goes to summer camp and meets this dude.' Everything is against them but the fact that he understands her better than she does and figures her out straight away gives her such an attraction to him."
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