It has become hard to trust Peter Jackson outside of the realm of fantasy, but don’t let that deter you from seeing his upcoming crime drama, The Lovely Bones.

An adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel, the film stars 15-year-old Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon, a high school student murdered by her neighbour (Stanley Tucci). The film chronicles both Susie’s death and the trials and tribulations faced by her family in wake of the tragedy. With the help of CGI and the director’s notorious imagination, the audience is meant to accompany Susie on her long voyage through the “in-between” towards the afterlife. Here, Susie urges vengeance for the crime, but must ultimately let go in order for her family to heal and move forward with their lives.
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The Lovely Bones features an all-star cast including Mark Wahlberg as Susie’s father, Susan Sarandon as her grandmother, and Rose McIver as her sister, Lindsey. Ronan cites the strength of the cast and crew as one of the major influences that led her to take the role.

“Peter Jackson drew me to the film, and the script was just incredibly well-written,” she explained during an interview last week. “He’s one of my favourite directors to work with—he is so normal, and he is very open to ideas, although he has a strong vision of what he wants [in the film]. He will do anything to make the movie come alive on screen.”

For McIver, getting along with co-stars was crucial to the success of the filmmaking.

“It’s always easy when you have personalities that sync and work well together. There is something about Peter as a director where he is just a great guy. It’s always nice to work with people who are just kind human beings, but who also do their job well.”

Both Ronan and McIver admit to being very anxious on set, as the film deals with sensitive subject matter such as rape and murder. Their tension was eased, however, by working with the experienced cast and director.

“With Peter Jackson it was such a safe environment, and with such subject matter you can’t commit to it unless you feel secure,” says McIver.

“I’ve grown as an actress because of it,” Ronan adds. “For a long time afterwards, with a lot of movies, you go into a state of depression because you’re so close with the other actors. Susie became a part of me; it was so natural going to this place every day.”

Stanley Tucci plays the role of George Harvey, an aging man living in Susie’s neighbourhood. Despite his affability, he secretly harbours a history rife with horrific crimes. Nevertheless, Susie is temporarily blinded by his warm-hearted personality.

“We needed to be comfortable with [Stanley] to get that intense on screen,” Ronan explains. “My scenes with him were all very intense and emotional, but he makes you feel very comfortable.”

“As a person, [Stanley Tucci] is hilarious; he is the complete opposite of his character. We [Ronan and McIver] both have this real sense of trust with Stanley as a person. You’re able to make yourself be vulnerable and close to him, and when the camera rolls and he is suddenly a horrible monstrous character, you’ve given yourself to him already, and it makes it even more dark and frightening.”

Ronan and McIver approached their assigned roles quite differently. As Ronan explains, “I really related well to Susie. At the end of the day, she is a normal girl. Teenage girls won’t find it hard to relate to her. It took me a while to get my head around the fact that she was just a girl—it was all there for me, it just took me a while to get my head around how normal she was.”

By contrast, McIver admits, “I don’t feel I have a lot in common with Lindsey. Her gestures, and the way she acts in these tact circumstances; she’s great, daring, and courageous. She acts honourably for her family, and so I really respect her. I’m not necessarily as brave as her, but because I admire her I found it very easy to act as her.”

Although the film deals with death and the struggle to cope with it, movie-goers will find it surprisingly uplifting.

“There are two prevalent themes in the film: acceptance and life,” McIver explains. “Susie dies, but it is about the appreciation we have for what is still here, and sometimes letting that go. If anything, [The Lovely Bones] made me think about the afterlife, about how precious our time here is. There isn’t a right or wrong way to [react to death], it’s nothing you can prepare for, and it certainly isn’t easy.”

The Lovely Bones opens in theatres January 15.