"Vanity Fair Magazine" hails Peter Jackson as the director who "has had Hollywood at his feet" and as "one of the very few working directors who can get virtually any project greenlit." The three-time Academy Award-winning director of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001-2003) and his newest star, Oscar nominee Saorise Ronan, sat down with ABC News Now's "Popcorn with Peter Travers" to promote their new movie "The Lovely Bones."
Based on the haunting bestseller by Alice Sebold, "The Lovely Bones" revolves around a young girl called Susie Salmon (played by Ronan) who lives in Norristown, Pa. On Dec. 6, 1973, while taking a shortcut home from school, she is stopped by her neighbor, George Harvey (portrayed by Stanley Tucci) who ultimately rapes, murders and hides her body.
"The thing about this movie is that the murder is at the beginning … you hear Suzie's narration and immediately know she's in a safe environment and she's OK. The film is about love and hope – Suzie's love for her family and their hope for her," said Ronan.
"The movie is not about the murder, it's what happens after," explains Jackson, "She's stuck in this limbo between Earth and heaven. It's not a physical place … she tells her story in her dreamlike state and in dream imagery. She has to make sense of it and find out where her body is. At the point when she is being killed, we show her spirit running away from it. A lot of the film is mystery. It is a thriller told in the world or dreams or the subconscious."
The movie has a critically acclaimed cast including Oscar winners Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon, who play Suzie's mother Abigail and Grandma Lynn, respectively, as well as Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg, who portrays her father Jack. Ronan held her own among her distinguished cast members as one of the youngest actresses nominated for best supporting actress for her role as Keira Knightley's young sister Briony Tallis in 2007's "Atonement."
Jackson even credits 15-year-old Ronan with playing a maternal figure off screen with Tucci, who struggled, as a father of three, with his role as a serial-killing pedophile.
"I could see how upsetting it was for Stanley. He was giving everything to the movie. At the end of each take, Saorise would go up to him to give him a hug. We all knew how tough it was for him," noted Jackson.
"He is such a kind and gentle man who is a father himself. It was tough to play a role like that – very brave of him," affirmed Ronan.
Both Jackson and Ronan grew up without siblings and, in a sense, found their larger family in film.
"It is different and always great to become part of a bigger family when working on a movie," reflected Ronan, adding, "I have wonderful parents. I got a lot of attention but the right kind of attention, I had a great childhood."
In fact, growing up as an only child helped her acting career because she was able to retreat to her room on her own, make up scenes and act them. "This sounds nerdy and sad, but from a very early age, I would perform scenes in my bedroom. I would do both parts. Mom would pass by my room and hear me talking to myself."
This solitary childhood is also reflected in Jackson's upbringing in New Zealand and in a way, also helped launch his career as a filmmaker. He was a loner growing up and was, therefore, drawn to stop motion animation because it was something he could do on his own.