Sunday, April 10, 2011

Joe Wright and Saoirse Ronan Talk Hanna

Hanna, played by Saoirse Ronan (pronounced seer-sha), is a bright, inquisitive 16-year-old girl who also happens to have the stamina, fighting skills and intelligence of a well-trained soldier. This comes from being raised by her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana), a former CIA agent, in the wilds of North Finland. Erik teaches Hanna everything he knows, which includes hunting, self-defense and several different languages. He has also home-schooled her with a set of encyclopedias, all in preparation for the inevitable confrontation with witchy CIA operative Marissa Wiegler (played to the hilt by Cate Blanchett), who has secrets that tie her to Erik and Hanna.

Much has been made of Hanna and its fairytale structure. Indeed, it does draw greatly from the Brothers Grimm. This is due to director Joe Wright, who says, “It was inherent in the structure of the script, but a lot of it, what you see wasn’t in the script when I first read it. So I kind of saw the structure as being a classic fairytale. And obviously, the first fifteen pages being set in a forest, in a log cabin as the child grows up, that’s a fairytale.”

Wright became involved at the suggestion of Ronan. She had previously worked with the director in Atonement, which earned her an Academy Award nomination. Best known for his period pieces Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, Wright says, “I think I may have been the first name that came into her head and thought she should say something, I don’t know because it’s kind of rather perverse casting on her part. I did mull it over. I was very interested in working with Saoirse again because I love her and I think she’s brilliant, but I wasn’t really sure that I could pull it off. And at the same time I was kind of scared of it. Often when I find I’m scared of something, it means it’s something I should do.” With Hanna, Wright proves that he can deftly juggle action, tragedy and fairytale elements to elevate the film above your typical popcorn fare.
In order to prepare for the action scenes, Wright took a unique approach. “Basically, the closest thing I’d done to action fighting sequences was dance. I thought, “Well, I’ll try and apply what I learned doing those sequences in this. It was just trying to see it purely as the organization of figures in space, which is a definition of choreography and therefore treating it in that quite abstract realm rather than thinking about selling punches.” The action in the film is intense, frightening and very real.

Wright has used memorable uninterrupted sequences in previous films The Soloist and Atonement. He again uses that technique to great effect in a scene in which Erik is followed, in one long steadicam take, below ground into a train station and finds himself surrounded by four agents he has to fight off all at once. Wright says, “The obvious way to do it is the Jason Bourne tradition of a barrage of fast cuts and all of that stuff, so I knew I wanted to step away from that.”

Ronan had more than her fair share of fight scenes. To prepare for the role she says, “I trained for about two months before we started shooting. I worked in the gym and did different styles of martial arts. It took a lot of focus and it was probably the most preparation I’ve done for a film.” Her hard work certainly pays off, as she pulls off her fight scenes convincingly.

Beyond the action scenes, she also has the daunting task of playing a stranger in a strange land. She’s someone has never been around another person aside from her father. She has never been exposed television, electricity or any of the things we use every day without a second thought. To get into the role, Ronan says, “With Hanna, something that really helped me to become this character was kind of wiping my mind clean of any experience that I had gone through. Especially over the past few years as a growing girl, because she’s never gone through those kind of experiences. And I got to see everything in a new light and so fresh and pure.”

When asked to describe the film, Ronan says, “I don’t think it’ll be what anyone expects. They walk in thinking it’s going to be an action movie and it’s not. It is, but it’s not. The thing that makes the story powerful, for me, is the strong characters that we have in this film. The story that surrounds them all, how they’re all intertwined. How Hanna’s journey is basically a coming of age journey.”

Hanna is in theaters now.

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