Interview: Joe Wright and Saoirse Ronan

Even before director Joe Wright started throwing jabs at Sucker Punch at this year’s Wondercon, Hanna had positioned itself as the perfect antidote to Zach Snyder’s brand of over-sexualized exploitation masquerading as female empowerment. With a smart script, a fantastic director and an Academy Award-nominated teenage star, Hanna is poised to unleash a smarter, tougher teenage girl assassin on summer movie goers, and like The Bourne Trilogy before it, Hanna is not afraid to make you think about the morality of the lives and deaths it puts up on the screen.

BADMOUTH: Before we start, I wanted to talk about The Hobbit. You’ve been rumored to be in it. Can you give us any indication whether that’s true?
SAOIRSE RONAN: No. (laughter) I can give you a wink, but no, nothing has been confirmed yet.

BADMOUTH: Considering your relationship with Peter Jackson”¦
SAOIRSE RONAN: I would like to think he would hire me for his next film. And that would be lovely. I love Pete, I really do and I know you guys do as well. I know he’s a hero here. It would be great to be involved in it. It really, really would. But honestly, nothing has been confirmed yet even on my side.

BADMOUTH: I was looking at past movies to this as a transition. You know, you’ve been doing serious dramas, Atonement, The Soloist, Pride and Prejudice what made you move to action?
JOE WRIGHT: I wasn’t looking for an action movie. It just kind of happened, really. Saoirse sent the script and suggested that I direct it and I read the script and was kind of intrigued by the character of Hanna. I really liked the kind of unique perspectives and the ability for the film to help her see the world in different ways. And I felt that Hanna the character had quite a unique perspective of the world. So that was why I kind of chose that script. Although having said that, the action stuff “¦ I was really kind of fascinated by the challenge of shooting and I really enjoyed it.

BADMOUTH: Is your process a lot different in a more action oriented film?
JOE WRIGHT: No, I kind of try to follow the same process really. And I was very nervous about the fight stuff but I thought “OK, let’s just treat it like dance.” And so I had a little experience shooting dance scenes in Pride and Prejudice and I thought I’d kind of learn from that experience rather than try and cram up on action and try to shoot it as other people (would.)

BADMOUTH: Hanna is an original movie script, what new challenges did that bring compared to the adaptations you have been doing?
JOE WRIGHT: I kind of liked these three adaptations because they kind of set parameters. I find that limitations often are the mother of invention, really. With this when you are working with an original script, one can suddenly be struck by terrifying options – options paralysis – and you kind of literally are paralyzed. You can’t turn one way or the other because there are so many options. But there was a kind of liberty”¦freedom, and therefore a kind of playfulness. I enjoyed it.

BADMOUTH: Did you find that movies like the Bourne films have changed the perception of action movies?
JOE WRIGHT: Very much so, and I think that one of the things that Paul Greengrass and the makers of the Jason Bourne films showed us was that you could make an action film with a social and moral conscience.

Especially the “˜80s and “˜90s, action films were the prerogative of bullshit, semi-rightwing, misogynistic creeps, really. And obviously I didn’t want to make that kind of film “˜cause I despise that kind of attitude. It’s no mistake obviously that the last Jason Bourne movie, the journalist that is involved, is a journalist for The Guardian newspaper which is a decidedly socialist newspaper.

So there is an opportunity there to actually reach an audience that one might not necessarily reach with a traditional drama movie. And that was very exciting. On the other hand, the cinematic style of those movies has been imitated a lot and one wanted to avoid imitating and falling short of what Paul had done. One tried to find new and original ways to shoot the action but thematically they taught us a lot.

BADMOUTH: What was it like to step into a role like Hanna that was so action oriented?
SAOIRSE RONAN: The action was exciting. At first, that was what really attracted me to the role “˜cause I thought that’s just what she’s been, an action heroine. But then as we went along ““ especially when Joe came on board ““ the story really developed into a messed up fairytale. That surreal situation we were building”¦we were building the story and gave us room to breathe and create whatever we want, do whatever we want. As an actor, that’s brilliant. You can mess around; you can be a bit weird ““ not quite realistic all the time.

What’s good about the performances in this film ““ not speaking about mine, but everyone else’s ““ is that the emotions are true and they’re honest. Even though they’re in a very abnormal world, it’s “the truth.” And I like that. To play someone like “Hanna” ““ especially on the emotional side of the character, I needed to basically wipe my mind and my memory of everything that I’ve really ever gone through and any experiences that I’ve had because she hasn’t gone through any of that. Technically she’s a teenage girl, but she’s not really. There is one scene where she looks up and she sees a plane fly across the sky for the very first time and using your imagination and wiping your mind clean you are able to appreciate really how fascinating something like this is. It’s a great exercise as an actor.

BADMOUTH: How did you prepare to play a character that is literally incapable of feeling remorse?
SAOIRSE RONAN: I guess I just understood her. I understand why she’s doing what she’s doing. It is quite a human motivation, which is love and safety and protection of her father and their life. Their world is being threatened. Even though she’s been unaware of it, it has been since she was born, really. She’s doing it for the right reasons ““ not the right reasons ““ but she’s doing it for a very human reason. I don’t really draw from experience when I’m playing a character. Once you’ve gone over a script and in your head, you understand where she’s coming from and what she’s trying to achieve and who she is as a person, it’s quite natural to just slip into that state of mind.

BADMOUTH: The movie has taken off on the internet organically and virally. Was this planned?
JOE WRIGHT: That’s really a question about marketing. Marketing is not my field of expertise. I live in a funny little world, really. I live in a house that was built in 1726. I have a small community. I’m not really engaged in the viral world. I prefer peoples’ faces, so it’s kind of a new world to me. It’s exciting for me though to see that happen. I was in L.A. the other week and I was like “There’s no posters for Hanna. Where are the fucking posters for Hanna? This is a disaster.” Actually, they don’t spend the money on posters anymore. They spend it on the internet, so it’s been an education for me.

BADMOUTH: Speaking of marketing, they seem to be actively marketing the score of the movie”¦
JOE WRIGHT: (interrupting) That’s because it’s so fucking brilliant. I’m a huge music fan and I’ve been a fan of the Chemical Brothers for nearly 20 years now. I’ve always wanted to work with them on a soundtrack.

I remember when I was working on TV before I made Pride and Prejudice being a sound mixer for a TV show. You’d have this horrific little red bar thing and it would go “beep beep beep” and they would go “Oh, it’s too loud! You have to turn the fucking thing down!” We were mixing to come out of a tiny TV speaker. Now you’re working with THX and 5.1 and you’ve got this enormous dynamic sound range which is just thrilling. So, I enjoy utilizing that and the Chemical Brothers certainly add a great new dimension in bass that is just bone-rattlingly exciting to me. I love bass. Turn up the bass.

BADMOUTH: You shot on location for Hanna. Did you consider green screen?
JOE WRIGHT: I like it and I think it’s useful but, it confuses me. I’ve got a quite literal brain, and I find it quite difficult to understand. Also, I’m not very good at taking holidays. So, I use my work as an excuse to travel. I like going to extraordinary places and seeing the world and bringing that back and showing my audience the world as well. I kind of love David Lean travelling through Jordan; he came back with Lawrence of Arabia which is a mind-blowing thing. So, I really enjoy that aspect of it.

I was brought up in the puppet theater. We used to go touring with the puppets every year. We would travel and meet amazing people. I liked that aspect of it. I admire computers and green screen but it’s not really my bag. I really wanted to make an interpretation of The Little Mermaid but what’s holding it back is how much computers and green screen would be involved. It would be really boring on set. It’s takes fucking hours, and these technical guys just get really excited. And I’m thinking “Oh God, this isn’t really how it was supposed to be.”

BADMOUTH: Is there a political message contained within the film?
JOE WRIGHT: I hope that the film works on different levels so it can be taken as a pure kind of fantasy-action thriller and enjoyed on that level. Also, I think that it’s important that we make work that is kind of responsible and has layers to it, so it can be enjoyed by an intelligent audience. I think that a lot of films underestimate audiences’ intelligence, really. I think that people can cope with taut story and entertainment and thought-provoking issues at the same time.

So the film does deal with certain issues ““ less about American foreign policy. More about the social issues regarding the treatment of women in society and kind of consumer cultural”¦celebrity culture”¦the objectification of women”¦female empowerment ““ issues like that have been reappropriated by a commercial industry and bastardized.

When you look at films that have been released really recently, they feature young heroines wearing mini-skirts and crop tops and pony-tails and names that allusions to children. And yet these women are sexually objectified and then they suggest that’s somehow female empowerment. To me, that stinks. I resent those words being reappropriated for purely cynical commercial gain. I hate it. (see our review of Sucker Punch.)