Interview: Joe Wright
‘Hanna’ Director Talks About Making His First Action Film
Thursday, April 7, 2011
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando interviews "Hanna director Joe Wright.
The new film "Hanna" (opening April 8 in select San Diego theaters) reunites director Joe Wright and his young "Atonement" star Saoirse Ronan for an action film. Listen to my radio feature or read the extended interview.
"Hanna" delivers an unexpected cinematic fairy tale. It focuses on a young girl, raised in the forest by her father, and then thrust out into a dangerous, modern world.
"It's very much a fairy tale," says filmmaker Joe Wright, "I wanted a kind of atmosphere to the film that was difficult to pin down. It doesn't quite happen in the real world but it's not an all out fantasy."
Wright creates a brave new world, one that's both seductive and dangerous to an innocent newcomer like Hanna (played by Saoirse Ronan).
"I was intrigued by the character of Hanna," Wright says, "I've always had an interest in these holy fool type characters and what these characters can teach us about our own behavior and civilization. It's all about watching really. She's fascinated by this world and thinks it's strange and wonderful."
So we see the world from Hanna's perspective as she tries to discern good from evil, and process new experiences such as watching TV or getting her first kiss. Only problem -- Hanna is also a trained assassin.
"Saoirse and I first developed the character from her physicality," explains Wright, "We did the same with 'Atonement' actually. The kind of quick little walk in 'Atonement,' the way she turned corners at right angles, all of that was the very first investigation of character. On 'Hanna,' this the kind of character development worked hand in hand with the fight choreography and the training for the fights. So we started by looking at how she would move and decided that she should be very centered and very balanced and be very physically aware and very still and only really move when she knew she had to move she's very economical in her movements."
But lethal as well. That's why a government agent named Marissa (Cate Blanchett) is after both Hanna and her father Erik (Eric Bana). Marissa enlists the help of Isaacs (Tom Hollander), who is a henchmen that recalls the creepy incongruities of Dominique Pinon in "Diva." But instead of listening to polkas on headphones like Pinon's character di, Isaacs whistles happily on his way to beatings.
Wright smiles when I ask him about the character of Isaacs: "I had the Chemical Brothers record a fair amount of the score prior to shooting so that we could have Tom know what his theme tune was going to be and know what he was going to whistle. I guess the character that Tom Hollander plays is kind of an amalgamation of all the bullies me at school. And a way of getting back at them, He's kind of a sadistic bisexual, strip club owner who wears lemon yellow track suits and lip gloss."
Those were all details that Wright and Hollander brought to the character. Wright, who has done two literary adaptations ("Pride and Prejudice," "Atonement") prior to "Hanna," was interested in making an action film. The script is the first by Seth Lochhead. It had been making the rounds in Hollywood, going through a number of directors' hands before landing in Wright's.
"It was Saoirse Ronan who suggested me as director," Wright recalls, "and I was keen to work with Saoirse again. She's a great kid and we had a great time together on 'Atonement,' and I was interested to see how she'd evolved as an actress. And I was interested in the action as well, and how to shoot action and how to do it in an original way. I kind of consider action to be almost pure cinema... I wanted to treat the action stuff like dance rather than pure violence. It's a fantasy and the action should have that feeling too.
And it does in delicious scenes like the one set in an old amusement park. But despite professing a desire to avoid Jason Bourne-likeshakycam and fast cutting, Wright's early action sequences rely precisely on that approach. Initially Wright dismissed my complaint as a generational thing -- someone my age simply wouldn't get that fast action pace. But then he made a confession.
"To be honest some of those sequences were near the beginning of the shoot and I was a lot less confident of shooting action at that time and so I probably didn't have the confidence to let certain sequences play out and was sort of trying to learn how to shoot action on the job really."
And he does. Later scenes work much better because he lets the action play out with fewer cuts and wider angles so we can appreciate Hanna's skill as well as some of the marvelous set design. These scenes are further enhanced by superior sound work and a score by the Chemical Brothers.
"Fifty percent of the film experience is sound," says Wright, "And people underestimate the potential of sound, the power of sound. So I was interested in the idea of kind of marrying the sound effects with the music. When you're working with a classical score there's a definite division between music and sound effects but with the Chemicals because some of their sounds are quite abstract really and all synthesized one could really create an aural world."
And one that helps create the unique world of "Hanna" (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language). In the end, Wright delivers an electric mash up of genres and styles, a kind of action fairy tale in which the princess is a highly trained killer, the wicked stepmother is a ruthless government agent, and there is no handsome prince or happy ending. "Hanna" doesn't deliver a typical Hollywood action film but rather something more akin to a European thriller like "Diva" or "Run Lola Run," films that are more expressionistic and stylized.