Joe Wright on his first action movie, 'Hanna'
He’s known for more literary fare, but director Joe Wright has made an action flick with young Saoirse Ronan. Tom Huddleston asks him why
Its heroine is a 14 year old (Saoirse Ronan) who has spent her life in isolation, training to be an assassin. On the phone from California in the days following the film’s US release, Wright sounded relieved – his film had just debuted at number two at the US box office.
Have you hit a comfortable place in your career, where you can pick and choose what you want to do?
‘Since last weekend, yes! We had a meeting with the studio yesterday, and it would have been a very different atmosphere in the room had “Hanna” tanked in the US. It always depends on whether you’ve returned their investment, which is fair enough. I think the film industry gets quite a bad rap sometimes. But what I love is that they know that I like to experiment a little bit with my films, and they still let me do it, which is fucking great. I am very, very lucky.’
Was this a genre you had always wanted to work in?
‘Not really. But I was excited to step out of my comfort zone, test my craft. Action is pure cinema – it couldn’t be done in any other medium. But what really got me was the character of Hanna. I love the kind of “holy fool” archetype: a character from another place who can show us our world in a slightly different way.’
Did you develop ‘Hanna’ or were you brought in as director?
‘Saoirse Ronan brought the script to me, which was a strange turning of the tables. She’s extraordinary, and I was intrigued to work with her again after “Atonement”. It had been written by a young Canadian called Seth Lochhead, and was this weird, out-there piece of action surrealism. The studio tried to tame it, make it more of a procedural drama, so I went to Seth to take it back to what it was. I like to stick my oar in!
How did you go about learning to direct action?
‘I love the choreography of actors. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about directing: the organisation of figures in space. I’m interested in how to express emotion or character through movement, so I tried to see the fight sequences as an extension of that. And one can be elliptical with action: you don’t have to see Hanna move from one point to another, she’s just there. Playing with temporal reality in that way was terrific fun.’
Did you make a conscious decision to avoid CGI?
‘I did, but partly because we didn’t have enough money. It’s an action film on about
a third of the normal budget and about a third of the normal schedule as well. It was a very tight shoot. I was naive!’
How did you and Saoirse humanise Hanna? There’s a risk she could have been quite cold and distant…
‘I don’t know if Saoirse knows how to be cold and distant! It reminds me of a story I once heard: an actor – I can’t remember exactly who – says to a director: “What’s my motivation for falling in love with this woman?” The director looks at him and says, “Because she’s Audrey Hepburn.” Had we cast anyone else, we might have been in trouble. But Saoirse is so expressive, you can’t help but sympathise with her.’
Is this a feminist action movie?
‘Well, Hanna’s never met any other women, so all her relationships once she leaves home are about discovering women. I wanted to look at a woman’s place in society and I specifically wanted to avoid “sexing up” Hanna. I didn’t want her in a fucking mini-skirt or crop top. I’m very alarmed by the continued sexual objectification of young women.’
Did you shoot mostly on location?
‘Almost entirely on location. We started in Finland where it was -29C. Then we went to Bavaria, Berlin and Hamburg, and ended in Morocco where it was very hot. So it was a challenging shoot. But it’s one of the things I love about my job: I get to go to amazing places and meet amazing people.’
But it must have presented a few logistical difficulties...
‘We would sometimes arrive at a location we had seen four months before and discover that it looked completely different. So the shoot was improvisational, which was quite unusual for me, and very refreshing. It was exciting to think on my feet.’
Do you think ‘Hanna’ is a story that could be continued?
‘Maybe. I love the character. I think I could make a better second film. I feel like I was just getting to grips with what Hanna can do. I love seeing the world from her point of view.’
Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’