Saoirse Ronan began her acting career at the age of nine. In 2007, she received worldwide acclaim for her portrayal of the 13-year-old Briony Tallis in Atonement, which was her first film with director Joe Wright. Her performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Now she and Joe Wright are joining forces again in a very different kind of movie, Hanna. Saoirse portrays the title role, a teenage girl who has been raised by her father Erik (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA man, in the wilds of North Finland. He has taught Hanna to hunt, put her through extreme self-defense workouts, and home-schooled her with only an encyclopedia and a book of fairy tales. She is now the perfect assassin, and her job is to kill a ruthless intelligence operative, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) before she can kill Hanna and her father.
I spoke with Saorise at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills about this new chapter in her career.
Would you have ever thought that you would be offered a role like this?
I didn’t really think about it, no. It wasn’t something that I ever thought that I wouldn’t do, because I always thought it would be something that I’d like to try. I’ve always been kind of athletic and sporty and then when I read Hanna, one of the most appealing things was that I’d be able to incorporate a lot of physical action and activity into just simply dramatic acting.
So yeah, I was really excited about the prospect of doing something like that. And then when Joe came on board it became a very layered detailed-type story, which I didn’t really expect it to be.
Can you talk about doing all of the kick-ass fighting? How much training did you do?
With the training, I trained for a couple of months before I started. So I trained in the gym and I buffed up and suddenly I have all these muscles popping up everywhere all over my body, which was a bit freaky. I did martial arts, different styles, and stick fighting and weapon’s training, so it was pretty full-on.
What was the toughest thing for you when you started out?
I reckon the trickiest thing was probably doing the fight scene and making sure that we had a balance of a dramatic performance as well. It’s very easy to just focus on the fight moves that you’ve been taught and that you’ve been going over for a couple of weeks, before the actual day. But to then bring an actual dramatic performance into it as well is tricky, so that would be a difficult thing, I guess.
Was there a lot of rehearsal with you and Eric, did you get to know each other?
Yeah, we did. We had two weeks rehearsal before we started the film and it was mainly Eric and I. We did the majority of the rehearsals together. We did fight training and we worked on the choreography with the stunt coordinator and we went to the gym, and we went over our scenes, but mainly it was the physical stuff that we practiced.
It was a good bonding technique, I guess, learning how to fight together and punch each other. And then we started shooting in Finland and it felt like a camaraderie with everyone going on this journey together, and going to a place we’d never been to before.
Is there any part of the physical training that you’ve kept up?
You mean after I finished the film? Well, I haven’t gone back to it yet but my dad is a black belt in karate and different forms of martial arts. He wants me to get back into it and he wants to train me, and he’s actually a fantastic teacher. He used to do it when he was younger and he was an all-Ireland champion.
You’ve got your own private trainer?
Exactly, see, [my art] is leaking into my own personal life now. I don’t have a clear vision.
Can you talk about the scene where Hanna is confronted with all the noise and technology in her room?
I guess it’s a great scene. It’s a little bit symbolic, it’s basically getting all the technology that we live with every single day into one room and introducing it to someone who’s never lived with it before.
Through her journey she does encounter many things that are new to her and fresh, and she’s quite naïve to them, which is a lovely contrast to her being a cold-blooded killer, which is lovely. It’s all kind of a mess when she’s in that room and it all hits her at once, and it’s all too much. She expected the world to be this beautiful Grimm’s fairy tale and it really isn’t working out that way.
Has your relationship with Joe changed since Atonement?
I don’t think it changed that much really. I feel like our relationship developed quite a bit when we did this together, as it would do, because you’re just getting to know someone better, aren’t you, on a professional level and a personal level. But even when we shot Atonement, Joe never really treated me like I was a kid, he didn’t on Hanna either.
I really felt like Hanna was a new direction that we were both going in and it was something that neither of us had done before.
It was exciting to share that with someone who I knew very well.