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Hanna – Why Eric Bana was excited by the fight sequences

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Hanna - Eric Bana
Erik (Eric Bana) © 2011 Focus Features

In Joe Wright’s new movie Hanna, Eric Bana plays Erik, an ex-CIA operative, who has remained hidden from the world for years in a remote forest in North Finland with is daughter Hanna, played by Saoirse Ronan. Taught to have the strength, the stamina and the smarts of a soldier by Erik, who has put her through extreme self-defense workouts, Hanna has been living a life unlike any other teenager. She is now the perfect assassin.

With unfinished business for Hanna and Erik still to accomplish, Erik sends Hanna out in the world to complete her mission with the hope that both of them will reunite in Berlin.

I spoke with Eric Bana about this unique and intense movie.

What was it about the script or the character of Erik that drew you to this project?

Hanna - Eric Bana
A moment of reflection for Erik (Eric Bana) © 2011 Focus Features

The script reminded me of … nothing; I thought, ‘I haven’t seen this before.’ I loved that this movie as a teenage girl as the main character; what an exciting opportunity for Saoirse at this age. Joe’s take on the story fascinated me, so I quickly jumped on board.

Hanna has to grow up and take on responsibilities, as her parent relinquishes control. I’m a parent myself, and I saw Hanna as a heightened version of every parent’s nightmare of their child going off for the first time.

Your character has a very complex relationship with Hanna.

There are very traditional fatherly qualities to Erik; he’s a protector and a teacher. He’s forever been preparing Hanna to survive battles both mental and physical, so he’s also like a cruel drill sergeant with her.

Yet, when a parent has done a great job of protecting their child from the world, the harsh realities out there are that much more shocking for the child, and Hanna is in real danger.

Do you enjoy these physical roles?

Hanna - Eric Bana
Erik (Eric Bana) in action © 2011 Focus Features

Yes, one of the great parts of the job is to get to dive headlong into a particular skill set. And in this case for me, I had never done hand-to-hand combat before. I’ve done weapons stuff before, but the fighting style in this film that Jeff Imada, our stunt coordinator, formulated was something that was completely different and new to me. So that was a hell of a lot of fun to learn.

I only wish that you could retain it all, but it tends to seep out pretty quickly.

The fight scene in the subway station was incredible and done in one take. How hard was that to do?

It was probably hard in terms of pressure. When you learn a fight scene, no matter how it’s going to be shot, you learn the choreography from start to finish. So physically it’s the same, it’s just the pressure to get it right is grossly elevated.

Joe pulled me aside a week before we shot that and said, ‘Look, the fight in the subway, I’m shooting steady-cam in one shot, it has to be perfect. I’m not getting any coverage at all.’ So I thought, ‘Okay, well, the pressure’s on,’ and we only had a one hour window to get it.

I love doing that sort of thing because usually your fights are stripped to pieces in editing and all your choreography goes out the window because the fight is assembled essentially in the editing room. So to do a sequence where the whole fight is contained in the one shot is very rare. I was really excited by it.

In such a long sequence were you worried about hurting one of the other actors, did you pull your punches?

Hanna - Eric Bana
Erik (Eric Bana) © 2011 Focus Features

No, you’ve got to go for it. Luckily for me in that case the guys I was fighting were all stuntmen, they weren’t actors that had learnt the choreography, so that makes it a little bit easier. But still it’s very hard to get it perfect and I think we only had time for six takes, I think the second one is the one in the movie.

It’s more fun, it’s more like sport, you’re going in and you’re playing a quarter of football and everyone has to be on their game, the cameraman and the focus-puller, everyone, it becomes more of a team dynamic.

You fight with Saoirse in this as well, were you concerned about hurting her?

Initially, before I met Saoirse I was concerned, because the way it read I could tell that it was very physical. The thing I was most concerned about, just from my own point-of-view, was not hurting her and the cost of her being hurt because she’s the lead in the film and she’s in every frame.

Hanna - Eric Bana
Erik (Eric Bana) © 2011 Focus Features

Secondly, it’s not an easy dynamic to act because in these fight sequences you’re essentially training someone and you’re allowing them to hit you, but you’re not trying to hurt them. So those acting beats are completely different to a normal fight where the aim is to win by both parties. So that made it more complex.

Once I’d spent a couple of days with Saoirse training with her, I wasn’t concerned at all. I could see that she’d really prepared and really was on it and I had a lot of faith, obviously, in Jeff, our stunt coordinator, as well.

Didn’t Saoirse end up hitting you by mistake?

She got me a few times, but I made it clear to her, ‘Look, especially when it comes to body shots, just go for it, don’t hold back, you’re not going to see bruises under wardrobe.’ It was important for her to know that she could treat me like any other stuntman and not have to worry about it.

There were a couple of knees that went where they maybe shouldn’t, but besides that I don’t have any battle scars from it at all!