In the movies at least, it seems as if violent killers are getting younger every day. Following in the footsteps of Chloe Moretz's Hit Girl in 'Kick-Ass,' Saoirse Ronan plays the title character in 'Hanna,' Joe Wright's new film about a teenage girl who's been trained since birth to take out targets -- and she's every bit as good as her predecessor. Cinematical sat down with Ronan, the Oscar-nominated young star of films like 'Atonement' and 'City of Ember,' and talked about the challenges of bringing to life a character who's an unusual combination of lethal force and fascinating naiveté.
Cinematical: You've said in some interviews that the fairy-tale aspect of Hanna allowed you to be a little weird. What does that mean?
Saoirse Ronan: Because fairy tales are surreal and kind of magical and they're never just gritty reality. Of course I wanted to deliver a true performance, but I also liked the idea of making her a little out of the ordinary and not very normal. She wasn't like that and she was never going to be like that, so I felt it was important not to have that in the performance either.
How do you distinguish an honest or truthful performance as opposed to one that is "realistic," especially in something like 'Hanna,' which has this dreamlike feel?
Well, it doesn't necessarily have to be realistic, does it? I think when all of the filmmakers involved in a project are on the same page, you can make something really great, you can push each other and encourage each other, and if you don't feel very secure in what you're doing, Joe [Wright] would go "Go for it, do it!"
But it's not always about being realistic; it's just about what's true to the story, and I guess that's what you have to think about. You have to think about the story as your world. You're not living on planet Earth right now, this is your world. And when you understand it thoroughly and you have a sort of instinct, you'll get there, I guess.
How would you characterize your collaboration with Joe now that you two have done a couple of movies together?
A lot of it is really rooted in friendship, I think; we really trust each other, which a lot of his actors do with him, and he does with them. And that's a great relationship to have, especially when we did 'Hanna' together, because it was only the second film we did, but we had trust in one another, and going in this different direction, and taking a risk was easier for us and made it more freeing because we knew each other.
How important was it to have that balance between her physical dexterity and her complete lack of understanding of basic modern conveniences?
We played with it a little bit more. I think some of those instances were in the script, like in the little hotel room that she books, but we would kind of introduce that into every scene, really, especially when she's in Morocco –- which is so foreign for her. It's completely the opposite in every way to what she's used to, and it was just a behavior that was part of her as a character, so I always played that. It was always there.
How difficult was it to get to a place with the training where that aspect was completely instinctual?
It was a lot of training, and understanding her background, which it doesn't go into that much, but she has been bred to be a sort of super-soldier or killer or whatever you want to call her. And I guess I thought of her as sort of invincible in a way, and every stunt that I did, just when I was about to give up personally, I just had to think, Hanna would not give up. Hanna never gives up; she adapts or she dies. I think she helped me push forward and therefore that made the character more believable on screen. Her attitude towards things and her perseverance and her strength, how she gets this strength from somewhere.
How important was it to have a very well-defined background for her, since the film itself reveals very little?
I don't really need to do that much. There were a few important things obviously that I needed to know, which are in the script -- that her mother was killed and that sort of motivates my, I wouldn't say hatred, but my wanting to kill. And it was important to know that she wasn't really a natural, real person, and that certainly influenced my performance and the behavior of the character. So things like that, I needed to know, but those things were given to all of us in the script. I didn't feel like I needed to delve any further and get any more information about the character or anything like that.
At this point, how formal is your preparation for roles? Do you do a lot of work to develop your roles?
Not really. I will eventually, but so far it's been a lot to do with intuition and instinct. The characters that I've played, maybe not straightaway but eventually, I've gotten to understand very well. I've had really great directors and writers who have helped me get there and guided me. So I think once you have that, for me, that's enough. And I haven't played a role yet where I'm actually playing a real person; there are a few roles that are historical, real people that if I did get involved in something like that, I would learn about them because it's a real person. But when you're kind of involved in the creation of this character, I think it's good to trust your instinct and trust your gut a bit.