A young girl is raised in the wilderness by her widowed father—with no more than an encyclopedia, a book of fairy tales, and a history of CIA training—and becomes the ideal assassin. That girl is Hanna, played by Oscar-nominated actor Saoirse Ronan in Joe Wright’s newest feature. Over the phone, with her cheerful tone and soft Irish accent, Saoirse—which means ‘freedom’ in Irish and is pronounced ‘Sear-shuh’—is anything but intimidating. With a maturity beyond her 16 years, she expresses an acute artistic sensibility and an impressively professional demeanor.
Ronan has eight years of experience under her belt, and she already has a clear sense of what she prefers for her career. “I like things that are weird,” she says. “I like strange stories, and dreamlike stories too”—an unsurprising sentiment coming from the actor who played the lead role in Peter Jackson’s ethereal adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel “The Lovely Bones.” “I always find that if I read a script and I’m still thinking about it hours and hours later, and I start acting out the scenes—in my head, and in real life—then it’s something that I’m interested in,” she says.
For “Hanna,” part of the appeal was the stunts. “I always like to do something different,” Ronan says. “The fact that I get to do an awful lot of physical activity—I had never really done anything like that before in a movie. I’ve always been quite an athletic person, so I thought it would be fun, and it would be tough work but really good preparation, to train and learn fight choreography and things like that.”
Ronan’s working relationship with Joe Wright—who directed her Oscar-nominated performance in “Atonement”—wasn’t a factor in choosing the project, because Ronan was brought onto the film before Wright was. In fact, she suggested him to the studio. “I became involved before Joe was,” she recounts. “Focus [Features] had sent me the script, and I really liked it so I talked to John Lyons about it. They said that they didn’t have a director attached, and the first person who popped into my head was Joe, so I suggested him.”
“We have this ongoing joke now that I am getting Mr. Wright his work, and no one else will hire him,” she laughs.
The suggestion of a familiar director paid off. “Joe never really treated me like a kid even when I was 12-years-old, and he certainly didn’t when we did ‘Hanna’ together,” Ronan says. “I had definitely grown as an actor [between “Atonement” and “Hanna”], and I think he could see that. It left us with more creative freedom … We were able to try different things … He knows me, professionally, very very well, so he was like a puppeteer—he knew what strings to pull.”
“I think he’s even gotten a bit braver as a director, which is nice to say,” she continues. “We’ve both kind of grown up a bit, really, so it was nice to work with him again.”
This sense of familiarity with her crew is something that Ronan values. “I actually like the idea of working with the same people over and over again. Especially when you’re taking a risk. I’d never done an action film before, and neither had [Wright], so to go in that new direction together was great.”
But it wasn’t just the action that was a challenge for Ronan. Her character is forced to confront a number of revelations about her existence and unexpected questions about her own humanity; for this more emotional side of the role, Ronan found her own ways to prepare.
“It was quite important to basically wipe my own personal memory of anything that I’d really experienced, especially over the past few years, because Hanna never went through those things, and has never really lived a life,” she explains. “I found that really helpful to portray the innocence and the naïveté of her.”
In portraying Hanna, Ronan does not see herself as having made a permanent switch from drama to action. “I don’t really think of Hanna as an action character,” she says. “To a certain extent I do, but she’s a lot more than that.”
So what’s next for this budding star? “I’d like to go to college in a few years from now, hopefully. I’m still working, so I’d quite like to make an Irish film in Ireland—because I’ve never actually done that before—and play an Irish character. Hopefully that’ll happen soon.”
It sounds like the rising starlet is up for pretty much anything. “I don’t really have a preference,” she said. “I’d love to do a musical, I like to do action, I like doing drama, I want to do comedy—it’s all fun, and it’s all film.”