Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
March 27, 2011

In the action thriller Hanna, Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character, a finely tuned killing machine who uncovers her own mysterious past after going head-to-head with the CIA. Raised in the bleak isolation of the Finnish wilderness by her father, rogue agent Erik Heller (Eric Bana), Hanna has learned all about weapons, hand-to-hand combat, linguistics, and facts about the world without actually having lived in it. But after years of training in secrecy, she believes she is finally ready to reclaim her life, and initiates a showdown with Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a meticulous and calculating intelligence operative who has forced her and her father into hiding.

Hanna reunites Ronan with filmmaker Joe Wright, who directed her in Atonement, the critically acclaimed 2007 drama that scored her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the age of 13. An intelligent action drama that blends in elements of a twisted fairy tale, Hanna boasts an original score by the Chemical Brothers that fits brilliantly with a story walking a fine line between dark fantasy and real-world thriller.

In this interview, Saoirse Ronan talks about playing the unique role of an adolescent assassin and filming in locations like Germany, Finland, and Morocco. On a lighter note, she also recounts celebrating her 16th birthday during this project, and briefly addresses the speculation that she will be a part of the upcoming fantasy epic The Hobbit.

MEDIA: [referring to the recent stretch of uncharacteristically gloomy weather] Welcome to another bright and sunny Los Angeles day...

SAOIRSE: I know! It's awful. It's been so miserable since I came over here. And I was getting away from Ireland and I thought, "Oh, I'm going to have lovely weather when I come over here!" No. That didn't happen. [sighs] Oh, well! [laughs]

Growing up, had you always wanted to play a kickass heroine?

It wasn't really something I thought about, to be honest. I've always been quite an active person, and especially when I was younger, when I was in primary school, I used to play lots of sports--I was a sprinter, and I did basketball and swimming and Gaelic football and things like that. So I always thought, I guess, that it would be fun to incorporate that much physical activity and work into a dramatic piece. And that's kind of what this film turned out to be. I thought it was going to simply just be an action film, but it ended up being very layered. So it was nice to have both, and work with both.

What did your physical training for the role involve?

I trained for a couple of months before I started, and I would do about two hours a day in the gym. I'd work out, and I'd do weight lifting and treadmills and bench pressing and things like that--lovely, lovely things that I'll want to carry on with. And I did martial arts as well, for about two hours in the evening. So I'd work out for about four and a half, five hours a day for a few months.

Were there stunts that you wanted to avoid doing yourself?

No, I liked doing the stunts. I mean, as long as I was safe and I was padded up and I was harnessed and things like that, I was fine. We had a fantastic stunt coordination team. We really, really did. Jeff Imada was the head of the whole thing, and he's done all the Bourne movies, and he's done like about 400 projects in his life so far. And really, that was one of the best parts of the film for me, because they kept me so safe, and always made me feel like I was safe. And I felt like I was capable of doing whatever Joe needed me to do for the film.

Which of Hanna's skills that you learned will be most useful in your own life?

[jokes] Oh, I don't know. I mean, I use them all, you know? I got my Luger at home, I didn't bring it away with me. [returns to question] Well, not the sticks, really. When am I ever going to stick fight anyone? Although it is fun. Guns always come in handy. Not in real life. Don't use guns! But I did a film since then, and I did use guns for that. And I kind of knew what to expect, and I knew how to handle a gun, and I know you're supposed to put it down when you're not using it, and basic things like that. So I guess that would come in pretty handy.

Hanna is very book smart, but doesn't have much experience in the real world. How did you approach that aspect of her?

I kind of thought of Hanna's mind...Although in some ways, it was very well developed, she's kind of like a baby. She's stepping out into the world, and although she's read about all these things and knows all these facts and is fluent in all these languages, she doesn't really know about life. And I think she's just constantly in a state of shock and excitement and awe and fascination the whole time throughout her journey. One thing that I find really interesting about Hanna is that she's only grown up with her father her whole life--that's the only person she's ever had for company--and she's never really been in the company of a female. So when she encounters Rachel and Sophie, who are members of the family that she stays with for a while, she's fascinated by them, and she kind of falls in love with the idea of a more well-developed version of her own gender, I guess. And so I really liked that about Hanna.

What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of Hanna as a character?

My favorite part is that she loves music--she realizes she loves music. And my least favorite part...Ummm...She doesn't kiss the Spanish guy! She throws him to the ground! I don't know, I'm just going to say that. I don't really have a least favorite part, really. But I didn't agree with her doing that. He was cute, wasn't he?

What attracts you to a role?

It's sort of an impulse thing, I think, when I read a script. And I'll just know from reading it whether it's a character that I've fallen in love with, and if somebody else gets to do it, I'll feel awful about. (But, you know, if they get it, it's fine.) I like to play characters that are different from me. And most of the characters that I played have been entirely different from me. And that's it, really. I like to try things that are different, things that are interesting for me, and simply a character that I've just fallen in love with, really. And when I can't get the character out of my head, and I'm in my bedroom, and I start to actually act out the scenes that I've read in a script, I think, "Okay, I really want to do this now."

You had a special birthday while you were filming Hanna. How did you celebrate your Sweet 16?

[jokes] It was so sweet! I spent my Sweet 16 in Berlin in a housing estate in like...I don't know, I think it was near Leipzig or something. [laughs] It was very glamorous. How did I celebrate...Well, the day of my 16th birthday, I was working. And I remember the scene as well. It was when I was in my grandmother's apartment, and Eric and I have a fight and I jump out the window and do all that stuff. That was lovely. But my birthday celebration was going to see Lady Gaga, who I am a massive fan of!...I love her!...I'm going [to see her again] on Monday. But she was in Berlin. I am obsessed with this girl. And it was my first time going to see her. And I actually took Joe Wright to go and see Lady Gaga. And I don't know if you've met Joe already, but he doesn't seem like a little monster. But he actually invited himself, and we were in the pit of the O2 [World] in Berlin. There were like all these people dressed up. Gay guys everywhere. Everyone was going crazy. We were all loving Gaga, and I'd turn around every now and again, and every single time, Joe would just have his hands crossed, staring at the screen like a granddad kind of bopping his head. It was very funny.

What was it like to reunite with Joe after Atonement?

It was fantastic. I mean, the relationship that we had on Atonement kind of followed through into Hanna, and just developed even more so. I suppose it's like getting to know a friend better, really. Professionally, we got to know each other and understand each other even more so, and on a personal level as well, which was nice. And it felt more like a collaboration on this film, you know? It was something that I really felt like we were doing together, and it was a new direction for both of us. So we were taking a risk by doing this. And it was exciting--it was exciting to share that with someone who I had gotten on so well with four years prior.

Was Finland as cold as it looked onscreen?

Yeah, it was colder. One day, I think it was around minus 30 degrees Celsius. And that's very cold. And the crew were complaining that it was freezing. Except for the Finnish crew, they were used to it. And they all had their big puffer jackets on and their snow boots and their gloves and their hats and things like that. Eric and I, the whole time that we were there, had a bit of deer fur around our bodies, fingerless gloves that were made out of cloth or something, and that was about it. And so it was difficult to fight in that. And your muscles don't work properly and everything. But it's beautiful. And I think that shows onscreen. It's such an enchanting place to be, and it sort of feels like you're in a winter wonderland.

In terms of the elements, was this a more difficult shoot than your film The Way Back?

Hmmm...Yeah. I guess. I mean, we went back to Morocco for Hanna as well. It was my second time going back. To exactly the same place as well, which was bizarre. [laughs] I didn't think I'd be going back to Ouarzazate so quickly! But I felt like the first time I went on The Way Back, my body just got a shock from the intense heat that we had to deal with every day. And it really was a big, big shock for me. I felt like the second time when I went back, it wasn't as bad. So it was only really the cold I had to contend with. So I sort of feel like the first time hit me harder--The Way Back was harder. [laughs]

You've demonstrated a flair for accents. Are you good with languages, sort of like Hanna?

I'm okay. I should really learn a language properly, I think. I'd like to learn French, maybe, or Italian.

Do you think that the archery you practiced in Hanna could come in handy for The Hobbit?

Well, I'm not confirmed to do The Hobbit yet. So if I did get a part, I'm sure it would come in handy, because a lot of the characters in that film live in the woods, and have makeshift weapons and things like that. So yeah, it probably would. We'll see if that happens though.

Thanks for your time.

See you later!

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