One of the most eagerly anticipated panels at New York Comic-Con 2010 was for the action film “Hanna.” The panel was probably the biggest one at this year’s event, not just because two of the stars of the film were there but also because it was the first time that scenes from the movie were shown to the general public — even before the movie’s trailer was released. (New York Comic-Con is a sci-fi/action/horror entertainment fan convention that takes place every year in New York City.)
“Hanna” tells the story of a teenage assassin named Hanna (played by Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan), who has been trained by her widowed father, Erik (played by Eric Bana), an ex-CIA man protecting her from a CIA supervisor named Marissa Wiegler (played by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett) who wants to murder Hanna. But ultimately, it is up to Hanna to kill Marissa before Marissa can kill her. Ronan, Bana and “Hanna” director Joe Wright sat down for this lively discussion panel on October 9, to introduce the clips from “Hanna” and answer questions from a moderator and people in the audience.
Can you describe the plot of “Hanna”?
Wright: This story is about a character called Hanna, played by Saoirse [Ronan], who is growing up in the wilds of northern Finland with her father, played by Eric [Bana], and he’s teaching her how to be an assassin. And when she reaches a certain age, she wants to go explore the world, as teenagers do, and so she sets off on a mission. And her mission, before she can be free in the world, is to kill a CIA agent named Marissa Wiegler, who is played by Cate Blanchett.
What intrigued you most about participating in “Hanna”?
Ronan: I read the script — I think it was late last year — and there was nothing else like it at that time. I’ve done a lot of drama, and I thought it would be pretty cool to play a kick-ass girl who goes around killing people all the time. So that’s what I expected it to be. And then Joe got involved and made it this fairy-tale/fight/action movie so interesting and a lot more appealing to me.
Bana: I got involved because I’d never worked with someone with the first name of Saoirse before. I thought that was really cool. Like Saoirse, quite often, you get read a script. Inevitably, there’s always one, two, sometimes three films that pop into your mind, as to what that would remind you of the world that particular script may have come from. And I read and put it down and said, “I haven’t seen this film before.”
You might be well-schooled in finding connections, but when I read it, I said, “I don’t know where this film is from or whether I’ve seen this film before.” So that was really, really exciting. It had some originality. I had some conversations with Joe [Wright], and his take on it was purely fascinating.
Did anything or anyone inspire how you played the Erik character?
Bana: It was a father character, but in many ways, it wasn’t a traditional fatherly-type role. He’s quite cruel to his daughter in the way he’s bringing her up, but at other times it is a very kind of traditional father/daughter relationship in a lot of ways. But Joe always had interesting things on twisting the traditional, which was always challenging and very, very exciting. We had some great action sequences to do, which I always enjoy. He was just a kooky kind of character. I thought I’d have a lot of fun playing him — and I did.
Saoirse, how did you get into the mindset of Hanna?
Ronan: For me, Hanna is a really fascinating character, because her mindset is actually quite simple. She’s been brought up in the wild. She’s only ever been with one person, which is her father.
And her yearning is quite simple. She wants to experience the world. She wants to meet different types of people and experience life.
And I think that’s something every teenager goes through. I know I go through it. And that was something I could really sympathize with her, because I feel the same way myself. So that was how it was easier for me to connect with her.
I found that when I was playing her, she was quite still. A lot of times she was really calm. She’d kill someone, but it wouldn’t be like killing a person. It would be like [killing something in] the wild, the way she’d grown up her whole life.
And that was really fascinating to me. There’s no other girl out there like that. She’s a bit of a freak, but I like that. I like freaks.
Joe, can you explain the fairy-tale aspect of “Hanna”?
Wright: Like all fairy tales, it’s kind of about the rites of passage, like “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” or “The Little Mermaid” … You have the child who wants to explore the world and how they relate to that world. And then we kind of played on these themes and motifs.
The only two books that Hanna has growing up, one of them is an encyclopedia — so her knowledge of the world is written and quite factual, so she goes about space explorations — and the other book she has is “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” And so she thinks the world is going to be a fairy tale, basically. She thinks the world she is going to s going to be this beautiful, romantic fairy tale with princes and princess. And what she finds is something altogether very different.
Was Cate Blanchett your first choice to play Marissa Wiegler?
Wright: She was certainly the first choice for the role.
Bana: [He says jokingly] I thought I was getting the role first.
Wright: I first offered it to Eric, and it just didn’t work.
Saoirse, what was it like working with Cate Blanchett?
Ronan: It was amazing. It was incredible. I think she’s one of the best actresses that we have. I didn’t have that many scenes with her, but what I did have, I really cherished, because she’s quite an incredible woman to work alongside. She’s got a great work ethic, and she’s so professional. For someone who is new to this and only starting off, to be surrounded by people like her is really great. I think it helps each actor as well. Eric [she makes a “so so” gesture], but Cate was great though.
Bana: [He says jokingly] I didn’t lead you astray. I thought I offered you a lot of sage advice: “Make sure you’re on the other side of the camera to me.”
Ronan: “Don’t block your light.”
Bana: Saoirse had more scenes with Cate than I did. She’s great. We’re both natives from Australia, obviously, so a lot of people assume we hang out together. We don’t. It was the first time I got to hang out with her. Backstage in Berlin, we were prepping each other’s scenes. She’s fantastic.
How did the weather conditions in the locations affect how you made “Hanna”?
Ronan: Well, fighting in Finland is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, because your muscles don’t work properly in that kind of cold. It was minus 35 degrees Celsius. That’s cold! We had a couple of fights scenes. It was two or scenes we had there. And in one of them …
Bana: Tell them about hitting my fingers with a stick.
Ronan: Oh, yeah. I hit his fingers with a stick for one of the first fight scenes. As I was saying, Eric, before you interrupted me: One of the first fight scenes we had together was on a frozen lake. It’s really gorgeous, but it’s so cold.
Bana: It’s so beautiful over there. It’s amazing that we got to film there. My biggest concern when we got there was we got to the location, I looked at it, and I went, “Damn, no one is going to believe that this is real.” It really was a fascinating landscape. Hats off to Joe [Wright] and to Focus [Features] for letting us go to England to do something like that in winter.
Wright: One of my biggest concerns was that Eric, being a true gentleman, was quite concerned about the fights he had to do with Saoirse, because he kept going, “She’s a kid. She’s a girl. I can’t hit her.” So he kept holding back the punches, and Saoirse was like [he makes a noises similar to a cat attack].
Ronan: We just went for it.
Wright: I said, “Saoirse, you just want to go for it. Make him angry or something. He’s being too careful.” [I said to Eric], “Just hit her. Forget that she’s a girl. Forget that she’s only 16. Just smash her into the eyes.”
Ronan: Another reason why it was so great was because we talked about the fairy-tale aspect of the film. I remember one of the first locations we went to had these big, beautiful evergreen trees that had snow encrusted on them and just stayed there for the whole winter. And they looked like huge snowmen. And it really fit in well to what we were doing. It was a very magical place, wasn’t it?
Saoirse, how was the physical training for “Hanna” compared to your other movies?
Ronan: Well, I never trained specifically for any role before. And that was one of the things that appealed to me. When I was younger, I was very athletic and I always loved sports and physical things.
So about maybe two months before I started shooting, I worked with this amazing man called Jeff Imada, who is based in L.A., and we worked with his team and everything. He taught me different types of martial arts, which really came in handy … It kind of centers you as well when you’re fighting someone like Eric, who’s really huge.
But it was a great experience though. I really liked it. It was pretty hardcore. It was great though. I loved it.
Wright: Jeff Imada was the fight choreographer on the “Bourne” films. He has a very specific [style of fighting]: somewhere between martial arts and street fighting, basically, which was something that we wanted to achieve.
Ronan: And we also fitted the choreography as well that would suit Hanna. So I don’t think it’s any kind of fighting that you would have seen before or for a long time …
Eric, did you learn any new stunts?
Bana: I think the beauty of working with different stunt teams and fight coordinators on different films is that it’s never exactly the same. You obviously build up some kind of core of strength and coordination or whatever, but they always put their own stamp on the film, which is always really exciting in a way, because you always have to forget what you’ve learned and start from scratch.
But Jeff is really, really incredible and the guys that we had were working with him, we just worked really hard. I also drew a lot of inspiration from the mixed-martial arts world, because I really got into mixed-martial arts before, just inserted lot of that to help me. And it was really interesting.
It kills me because Saoirse and I had a riff going. We liked to put each other down in a fun way, but she’s really tough. I’ve worked with a lot of guys who required a lot more coddling … She’s fast. She got a really good grip. She’s actually got really long arms, so you’ve got to be careful of that … It’s always fun to have that component.
Joe and Saoirse, you worked together before in the 2007 movie “Atonement.” What was it like working together again?
Ronan: I think we got to know each other better. We got on really well when we did “Atonement,” but that was four years ago. So it was a while ago. I think we’ve both changed since then, and we’re just closer maybe.
Wright: She’s had the time to mature as an actress as well. She had this incredible talent at the age of 11 or 12, when we did “Atonement,” this extraordinary talent that was quite unformed still. And in the work she’s done since “Atonement,” she’s gotten more and more of a handle on her craft.
And so that talent has been more honed … and she’s more in control of it now. There’s an enormous difference between an 11- or 12-year-old and 15- or 16-year-old. We had fun. She’s very serious as well sometimes … She’s an artist.
Eric, you’re have a great sense of humor, and you started out doing stand-up comedy. Why haven’t you hosted “Saturday Night Live” yet?
Bana: I guess one of the biggest impediments is that I’m in Australia. I’m just not here [in the United States] that much, but it is something I should probably do someday.
Saoirse, you worked with filmmaker Peter Jackson on “The Lovely Bones.” Is he going to cast you in “The Hobbit” movie?
Ronan: I don’t know. I think they’re still casting. And also, Weta [Jackson’s production facilities in New Zealand] had a fire … so I don’t know how it’s affected [the movie], but I’d love to be in it. I really would. I love New Zealand. They’re so special to work with.
Saoirse, what kind of acting method do you use? Is it Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg or your own method?
Ronan: I don’t know if I really have a method, to be honest. You probably need to ask people I work with, but I’m not the type of actor lives through the character the whole time that I’m making the film. I like to be able to switch on and off as best as I can. I try to stay as focused as I can and professional, because it’s very important to me to do the best job I possibly can. But the most important thing, I think, is to have fun.
Actually, a great actress said to me — she’s been asked this question as well before, like most [actors] have — and she thinks of [acting] as playing, like a child. When you’re 5 years old, and you can believe that this table is a ship, and you’re on the sea, and there are pirates chasing you. It’s all real … But I think everyone has their own [method]. You just do what’s best for you.
Eric, what attracts you to a movie script to the point where you want to do the movie?
Bana: I’m just really selfish … Usually, the stuff I say yes to is the stuff that if where I read it, I have a bunch of ideas for it. And if I read a script, and I can imagine 20 other guys playing the part, I always turn it down.
However, if I read it, and I sort of cast it in my own mind and give a lot of ideas, they’re the one I really fight for and I want to play. So it’s an instinctual reaction for me. If the piece feels really original on top of that, then it’s a huge bonus.
Joe, the same question to you: What makes you want to do a movie?
Wright: Something that makes me scared, generally. If something frightens me and I don’t know how I’ll do it, then that’s the one I’ll do. I think a lot of what I do is about overcoming fear. And so work is a way of overcoming fears, both with themes and topics, but also in the technical sense.
It’s also about things I haven’t done before. We’ve kind of touched on this in the last answers, but it’s all about the imagination. And what makes [Saoirse Ronan and Eric Bana] such great actors is they have they great imaginations. And when you read a script that fires your imagination, that sends your mind off to places, and generally I can’t get it out of my head — that and fear, really. I have to be scared every day.
What was your weapon training like? Did you have any favorite weapons?
Ronan: That’s a good question. I didn’t really have that much weapons training. They just gave me a gun and told me to fire it. They just told me how to hold the gun.
Bana: You had a cool gun.
Ronan: Oh, this was the most difficult gun to use. And person who knows anything about guns can tell you this. It’s a Luger from 1908, so they used in the first World War. And I had to use it in Finland, which as I said before, is very cold … Instead of pulling it back to shoot, you have to pull it up and then pull it back and then lift it up. It’s very difficult.
Bana: Yeah, the Luger was my favorite as well. I didn’t have a lot of shooting in this movie. With both of us, it was more fist-on-face action.
Ronan: Using guns was really great though. I was never really into guns. I thought, “They only cause harm,” but when I shot a gun, there’s a really cool shot of me where I do a 360 [degree shot], where I shoot 10 cameras in the holding cell. And I felt really cool afterwards!
Eric, did you ever fix the Beast, your racing car that was the documentary subject of the first film you directed?
Bana: I’m about halfway. It’s getting there.
Joe, you mentioned the Chemical Brothers. Are they doing the whole score for “Hanna”?
Wright: The Chemical Brothers are doing the score for the whole film. We’re very excited about it. I’ve known them a lot of years. When I first left college, we set up a company called Vegetable Vision, which is a light-show company. And we used to go around doing projections at raves and nightclubs. And we met the Chemicals back then, around ’94 or ’95, and I’ve known them since.
And I was really excited to work with this score for [“Hanna”]. As you may know, the film music I’ve had before has been very classical. I loved working with Dario Marianelli, who won the Oscar for “Atonement” for the score, but I was very excited to finally to be able to do something with a more modern beat. It’s very loud.
What advice do you have for people who want to become actors?
Bana: My route was a little unconventional, because my first job in the industry was through comedy. I did stand-up comedy for 10 years before I started acting properly. Actually, Saoirse turns my theory on its head, because what I usually say to young people is, “Go out and get life experience, so you can get something to draw on.” She’s proof that it doesn’t really matter. I couldn’t have done what she has done. Does that make any sense at all? Just have a go!
Wright: The thing about acting is that usually, people have to ask you to do it, and that’s the problem. It’s not like writing or painting, which you can just practice in your own home. So join a community theater and get involved that way. There’s a ton of improvisation workshops and community theaters.
And then find out if you actually like it, because it might look good on the outside, but it is a difficult and strange profession. So you really need to find out if you like it before you start dedicating your life to try to do it.
Ronan: I was just going to say that you never really know until you give it a go. That sounds like a bumper sticker. I started quite young. I didn’t know if I liked acting or wanted to be an actor until I started doing it.
And also, you have to believe what you’re performing. You have to believe that it’s true. I think when actors are picking up scripts, that has to be the main thing. It’s all about truth, really. I know it’s cheesy and a really simple thing to say, but acting is quite simple, but it’s complicated at the same time.
For more info: “Hanna” website
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