‘Hanna’ star atoned for her youth with rigorous preparation

Posted April 07, 2011, at 7:28 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — Dressed in jeans and a Beatles T-shirt, Saoirse Ronan can’t wait to get to WonderCon. She wants to buy some “Ugly Dolls” at the comic book and pulp culture event.

It takes conversations about stuffed toys to be reminded that the actress is just barely old enough to drive. It’s an easy thing to forget. After all, she has a resume that rivals performers twice her age — including an Oscar nomination for “Atonement” when she was 13.

In her latest film, “Hanna,” Ronan is reunited with Joe Wright, who directed “Atonement.” When she first heard the film’s concept of a 16-year-old girl trained in isolation to be an assassin, she worried it would be little more than a “crazy animal fighter.”

But she trusted her instincts that the role would be more, especially because of Wright.

“She’s not just that. She slowly begins to develop all these layers. Although she has quite a simplistic outlook on life, there’s a lot of different shades to her,” Ronan says of her character. “As long as it made sense, I was able to do what I wanted to do with the role.”

The freedom came from knowing how Wright works.

“I don’t know how to explain it because we really don’t communicate much through words,” says Ronan. “I just seem to understand what he wants in a scene. Kind of, from the off, we had a really great understanding of each other and with this I certainly felt really comfortable portraying true emotions but living in this surreal world because of him”

Ronan says she and Wright naturally knew what was needed to bring Hanna to life.

“Hanna” presented Ronan with a unique test: acting while performing big action scenes. Lots of preparation helped.

“I did a lot of training — even working out in the gym for two hours a day — so I would have strength, something I didn’t have before,” Ronan says.

The best part of all the training was the martial arts, which seemed like dance choreography to her.

“The training helped me because I got to work on the outside of the character first. I have never really had a chance to research and prepare for a character like this before,” she says.

Directing comes as naturally to Wright as acting comes to Ronan. He relies heavily on instinct and gut feelings, such as when he was in Berlin scouting locations for “Hanna.”

“I told the guide to forget the script and show me what was interesting,” Wright says.

One of those stops was an abandoned amusement park with a fairy-tale theme. Wright knew it was a perfect spot to shoot the finale because he sees Hanna’s story as a modern fairy tale. The only difference is the bad guys are government agents and not big bad wolves.

Wright also had to get creative to deal with the film’s small budget. One scene, following a long day of filming on the docks, called for a holding cell they didn’t have. Wright improvised and used shipping containers to create the scene.

“I guess if I ever had all the money I wanted to shoot a movie, I would be less creative,” Wright says.

That would mean having to go against his instincts, something neither Wright nor Ronan have done so far.

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