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Saoirse Ronan, 16, might just be the most well-adjusted screen star in the history of Hollywood.
Maybe its because the Irish actress spends so little time there.
Home for Ronan for most of the year is either a film set somewhere, or rural Co. Carlow in Ireland (where it’s probably hard to have an in-depth conversation about the rigors of filmmaking with bemused locals at the post office).
Although she’s daily surrounded by some of the richest and most accomplished people in filmmaking, she still has her local Irish accent and the most level head possible for a person in her weird fly-around-the-world and make a new movie every six months situation.
This week Ronan stars in the title role in ‘Hanna’, a startlingly original new thriller directed by auteur British filmmaker Joe Wright which opens nationwide on Friday. Hanna features Ronan’s most accomplished work to date, and it seems certain to raise her celebrity pay grade even higher.
If you’re debating whether or not to see Hanna this weekend, and aren’t sure you like the sound of its teenage girl kicks bad guy butt premise, let me assure it’s nothing like you imagine – this PG-13 film is definitely not for kids.
How often, for example, does an action thriller manage to scare the pants off you? And when was the last one you saw one that had the power to make you literally jump out of your seat?
The great thing about Hanna is that although it’s a genuinely tense thriller, it’s eccentric English director is not content to just stop there, so he turns the film into a mad fairy tale too with unexpectedly successful results.
In most hands that decision would have spelled its doom, but in Wright’s hands it Hanna takes flight.
For Ronan, who plays the title character, the emotion that she’s experiencing about the film’s reception is mostly one of relief that people get it. She had total faith in Wright’s vision, but she wondered a bit about the public response.
Now that it’s come and its positive she feels vindicated. That makes the job of promoting it so much easier (she’s coming off a two week promotional tour when I talk to her by telephone from California).
“I’m in LA at the moment and it’s grand,” she tells the Irish Voice. “We’re busy enough and the team here is putting me trough my paces.” (The day before Ronan appeared on the Ellen show for the first time).
Asked to describe her character and the film, she puts it simply: “It’s a coming of age story, you know. It’s this girl who has been through a very strict regime her whole life and has been so disciplined by her father.
“Technically she’s learned an awful lot of things from books but she’s been so isolated, she doesn’t really know life or the world. She was great to play; she’s a great character for an actor because she’s so fresh. It’s kind of that she has a young child’s mind and she’s just fascinated by everything she sees and shocked by it. It’s brilliant.”
In the film Hanna lives with her father in isolation in northern Finland, where she has never come into contact with another living soul. It can’t have been difficult for Ronan to put herself in her character’s shoes, I joke, because it sounds a bit like growing up in Donegal.
“Exactly, and then you step out into the real world,” Ronan says with a laugh. “It’s like that in Carlow as well though.
“I’ve never been to Donegal and actually my mam and I were only talking about it. They want us to move up there – well, they want us to get a house up there because they love Donegal. I’m lucky because I get to travel away and stuff, but the film is basically about breaking away from the comforts of home and stepping out into the world.”
To prepare for the role of a lethal teenage assassin was actually easier than many people might imagine, she says.
“Really all I had to do – and actually it was a tough thing to do – was clear my mind and almost wipe the memory of what’s happened to me in the past few years and what I’ve been through and just start again. To feel like this is the first time I’ve seen everything. It would have been easier to draw from past experiences, but I couldn’t do that with this role.”
The thing about Hanna is that she’s not a typical comic strip action hero in a miniskirt and a bustier. She’s not a cartoon or an adolescent boy’s fantasy. She’s beautiful, yes, but she’s troubled and strange.
“We both know and love freaks,” says Ronan, “and I love that about Hanna. She’s like a little alien. A lot of people over here are asking me, ‘How did you identify with her and are there any similarities between you and Hanna?’
“There’s none, but the journey that she’s going through, although it’s heightened and a bit surreal, it’s the journey that every single teenager including you and I and my parents all went through. Discovering things, being in awkward situations. Hanna’s a bit of a misfit and I think most people feel like that as teenagers anyway.”
The fairy tale aspect is such a strong part of the story, but it wasn’t when Ronan originally signed on. She came on board before Wright did.
“I thought it would just be an action film. But Joe came on board and suddenly there were all these weird rewrites. Suddenly there were all these bow and arrow fights and a creepy amusement park and everything became much, much weirder and I loved it,” Ronan says.
Wright thought of Hanna as the Little Mermaid, someone who has lived under water her whole life and who is now breaking the surface because she wants to be a real girl. He thought of Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett, the older woman who wants to kill her, as the Wicked Witch. It’s a child’s conception of the world, and it works extraordinarily well in the film.
“It’s a very interesting thing to play with. And that’s why Marissa Wiegler works so well as a villain. When I finally saw her in the film it frightened the life out of me,” says Ronan.
“I think playing those kinds of characters and being in surreal situations and being that weird are the most fun characters to play. I love playing weird people, it’s so much fun. I have never done a film before where we had had so many freaks in one film. ”
But Hanna wants to find a normal life and be a normal teenager, although fate or her abilities have made that impossible. Is this something Ronan can relate to at times? Is there a part of her that would just like to grow up in Carlow and do her leaving certificate and date and do the usual teenage things?
“Yeah of course, being honest, of course. It’s so surreal this kind of thing (publicity campaigns). Most of the time I just do the press junkets and I just accept it,” she says.
“But when I actually think about it, I’ve been talking about things I’ve been involved in, but mainly about myself for the past couple of weeks,” Ronan says.
Family and friends are what grounds her. “I guess sometimes you need to be with people and I love focusing on them. Just take your head out of and have a bit of a break,” she says.
“But at the same time I do feel like this is a part of my life. Certainly Hollywood isn’t and it’s not going to take over or anything. I accept that this is what you have to do.
“It’s nice to go home too. I kind of enjoy both and accept both for what they are.”
Along the way she gets to do fun things like kick the Hulk’s (Eric Bana’s) but in her new film.
“I went on the Ellen show yesterday and that’s exactly what I said to her. Eric is brilliant and a really lovely guy. The majority of the scenes in the film that I had were with him. We did all of our fight choreography together so I got to know him pretty well.”
Ronan is thankful that our interview is a break from the types of questions she’s been asked for the past two weeks.
“You never seem to do this but a lot of journalists in the states ask me, ‘So what are audiences going to expect? What are they going to take away from this experience?’ (Ronan says all this in a flawless American accent).
“Every time I have said, I don’t ‘effing know what they’re going to take away from it. I don’t even know what this film is. You walk in thinking it’s going to be this action tale, and it is. But suddenly it’s also this fairy tale and a thriller and a drama and kind of comedic as well. When I walked away from it I was so excited by it.”
The best part of Hanna is that it has mystery, something in short enough supply in the age of Google.
“It doesn’t really give you an answer at the end and I love that,” says Ronan. “That’s all audiences want now, is an end result where we can feel happy or sad or satisfied in some way, and one of the questions is where does Hanna go from there?”