September 21, 2011
Saoirse Ronan Learns Martial Arts to Play "Hanna" (Opens Sept 28)
Not yet out of her teenage years, Saoirse (pronounced “sear-sha”) Ronan is already an Academy Award nominee (for 2007's “Atonement”) whose performances continue to impress. Now she stars as the title character in Columbia Pictures' action-thriller “Hanna” as young girl raised by her father to be a cold-blooded assassin.
Also starring Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett, “Hanna” will be shown exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas (Glorietta 4 and Greenbelt 3) starting Sept. 28.
“I want all the roles that I play to hold challenges. With lots of action and a layered character, Hanna had them for me,” explains Ronan. “It’s unlike any other drama that I’ve done. Here is a teenager who has been raised in a forest and has gotten all her education from her father; she’s never even met anyone else before. We meet her as she goes out on her own, and when she does she is fascinated by everyone and everything she comes across. My favorite quality of hers is that she is non-judgmental; she shows an open mind to, and a fascination with, everything. She’s a bit of a freak. But, I like that; I like freaks. Hanna discovers life for the first time, so the movie is not just about a girl who kicks butt – though she certainly does!”
Ronan embraced the concept. She remarks, “[Director] Joe Wright talked with me about how – as in a fairy tale – someone goes out into the world and it is overwhelming and scary and beautiful. Like any teenager, I can empathize with Hanna’s desire to see the world, but for her it happens at 100 miles an hour.”
The actress – who would turn 16 during filming of “Hanna” – had boarded the project even before her once and future director, Wright. It was he who had cast Ronan in “Atonement” nearly four years prior, with their resulting collaboration earning awards and accolades all over the world.
She reflects, “I always thought that if we were going to work together again, it would have to be something different from what we did before. Joe and I didn’t need to find our way; we are very in sync, even more so than before because we can tell if either of us is not completely happy, and we trust each other to try different things. Both Joe and I sympathize with Hanna because she does what she does to protect the people she loves.”
Given that Hanna is someone who has been in training for as long as she can remember, stunt coordinator and fight choreographer Jeff Imada (the “Bourne” films) began training with Ronan well ahead of production. He reports, “I put her through a few tests to get a feel for her body mechanics, and to ascertain how much work we needed to do to make her look convincing as a teenager trained to a high level of skill by her father, who himself was trained by a government agency.”
Wright wanted the fight scenes to look as naturalistic as possible. Given the setting that was being established for Hanna’s upbringing, Imada introduced an element of the wild into the fighting style. He explains, “Hanna is surrounded by wildlife; she has learned a keen awareness from animals, how to survive and how to fit into and live in the landscape.”
“When she kills, to her it’s like killing in the wild, from her upbringing,” offers Ronan. Imada comments, “Saoirse has a slight build, so she could be agile, moving quickly and with stealth. I incorporated martial-arts kicks, aerobic exercises, and basic boxing and grappling moves into our training. We adjusted Saoirse’s diet to help build muscle. We also worked with weapons, using sticks so that they would become extensions of her arm.”
Ronan proudly notes that she ended up doing “quite a few of the stunts myself,” yet admits that the first days of training were punishing; “Joe warned me, but I thought, ‘I’ll be fine, I swim and run [regularly].’ I’ve always been quite athletic.
“Well, there was a lot more involved than I thought there would be. I got into the gym and had to start lifting weights and pushing bars over my head and running on treadmills every single day. It all paid off. I loved learning all the physical stuff; doing martial arts centers you.”
No matter which challenging roles she takes on in the future, Ronan is now that much better prepared. “I’ve still got a few of the moves that I learned on Hanna,” she smiles.
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