The child actor we saw in Atonement is growing up, celebrating her Sweet 16 while shooting Hanna, where she plays a girl who has known no one but her father who has trained her to be an assassin and sends her across Europe on a mission. After her chilling performance in The Lovely Bones, Saoirse takes on this action role, performing most of her own stunts. She sat down with Buzzine to talk about shooting in freezing weather in Finland, the possibility of a role for her in the forthcoming Hobbit production, and the arsenal of weapons she knows how to use.
Izumi Hasegawa: [Sarcastic] Welcome to a bright and sunny Los Angeles day.
Saoirse Ronan: 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." Now that didn't happen. Oh well.
IH: Will your archery training come in handy for working on your next movie, The Hobbit?
SR: I'm not confirmed to do The Hobbit yet. 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.
IH: What was your training like? How long did it take you?
SR: 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 weightlifting and treadmills and benchpressing and things like that. Lovely, lovely things that I want to carry on with. I did martial arts as well for about two hours in the evening. So I'd workout for about 4-1/2 to 5 hours a day for a few months.
IH: Your character knows a lot of facts about the world but is kind of experiencing everything for the first time. What was that like for you, getting into that head space?
SR: For her to experience everything for the first time? 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 right about all these things and knows all these facts and is fluent in all these languages, she doesn't really know about life. 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 I find really interesting about Hanna is that she's only grown up with her father. That's the only person she's had for her company. 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 falls in love with the idea of a more well-developed version of her own gender, I guess. So I really liked that about Hanna.
IH: Growing up, had you always wanted, as an actor, to play a kickass heroine?
SR: It wasn't really something I thought about, to be honest. I've always been quite an active person, 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. That's kind of what this film turned out to be. I thought it was simply just going to be an action film, but it ended up being very layered, so it was nice to have both and work with both.
IH: Which of the skills you learned will be most useful in real life?
SR: Oh, I don't know. I mean, I use them all. I've got my Lugar at home. I didn't bring it away with me, but ... well, not the sticks really. When am I ever going to stick-fight anyone? Although it is fun. Well, guns always come in handy--not in real life. I don't use guns. But I did a film since then, and I did use guns for that. I kind of knew what to expect and I knew how to handle a gun, and I know right now you're supposed to put it down when you're not using it--basic things like that. So I guess that would come in pretty handy.
IH: How was it shooting in Finland? Was it as cold as it looked in that forest?
SR: It was colder. One day, I think it was around -30 degrees Celsius, and that's very cold. The crew was 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 [Bana] and I, the whole time 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. So it was difficult to fight in that, and your muscles don't work properly. But it's beautiful, and I think that shows on screen. It's such an enchanting place to be. It sort of feels like you're in a winter wonderland.
IH: Just in terms of the elements, was this a more difficult shoot than The Way Back?
SR: I guess. We went back to Morocco for Hanna as well. It was my second time going back to exactly the same place, which was bizarre. 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. I started to feel like the first time hit me harder. The Way Back was harder.
IH: You did a number of stunts. Were there any stunts that you wanted to take on or others that you did not?
SR: No, I liked doing the stunts, as long as I was safe and padded up and 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. He's done all the Bourne movies and he's done about 400 projects in his life so far. 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.
IH: What is it about emotionally interesting, different roles? There are a lot of actors your age that are not taking on the challenges you're taking on. What is it that attracts you to these types of characters and roles, and what do you look forward to be able to do with them?
SR: They're very interesting. It's sort of an impulse thing, I think, when I read a script. 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 it. But if they get it, it's fine. I like to play characters that are different from me, and most of the characters that I've played have been entirely different from me. That's it really. I think 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."
IH: If you do get to do The Hobbit, what do you love about Itaril?
SR: [Laughs] Sneaky, sneaky. I haven't read the script, and the character that you speak of is not in the book.
IH: Oh good, because I didn't remember it...
SR: No, she's not in the book, so I don't know. But they'll make something interesting out of her, I'm sure.
IH: We saw that you had a special birthday while you were shooting. Americans call it Sweet 16.
SR: It's so sweet! I spent my Sweet 16 in Berlin in a housing estate. I don't know. I think it was near Leipzig or something. It was very glamorous.
IH: How did you celebrate?
SR: 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. Katrin is the grandmother's name. And Eric and I have a fight, and I jump out the window and do all that stuff. So it was lovely. But my birthday celebration was going to see Lady Gaga. I'm a massive fan. When she was in Berlin... I'm obsessed with this girl, and it was my first time going to see her, and I actually took Joe Wright to go see her. I don't know if you've met Joe already, but he doesn't seem like a Little Monster. He actually invited himself. We were in the pit of the O2 Arena in Berlin. There were all these people dressed up, gay guys everywhere, everyone was going crazy. We were all loving Gaga, and I turned around every now and again, and every single time, Joe would just have his hands crossed like this, staring at the screen like a granddad, kind of bopping his head. It was very funny.
IH: What was it like reuniting with Joe [Wright] after Atonement?
SR: It was fantastic. The relationship we had on Atonement kind of followed through into Hanna and just developed even more so. I suppose like getting to know a friend better, really. Professionally, we got to know each other and understand each other even more, and on a personal level as well, which was nice. It felt more like a collaboration on this film, and it was something that I really felt like we were doing together. It was a new direction for both of us. So we were taking a risk by doing this, and it was exciting to share that with someone who I'd gotten on so well with four years prior.
IH: What was your favorite and least favorite part of the character of Hanna?
SR: My favorite part is that she realizes she loves music. And my least favorite part is 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. But I didn't agree with her doing that. He was cute.
IH: You said you were looking for a character that is opposite of you. Who is Saoirse? How would you define yourself? We see you through each character you play, but you say you're looking for a character that is different from yourself. So who are you?
SR: Who am I? That could take a while then. I'm a 16-year-old Irish girl who was born in New York and is also very proud to be American. I love both countries. I love music. Acting is a great love of mine. I love Lady Gaga and David Bowie, and Fiji Water is the purest water there is, in my opinion.
IH: Do you speak other languages as well?
SR: I should really learn the language properly, I think. I'd like to learn French maybe, or Italian.
Focus Features' 'Hanna' is released on April 8, 2011.