Telling the story of a 16-year-old girl (played by "Atonement" Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan) raised by her father in the wilderness to be the perfect assassin, the film is a frenetic action thriller and very modern. But like all of Wright's films, "Hanna" features terrific performances from a powerful cast, including Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett.
Back Stage: You're best known for adaptations of period novels. What drew you to a modern-day action film?
Joe Wright: To be honest, I've always moved around. Before making any feature films, I spent years making television, and my television work was quite varied. I did comedy and social-realist drama and I always liked pushing myself and working outside of my comfort zone. So I saw this as an opportunity to do just that. Having said that, I think the most important aspect for me in all my work is the characters.
And with "Hanna," I just fell in love with the character. I've been looking for something like this for a long time. I've always loved the kind of "holy fool" character, like Chauncey Gardener in "Being There" or even E.T. or Kaspar Hauser. These characters who have a fully grown consciousness and yet have never experienced contemporary society and civilization and therefore see the world with completely unconditioned eyes.
Back Stage: Did you have to convince anyone you could direct this type of movie?
Wright: I'm glad to say I didn't. It was a fairly small budget, so it didn't take too much persuasion. It was Saoirse's idea, though, that I do it. She was on board before me and had a conversation with Focus Features about it. There was no director attached, and she recommended me.
Back Stage: Where do you think Saoirse's unworldly talent comes from? Is it a result of having a father who is a terrific actor and teacher, or a natural gift?
Wright: I think it's a combination of both, really. But I think primarily her talent, her gift, is her imagination. She has an extraordinarily powerful imagination and is therefore able to completely build an entire world for herself in which she places herself in a character. And it's kind of an amazing thing to see that hasn't been broken down at all; it's been there since she did "Atonement."
Back Stage: Have you seen that talent grow or change since then?
Wright: Yes, she's a lot more in control of it now. When she was 12, her talent was kind of quite wild, really. She took a little bit more shepherding. She now has got a bit more of a handle on it and is therefore able to be even more subtle.
Back Stage: You often work with the same actors more than once. Are you building your own repertory company, and what can actors do to join in?
Wright: I kind of am, really! I really like the company atmosphere and feeling, and I enjoy working with the same people. I enjoy continuing a creative conversation from film to film with an actor. As for what actors can do to join—talk to Jina Jay, my casting director. I've worked with her on all my films.
Back Stage: You worked with a lot of actors early in their careers who are experiencing major breakthroughs, from Carey Mulligan to Benedict Cumberbatch to Juno Temple. How did you develop such a sharp eye for talent?
Wright: They're all doing wonderfully, just as it should be. As I said, I have a great casting director. And I think Britain continues to develop great actors and maybe that comes from a kind of respect for the text. British actors come from a literary and a theater background. Maybe that's got something to do with it. I like actors who have worked in theater, who have an imagination, who surprise me. And I will often give a job to an actor simply because they surprise me.