Director Joe Wright, who made a name for himself with Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, takes quite the departure with his latest, Hanna, about a 16-year-old trained assassin (Saoirse Ronan) on the run across Europe, pursued by a calculating CIA agent (Cate Blanchett). Surprisingly, Wright saw the action thriller as a chance to get in touch with his own childhood.
He spoke with Metro about his parents’ puppet theatre, creepy Cold War-era amusement parks and the necessity of flashy single-shot action sequences.
Much like the four-minute-long Dunkirk sequence in Atonement, you have an impressive action sequence in the Berlin subway that’s done in a single shot.
Both of them were done out of necessity. A sequence like this one would normally require maybe 40 different shots, and as I only ever manage about 14 a day and as we only had one day to shoot this sequence, I was kind of up against the wall.
Most action movie fight scenes now are edited so tightly, it’s hard to see anything.
I’m a big fan of Paul Greengrass’ work on the Jason Bourne films, but I do feel like they’ve been imitated probably by lesser directors since, and I didn’t want to fall into that category. I wanted to do something that didn’t succumb to the temptation of hiding the action in a barrage of edits.
The film climaxes in a rather creepy, old amusement park. Where did that come from?
I think my sister used to go to some illegal raves there in the early ’90s, and she told me about it, and it was just an amazing find, really. It really spoke to the themes and the imagery of fairy tales that I was trying to unearth. It was pretty much how we found it.
I can’t imagine anyone thinking that’s a place kids would enjoy.
Yeah, I know! (laughs) I’ve seen some picture postcards of it from the ’60s. It was like the top venue for families in East Berlin, so before the Wall came down, that’s where you’d go on your day out. Then when the Wall came down, they all went shopping instead.
You tend to re-team with a lot of the same actors and crew members on your films.
I was brought up in a puppet theatre, so I’ve always kind of aspired to that kind of company feeling, really. We’d go on tour every summer with the puppets and make these great journeys across Europe in a couple of old Ford vans. So that’s kind of what I’m trying to recreate with my filmmaking family. It creates quite a safe environment — safe in a good way — that enables us to be creative without looking over our shoulders. And I find that I can be silly and myself and accepted.
Did you say a puppet theatre?
My parents founded the theatre. It’s called the Little Angel Theater, and it’s in North London. It’s still running today — without my dad, sadly. But it’s still running today. My mum makes a lot of the puppets. She always makes some kind of prop or something for every film I make.
What did she do on your other films?
On Pride and Prejudice, she made the silk bookmark that Elizabeth has got in her book in the very first shot of the film. In Atonement, she painted the dolls’ house that’s in the very beginning. She also made a whole set of Atonement dolls as well, which actually never appeared in the film, but that was her. I forget what she did in The Soloist. Maybe she didn’t do anything, and that’s why it wasn’t a commercial success.