Thursday, April 21, 2011

Joe Wright Lauds David Lynch,
Saoirse Ronan Goes Gaga For Gaga

Saoirse Ronan as Hanna in "Hanna", directed by Joe Wright. 
Focus Features

by Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
Thursday, April 21, 2011


RULE ONE: IF YOU'RE FAMOUS AND YOU DON'T necessarily want to talk too much about a movie, especially your own movie -- which happens to be an impressive movie -- you should be allowed to knock yourself out and plead the Fifth. 

Rule One A: As long as you are willing to talk about something at all.

Filmmaker Joe Wright and Oscar nominee Saoirse (pronounced "Ser-sha") Ronan recently talked about their new film "Hanna", though not for very long. 

Maybe the questions were boring.  Maybe both felt comfortable enough to do something different.  The pair, who have a natural chemistry all their own, decided to swing for the fences in a refreshing way, breaking free of the scripted and rehearsed answers typical of endless actors and directors.

And they talked.

For those unfamiliar, "Hanna" is the odyssey of a pre-teen rigidly trained by her father Erik, who is on the run from the CIA, an organization he used to work for.  Hanna searches for the missing pieces of her childhood and the journey is a thrilling, tense and fairy-tale adventure filled with adult perversions of innocence. 

The notion of innocence is something several of Miss Ronan's onscreen incarnations have polluted or destroyed in various contexts.  In "Atonement" the actress played Briony Talis, wrecking the innocence of a man who was just that in a crime he didn't commit.  As Susie she had her own innocence violated forever in "The Lovely Bones".  In "Hanna" she searches for it after being an adult before becoming a child.

Before turning to lighter conversation Miss Ronan mentions that "whenever I play a role, so far, luckily, it's been a very natural thing for me."  Miss Ronan, who turned 17 last week, was 15 when she filmed "Hanna", her second collaboration with Mr. Wright.  "I like to get far away from myself when I'm acting", adds the charming and engaging young lady from Ireland who lights up the hotel suite she inhabits with piercing blue eyes and an easy smile.

Clad in blue jeans and a t-shirt, Miss Ronan, wise before her years, possesses lots of energy and curiosity.  Before the conversation ends she will lie prostrate across a sofa bed, curl up in a ball, do a little dance, and study her questioner politely.  She will raise an eyebrow in mock disapproval of one of Mr. Wright's utterances and f-bombs, shits or "bollocks".  For a fleeting second this quiet yet definitive reaction from Miss Ronan reminds you of Elle Fanning's Cleo in "Somewhere": the precocious daughter keeping her father (played by Stephen Dorff) in check with a wary eye.

Miss Ronan doesn't do all of those things at once but she comes close.  You may think she's putting on a "show" as if to impress, but as you observe her you sense that this is naturally Saoirse at her most fun-loving.  She's aged 17, 23, 31 and 8 -- adult, child, wise, keenly intelligent and playful.  She was home schooled at an early age.

On this particular April evening the director and his lead actress will show up late for a post-"Hanna" Q&A in Berkeley, and Miss Ronan's beaming, proud parents will accompany their daughter.  Miss Ronan is treated like a rock star at this event.  A phalanx of children, students and adults surround her, eagerly seeking an autograph and a chance to talk.  She poses willingly for several photographs.  It takes 10 to 15 minutes for Miss Ronan, her parents, a local publicist and cinema personnel to exit the auditorium and theater. 

Miss Ronan takes it all in stride, as if she's been handling such highly-populated situations and surroundings for ever.  In a way, that's very close to the truth.

What is also the truth -- at least apparently -- is that Joe Wright is still very hurt and angry about the experience on his last film "The Soloist".  The process probably devastates him more than even he would admit.  Dealing with people who smiled in his face and lied to him.  Interacting with "phonies" and those who made working conditions uncomfortable.  People who stabbed him in the back and left him high and dry.  And all the other things he didn't want to get into.  (On several occasions he fuses the words "bull" and "shit" when referring to certain people, aka Joe's Undesirables.)

Mr. Wright's next film will be a new edition of Leo Tolstoy's classic tome Anna Karenina, and will star Miss Ronan and Keira Knightley, a Wright alumna from "Pride And Prejudice" and "Atonement". 

For a future film it wouldn't be too difficult to envision Mr. Wright making an even more cutting satire about Tinseltown than Robert Altman once did with "The Player".

It's an open secret that Mr. Wright has as much disdain for Hollywood as some have for former U.S. president George W. Bush (or current U.S. president Barack Obama, for that matter.)  Would Mr. Wright be the first suspected of arson if the HOLLYWOOD sign had been burned to the ground?  No.  It would be fair to say however, that he may not shed any tears.

Joe Wright on the set of "Hanna".  Focus Features

Before a trio is seated Mr. Wright quickly asks if it is okay to smoke.  The question blindsides the interviewer to the point that a reflexive, mumbled "yes" emerges, even though California legally prohibits smoking in hotels, restaurants, bars and many other venues, both indoors and out. 

Seriously, you wouldn't want to take a cigarette out of Mr. Wright's hand any more than you'd want to hit a man wearing prescription glasses. 

(Well, in the case of the man wearing glasses it might depend on the type of prescription glasses.  But it wouldn't matter what brand of cigarettes Mr. Wright was smoking.  You don't take smoke from a smoker because where there's smoke there's fire.  You might end up getting burned.) 

Miss Ronan offered up one little secret about her director when he was on the set of "Hanna".

"He's quite funny when he fights." 

Miss Ronan laughs, then expands on her comment when Mr. Wright turns impromptu interviewer.

"Am I?", the director asks.

"Whenever Joe would come in and watch us doing choreography sometimes he would try and get involved.  He'd suggest moves or something.  And, um..."

There's a pause for second or two. 

Then, in a quiet, understated voice punctuated by a polite giggle, Miss Ronan adds:

"It didn't quite work out."

Mr. Wright, 38, and married with an infant son, had recently scorned Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch" with its scantily-clad teen girls as a giant step backwards for the idea of female empowerment on the big screen.  "Anyone who says that that film is about empowerment for women, well that's bullshit.  For women's empowerment you've got to take sex out of the equation!", the director would say to the approving Q&A audience.

"I salute you for continuing to fly the flag of independence," Mr. Wright cheerily announced to about 200 students and adults at the screening.

Mr. Wright, a serious, no-nonsense man with a casual, relaxed sense of humor, credits two Davids -- David Lean and David Lynch -- as influences on his work.  He speaks about Mr. Lynch's films having a "dreamlike quality" to them. 

"He doesn't feel the need to explain the implausibilities.  And the world is a very strange place.  And you know, I think there's something quite fairy tale about his films."

Throughout, Mr. Wright has been seated on the floor of the hotel suite.  He is wearing a gray shirt, which isn't tucked into his blue jeans.  During the conversation when Miss Ronan speaks he assists his questioner by generously sliding the voice recorder to capture her words.

Mr. Wright waxes on poetically about Mr. Lynch, lighting up as he turns to Miss Ronan.

"I met him the other night.  I was so over-excited."

"Oh my God!" Miss Ronan exclaims.

"I just fell to my knees in front of him, literally," Mr. Wright half-jokes.

"And I told him who I was," the London-born director recalled.

He said listed he listed his filmography for Mr. Lynch.

"He didn't express that he knew my films, and didn't seem to know me.  And it was such a relief.  Cause if he'd gone, 'oh yeah, I'm a big fan of your work,' or some shit like that -- do you know what I mean? -- it just would have made him human and terrestrial and just an industry director . . . and the fact that he had this aura of not having a clue of what I was talking about, was so lovely.  Because it made me just think, 'you are a god, you are on a different plane -- you don't exist in this dirty world of deals and agents and all that other shit we have to put up with.'"

Of Mr. Lynch, the director affectionately recalled, "he commented on how he loved my jacket."  

"I just love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you.  He's a sage," Mr. Wright says of Mr. Lynch, whom he gained an immediate respect and admiration for after watching "Blue Velvet", which Mr. Wright said he'd seen something like 18 consecutive times in a row after seeing it initially. 

Mr. Wright told a story about meeting Prince, who did a gig at his house in Los Angeles with Larry Graham of Sly And The Family Stone.  The filmmaker stammered when meeting Prince, saying that he thanked Prince for saving his life.  "You made it possible for me to let me be myself and accept myself for who I was when I was a kid," Mr. Wright said he told Prince.

Within moments of responding with a "well thank you, that's beautiful" to Mr. Wright, Prince jumped on a table and started playing "Thank You Falettingme Be Mice Elf Agin".  Prince sang the chorus.

"He turned around, looked at me, smiled, and winked," Mr. Wright remembered.

Earlier, Mr. Wright conceded that the one good thing about Hollywood is that "occasionally, something extraordinary happens."

Saoirse Ronan has met her share of film legends, Meryl Streep included.  "I'd love to meet Lady Gaga," she says.  "I find I get excited by meeting people that I've never heard of.  There was a woman that I met outside the business.  I just fell in love with her." 

Both expressed more excitement about meeting musicians.

"If I met David Bowie -- I think I would freak out."  Mr. Wright said.  "I would do the same with Lady Gaga", Miss Ronan added.

"Hanna" is now playing nationwide in the U.S. and in Canada.  The film also stars Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander and Jessica Barden.

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