Q&A: 'Hanna' star Saoirse Ronan on training to kill, wanting to hug Gollum and kicking Jason Bourne's ass

RedEye movie critic

“I don’t know if I’m good or whatever,” says “Hanna” star Saoirse Ronan, “but acting itself is just something that I do, and it’s a very natural thing for me to do, or has been so far.”

You can say that again. A week away from turning 17, the Irish actress (her first name is pronounced “ser-sha”) already is stunningly good. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Atonement” and earned wide praise for her work in the otherwise mediocre “The Lovely Bones.” On screen, Ronan displays rare maturity and depth; in conversation by phone from New York, she’s more energetic and quick-witted than plenty of people twice her age who I’ve interviewed.

In “Hanna,” opening Friday, a different sort of rapid-fire aim makes her 16-year-old character deadly. Hanna has been kept away from society all her life, and trained by her ex-CIA agent father (Eric Bana) to be an assassin. As Hanna breaks away from her father to see the world and kill an operative (Cate Blanchett) targeting her, she learns about basic societal standards such as TV and air travel. That’s when the action movie from director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) becomes remarkably thrilling and cool.

Ronan, who lives about two hours outside Dublin, still can’t/won’t officially confirm her starring role in Peter Jackson’s upcoming “The Hobbit” films, nor rumors about starring in Wright’s possible “Anna Karenina” adaptation. At the least, it was announced this week that Lily Collins (“The Blind Side”), not Ronan as many believed, will star in “The Brothers Grimm: Snow White,” so that’s one rumor off the table.

Who is scarier: Hanna or the girls on “My Super Sweet 16”?
[Laughs.] Overall, the “Super Sweet 16” girls, until they get their Ferrari. When they get their Ferrari, they’re happy. But before that, there’s a lot of pressure. Jeez, I know. Being 16 is a very big deal. [Laughs.] I was actually working in Berlin on my 16th birthday. It was very sweet. But I’m sure if those girls were put in [Germany] on their 16th birthday, they probably wouldn’t be too happy about it. That would be pretty scary.

As you have more exposure and do more interviews, are people uniformly pronouncing your name correctly, or do they still get it wrong?
No, actually, most people are getting it right now, which, honestly, is the best feeling in the world. I mean, I know it is a difficult name, but it is kind of annoying when people mispronounce it.

And after people see “Hanna,” they’ll be afraid to get it wrong because they’ll know what you can do to them.
I reckon so. Maybe they’ll just call me “Hey you,” instead, just in case. Because I’ll kick their ass otherwise. Clearly.

People are calling “Hanna” the next Jason Bourne. How would she fare in a fight against him?
Oh, she’d kick his ass. [Laughs.] I don’t know. I mean, she’s got all the weapons training. I actually haven’t seen the Jason Bourne movies in ages but she has got plenty of skills and she was actually born to kill.

Then why wasn’t “Hanna” just called “Bourne to Kill”?
Wasn’t that a really clever thing to come up with? You and I did that right there. We should get onto the producers and ask them to change it.

For franchise recognition.
Just turn around the whole campaign and start all over again. And maybe I can have Matt Damon with me wherever I go and we can do all of our press together. That would be fun.

You did a ton of training for “Hanna.” What’s the most memorable moment that you haven’t gotten to talk about before?
Huh. I haven’t been asked that, actually. Of the training, you mean? Well, I did these ab crunch things. I don’t know if you go to the gym but you sit in a seat, it’s sort of a like a roller-coaster ride seat and you put the thing down over your shoulders to protect you, and then you bend over and you bring your knees up so you’re crunching your abs and they did about 60 of those and I was pretty [impressed] with myself.

How much weight was on the machine?
Um, that’s a good question. I think it was, it wasn’t that much, maybe 15 or something.

Sixty reps is still impressive.
Thank you, I think it is. Don’t put in what weight it was, though, because then people can think it was like 30. And it’ll sound more impressive. It was impressive for me, all right? I’m not Arnold Schwarzenegger here, so I gotta make do with what I have.

So much of “Hanna” is about her being exposed to the world for the first time. If you were discovering society for the first time, what would blow your mind the most?
I think the Internet is pretty mind-blowing actually. The Internet is pretty amazing, and if you’ve gone from having none of that kind of stuff, that’d be pretty interesting. I think everything would. I’m looking out my window right now and there’s like five-story red brick buildings, and I reckon if you came from a forest or something like that, that would also be pretty fascinating. So kind of everything, really.

What would Hanna do on the Internet if she had time to mess around?
Um, she’d probably make up some rumor about Jason Bourne on IMDB or something like that. It would certainly raise her profile and give her a bit more street cred if Jason was out of the way.

The motto of “Hanna” is “adapt or die.” Can that approach be applied to a movie career?
Yeah, I guess. I guess it’s different for everyone. Certain actors play the same role every time and they have a great career. [Laughs.] But I guess when it comes to fame and things like that it’s certainly something that you have to adapt to or at least accept for what it is.

What’s something you still want to do that you haven’t done yet?
I’d quite like to play an Irish girl. I’d really like to do that. I’ve never played someone Irish in a film. I’d just like to make something in Ireland, really, that’d be fun. I haven’t done that yet. Well I shot up in Belfast but I’d like to shoot something in Dublin or around in the country or something like that.

If you do star in “The Hobbit,” can you say something you’d be looking forward to or hope happens with the movie?
If I was hired to be in “The Hobbit,” I would certainly not be playing a Hobbit. I won’t have hairy feet. I don’t like hairy feet, and so I’m not going to play someone with hairy feet. I don’t know, we’ll wait and see. They’re pretty much taking everyone back from “Lord of the Rings” and sticking them into “The Hobbit” for a little while, which is so great. I think Cate’s going back down and Orlando [Bloom] I think is going back down as well, so it’s fun. It’ll be a great reuniting party when we’re—when they’re all together.

Will you be scared of Gollum?
No, I’d quite like to give him a hug, actually. I really like Gollum; I think he’d like me too.

Why?
I like him because he’s not afraid of speaking his opinion, you know? He isn’t shy about his feelings; he will always let the ring know that that is the most important thing to him. I like that; I like that in a guy. And I think he’d like me because I appreciate him. This is ridiculous. I’m just talking really silly now.

So if the most important thing in a guy’s life is his Xbox, you’d appreciate knowing that up front?
Yeah, but I don’t think I would want to be with someone like that. [Laughs.] A ring is a different thing. I don’t mean wedding ring! I just mean the “Lord of the Rings” rings.

Plus
Her moose-hunting experience pre-”Hanna”: “I didn’t have much. I wouldn’t really want to, to be honest. The fact that they can look at you before you kill them, I don’t like.”
On the upcoming “Violet and Daisy,” in which she plays another assassin: “I remember having a meeting with Geoffrey Fletcher, who directed ‘Violet and Daisy,’ and I told him just my concern of playing an assassin twice in one year, you know? But I can promise you that ‘Violet and Daisy’ is very, very different to ‘Hanna.’ It’s a black comedy and Daisy is definitely not a killer at all, so it was fine. The only similarity really between the two is they both hold guns.”
Her favorite Bill Murray movie, with whom she starred in “City of Ember”: “Well, this isn’t my favorite one, but I saw him in something, I think it was ‘Get Smart,’ about two years ago, and he was in a tree [laughs] and he was this really depressed man who didn’t have a family or anything and he lived in a tree, and I found that hilarious.”
Something people would be surprised to learn about him: “He seems to have an infatuation with golf buggies. And he steals them when he’s on set.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

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