I just wanted to invent shit with my own instincts because me and Saoirse [Ronan] are different actresses and different people.
The tried-and-true narrative trope of a battle-hardened Svengali figure shaping a young girl into an unstoppable killing machine finds its new match in Hanna, Amazon Prime’s eight-part serialized adaptation of Joe Wright’s 2011 film of the same name that starred Saoirse Ronan in its titular role. This reimagined expansion of the same story does away with a lot of the fantasy elements that defined the source movie, yet remains true in its just-north-of-realistic vision and approach. This is a literally explosive but character-driven spy show. Oh, there’s also a new headliner in town.
A perfectly calibrated cross-pollination of feral danger and fundamental innocence when we first meet her, newcomer Esme Creed-Miles’ Hanna is a 15-year-old girl raised in the Polish wilderness by her father Erik Heller (Joel Kinnaman), a CIA agent who goes rogue in the first episode to rescue her from an undisclosed government facility in Romania. Hanna had been “incubated” for a clandestine purpose that won’t be revealed until the later episodes. Having evaded those who wish to do them harm for 15 years—mainly the dogged pursuit of CIA operative Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos) who’s also responsible for killing Hanna’s mother (Joanna Kulig)—Erik and Hanna are now ready to resurface. Hanna’s day-to-day has thus far consisted of training in hand-to-hand combat, the mastery of many languages, gunplay, and fire-lit dinners with her father inside a cave while most girls her age on the “outside” are doing endless scrolls on their Instagram. That’s precisely the kind of teenage girl Hanna befriends when she crosses paths with a British family on caravan vacation in Morocco as the series begins to venture out into the real world with its second episode. At its core, this is a coming-of-age tale of a girl trying to find her place in the world.
Hanna is a strong showcase for Creed-Miles, the 19-year-old daughter of actress Samantha Morton. Having been named one of Screen International’s “Stars of Tomorrow” last year, she has just five credits to her name since 2007. At age 7, she made her big screen debut alongside her mother in Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely. Inarguably, Hanna marks her biggest role to date.
Anthem met up with Creed-Miles at The Whitby Hotel in Manhattan for an exclusive photo shoot.
All eight episodes of Hanna are now available to view on Amazon Prime.
Congratulations on this massive show. I watched the whole thing in one sitting.
But were you engrossed? Please tell me you were engrossed.
I was engrossed. So Hanna is your breakout role, and your resume thus far has been noticeably tidy. You have just five credits to your name, and there’s a ten year gap between Mister Lonely—you were just 7 years old—and Dark River. Did it take some time to figure out if acting was the route you wanted to take?
I’m still figuring it out. I don’t know what I want to be doing in 10 years time. I think I want to keep exploring different creative avenues. I just have a real passion for moviemaking. I maybe want to settle behind the camera so doing Hanna was a fantastic opportunity in which to just learn.
Both of your parents are actors—great actors. Do you remember a moment in time when you first understood what they did for a living?
Not really. I mean, it was just my own reality. I never really questioned it. I think Hanna was more a win in that I just auditioned for it and did a bunch of tapes. I never thought that I would get the part so it wasn’t even something that I was really thinking about. I was going to university doing my own thing. It just all kind of happened very quickly, and now I’m here. It wasn’t necessarily a calculated career move, if that makes sense. I never talked to my parents about their involvement in what would or wouldn’t become a career of mine.
What were you studying at university, if you don’t mind me asking?
I was doing an arts course. I was specializing in photography and working in darkrooms and working with cameras and lenses. I wanted to make short conceptual films.
Very cool. Hanna is a very immersive role for you to play. I believe you filmed from January to August of last year. Prior to that, you went through intensive physical training, which continued into production. What did you experience, both internally and externally, imposing that kind of regiment over your life? It’s such a lifestyle change.
It’s definitely a lifestyle. I mean, you have to be super dedicated. It’s long hours. You have to be focused on set, providing loads of extra energy when you’re doing the physical stuff as well as the really heavy emotional things. With Hanna and Erik, and Hanna and Sophie, the scenes can get really intense. It was important that I was constantly focused. I think what it meant is that I had to become very comfortable with being on my own for long periods of time because it was essentially a traveling shoot. Working with that, you have to sort of maintain a level of isolation, and because you’re so often tired, you don’t have time to socialize. I think it has made me more conducive to my own work ethic and a whole new understanding of what it means to work hard. Also, it’s really quite inspiring to me to have gone through a long stint like that and still feel like I can keep going. It’s been a really fortunate experience.
The series was shot entirely on location in Hungary, Slovakia, Morroco, Spain, and the U.K. Was there a particularly memorable stop for you on this globetrotting shoot?
I thought Slovakia was just so beautiful. I felt like that landscape was so breathtaking. What you see on screen is truly what it looked like. It was wooded. It’s the beautiful scene where Hanna is sitting on the cliff edge. I was covered in harnesses that have been CGI’d out, but that was real. That cliff and that scene—it was absolutely amazing.
This entire show is full of amazing shots and it’s so beautifully photographed.
You told Collider that Hanna’s femininity is “so raw and unconditioned by the modern world.” It’s an anti-selfie existence—the opposite to the kind of life Sophie is leading. What was your approach to occupying that delicate space between total bewilderment and her strong ability for adaptation?
Wow—I don’t think she does adapt, really. I think she just is. She just sort of exists in herself. I almost saw her as being devoid of gender, which was really important to me. I didn’t want to feel particularly masculine or feminine. I personally believe in assigned sex, but not assigned gender. I think gender has always existed as a construct and exploited by people in positions of power. I think detrimental to herself, Hanna has grown up isolated from the modern 21st century setting. She has a really fresh perspective on the world, which I think is really interesting to watch because we’re kind of seeing everything for the first time through the lens of that. When I was doing scenes with Sophie, that was double juxtaposition to play with: a girl who is such a classic teenager and someone who’s the complete opposite of that. It’s also quite funny as well, you know? Hanna completely misinterprets situations and says exactly what’s on her mind because she doesn’t have any of kind of social expectations or norms she adheres to. She just says what she wants to say. There’s a funny scene in the photo booth where me and Rhianne [Barreto], the actress who plays Sophie, are just ripping on each other. I think it was an improvised thing when Sophie says, “I just did a fart” or something. Then Hanna goes—well, I can’t remember exactly, but—“Just fart!” or “What’s wrong with that?” To Hanna, it’s just human. I think they kept that in because it’s so funny: the idea that we all have these ideologies, but Hanna just knocks them all down.
I remember that moment well. When you look at Hanna—and also Erik and Marissa—they’re unfeeling to a large degree because they’ve all been trained to exist that way. I can remember just a few moments where we see real emotion from Hanna. Did you find yourself having to pull back a lot when your natural inclination as a person is to maybe show more emotion in those situations that would be totally scarring to real people?
That’s such an interesting question. With Erik, I did have to inhabit in my mind as an actor this idea of their relationship and their backstory. His emotional detachment informs how she responds to situations. There was definitely an awareness of that in terms of building character. I think it was about creating and exploring arc. It was so great to have such a long show in which to explore that because I really got to dig into the development of character, and how she grows and changes in her emotional response. This relationship develops between her and Sophie. She really does fall in love with a boy. So when Hanna and Sophie’s relationship crumbles, they’re both heartbroken. It was really beautiful and heartbreaking to explore Hanna’s first time experiencing betrayal and that real emotional release of what that feels like, especially with her dad as well when that becomes the ultimate betrayal, that he denied her all this time. So those were moments where it was really like, “How do I play this?” I think I just gave it everything because, at the end of the day, she’s a person and things like that really hurt. You just have to respond to it like how any human would.
What also gives Hanna so much complexity and layers is the music. Not wearing her heart on her sleeve is what the character requires so the soundtrack becomes so imperative. Hanna’s theme, Karen O’s “Anti-lullaby,” is great. Did you have access to any of the music while you were shooting? Also, how much did music in general inform your performance?
Music definitely informed aspects of the performance. I’m a huge music fan. As for Karen’s stuff, I didn’t get to hear them until later because she was working on it and it was kept confidential. But it was definitely a beautiful surprise when I finally did hear it. It felt like such an honor that we worked hard on this show and then there’s this beautiful piece of music to accompany it.
I saw on your Instagram that you met Karen O recently in Los Angeles. Was that your first time meeting each other?
That was the first time I met her! She was so unbelievably awesome. I was very starstruck.
As a music fan, was there anything you had been dying to ask her?
I was too nervous to ask her about music. [Laughs] She’s such an idol of mine. She was great. She was so encouraging and interesting and kind.
How familiar were you with Joe Wright’s source film before this project entered your orbit?
I had watched the movie when it first came out. I was a fan of the film. I didn’t watch it before shooting in preparation because I didn’t want it to inform what I was doing, but I definitely enjoyed the film when I saw it.
That must be surreal because when you first watch the film, you wouldn’t ever imagine that it’s gonna become so much a part of your life down the road. That’s impossible to predict.
Yeah, that is crazy actually. I hadn’t thought of it like that. Yes, yes.
When Joe gave David Farr his blessing to adapt Hanna into a series, he apparently told him, “Just don’t copy.” Mireille Enos also compared the two works saying, “This version is not a fairytale, and I’m not a wicked witch.” What did you know from the beginning that you would want to differentiate about your Hanna from Saoirse Ronan’s?
To be honest, I just went with my gut. I think when people work instinctually, because everyone is so different, things are bound to be different. I really didn’t want to contrive anything to be different. I didn’t want to calculate to be different. I just wanted to invent shit with my own instincts because me and Saoirse are different actresses and different people. If you stay true to your own instincts and don’t try to engineer anything or pull that out of a performance, things will just naturally take their own shape and identity.
There are several directors on this show, each tasked with two episodes, which is the norm. It’s usually the director of the first episode—in this case Sarah Adina Smith—who sets the overall tone for a series. What was it like to work on a project with a rotating stable of directors? Do you sometimes have to adapt a whole lot?
I think you definitely experience a genesis. You belong to a certain director and then they leave. It can be tough readjusting, but once you readjust, you then just want to move on and that’s what comes into play. I guess each director brought something fresh and different, and it was brilliant to collaborate with different people. Ultimately, I felt like I had a real sense of who Hanna was. I had such a strong sense of character in regards to Hanna that the directors tried to trust my instincts and just let that be the thing. I was the thread throughout the process that we held onto.
Do you have a favorite episode?
It kicks off with such a bang. I wasn’t ready for that.
Yeah, it’s just so beautiful. I think it just looks like a film, in ways most television doesn’t. It’s really awesome.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Season One sets things up for this story to continue. Have there been talks about a Season Two, and would you be interested in reprising the role?
I can’t speak about that. I would love to do it again if that ever happens. I very much enjoyed the first season, but I think we just have to see what happens and hope that people like it.