One of the latest big ticket TV series to land on Amazon is Hanna, a series that follows a teenager brought up in the woods by her father (Joel Kinnamen) and trained to be a fighting machine.
Originally a feature film in 2011 directed by Joe Wright, the eight-part series expands on the story of the film as Hanna (Esme Creed-Miles) learns about her background and explores who she really is, while evading pursuit from the mysterious Marissa (Mireille Enos).
The whole of series one is available on Amazon Prime, while the show’s already been picked up for second series. We sat down with creator and writer David Farr and the show’s star Esme Creed-Miles to talk feminism, existentialism and what we might expect from season two.
You wrote the screenplay for the 2011 Hanna, but how did the show come about?
David Farr: It was a conversation between myself and wonderful person called Tom Coan who worked at NBC who owned the rights at the time, and we talked about whether there was a story that hadn’t been fully explored. And the truth is there was, because Joe Wright is a wonderful, charismatic director and he took the screenplay I’d written and ran with in the direction that he wanted to go – he was very honest about it, that he wanted to turn into a big fairytale, with a wicked witch of the west Marisa with the green shoes going after his version of Dorothy, this ethereal girl.
And in a way it was a screenplay that had touches of fairytale, it starts in the forest, but there was a much more political conspiracy thing going on and a much more emotional coming of age story and so actually the series – the last five episodes are all completely new material. When you’ve only watched the first three you get a sense that the film is there, is very present, but that then shifts in quite a radical way. We thought this is a huge opportunity to tell a much more long-form story that goes to the heart of the secret behind who Hanna really is, that’s a very thriller narrative and there’s a lot of jeopardy for Hanna as she goes on that journey and they don’t want her to know the truth.
But on the way she gets to engage with characters in a much more profound way just because of time – we’ve got more time – so we can spend time with Sophie, we can spend time with Dad we can spend time with other people that you haven’t even met yet and engage in those relationships. And the whole thing is about a young woman who hasn’t experienced the world, engaging with the world for the first time and trying to find her place in it. It’s very universal but it’s very specific.
What were you looking for in your Hanna?
DF: So much!
I wanted a young actress who could go on that emotional journey that’s the most important thing. Be vulnerable, be fragile, then be strong – be everything. As a great existential heroine should be. Not just be kick-ass but also be able to show the things that any young 16-, 17-year-old goes through in terms of intense loneliness, despair, betrayal. That coming of age element was so important to all of us because we didn’t want the untouchable ethereal heroine in this one, we wanted someone who was really touchable, you can really feel every moment of what she’s going through. But what I love about what Esme’s done is that it’s so sort of cool at the same time, it’s got this kind of European calmness that I really love. It’s not melodramatic, or even dramatic – it is dramatic, it’s not overtly dramatic – and Esme for such a young actress she has an intelligent ability to just let things happen and to realise that in those moments of quietness you discover who the character really is.
Esme, what was the audition process like for you?
Esme Creed-Miles: The way that I work is I didn’t go to drama school or anything like that so I have no choice but to be instinctual because I don’t have a tool kit in the same way. I thought, that’s a sick film, that’d be awesome. I never thought I’d get it, I was auditioning for loads of stuff I just did a tape and sent it through and I just kept getting call backs, and each call back I’d get a little bit more nervous. And we had the screen test and I was very nervous and just tried my best. And that was how I got it! And don’t really know how I got it…
DF: We had several hundred tapes from all over Europe, we thought we’d probably go for a German or Swedish Hanna because her dad is Swedish, so just practically, the accent, but also quality, there’d be a quality in someone. But Esme’s ear is perfect, her accent’s amazing, we never had to train her in that or anything, she just was it.
What was the training like for all those action sequences?
ECM: I loved the training. I’d never been a physical person, I’ve always been very weak and feeble and unfit I’m always hurting myself, banging my elbows and swearing loudly so I was very overwhelmed by the idea of doing that, I thought I wouldn’t be able to, but it’s amazing what the human body is capable of, especially when you just train it, and it did what it was told eventually. And think that’s probably the bit I’m most proud of, discovering that.
What were your favourite scenes to shoot?
ECM: I loved everything in Slovakia because it was so beautiful – that’s the forest. I loved being in Berlin and some of those scenes that were kind of pensive. It all becomes one big blur in my head it’s hard to single moments out but I think it was a very holistic and formative experience.
How did you find working so closely with Joel?
ECM: Joel is a really amazing incredible actor so it was a privilege to work with him.
David, did you find you approached the screenplay differently because of changing landscape between 2011 and now?
DF: Really good question. When we started making the TV show… I always feel that Hanna’s set a template for female existentialist heroines. And that then got transmuted into action heroines, that then – not all the time, a good example and something that I think is really wonderful is The Hunger Games for example – but there are few more fetishised versions. I think for us, I think Esme’s very keen on this too, we wanted to slightly reclaim the existential bit from the fetishised action bit. So a bit less rubber and bit more of a fully fledged character
ECM: The show is more psychologically inclined.
DF: And then the whole Me Too thing happened while we were making it or just before. And Sarah Adina Smith who directed the first two, who is very important to the character of the whole piece because obviously the first two episodes set the tone and the template for the rest of the directors, she and Esme became a real team in exploring what it is to be a young woman who doesn’t have any of the… you talk about it, Esme, you’re very good on it.
ECM: She doesn’t have to unpackage any internalised misogyny because she’s grown up completely unindoctrinated by the male gaze and I think what’s really fascinating is that we are experiencing a climate of change in the industry and women are reclaiming their autorial rights but to me the exploration of feminism has been taken one step forward. Perhaps because I’m in a privileged position to do so, I don’t have to worry about whether I’m going to go to school or not, or who I’m allowed to love, so for me it’s less a question of female power and more a question of being absolved of conventions of gender.
I believe in sex, I don’t really believe in gender. You have your assigned sex but gender is more of a construct and I think one that is incredibly disillusioning and I think when we buy into those constructs then we start to maybe, unbeknownst to ourselves, cause real damage to our psyches. And Hanna is absolved of those pressures which makes her a fascinating character especially when you contrast that with someone like Sophie who is very much a product of internalised male gaze and experiences all the insecurities that I think most women are very familiar with.
And yet Hanna’s also profoundly alone and seeking her own sense of belonging so she’s not this fetishised powerful thing she’s a real person.
Her character is completely holistic, she doesn’t maintain any dichotomy of self, which is what – I think all women it’s inherent of their condition, constantly observing yourself and having a complete lack of confidence in anything you want to create just because that’s what we’ve learned. The show is about unlearning that.
What would you like to explore in a second season?
DF: It’s a bit difficult without spoiling the story but I can talk certainly about Hanna’s character. I certainly feel that the first series is very strongly a family drama in some senses around her and her father and her father’s rights to call himself her father. Some of the secrets that he has kept from her about the truth of her past.
As well as the other stuff we talked about, that’s a very important emotional part of the first series and the betrayals that have taken place. For me a second season of Hanna needs to ask questions, well, if not that family, what family? Where do I belong? And tapping into profound things around nature/nurture and destiny. Can any of us ever escape certain predestinations of where we’ve come from? Can we make ourselves a new? I want to push the character further in answering these questions.
What advice do you have for upcoming writers?
DF: I think the key is to write imaginatively without boundaries but have some emotional sense of what you know. So for me I couldn’t have really written this without – I have two daughters who are 17, well when I was writing it 18 and 15. For me purely personally – you don’t HAVE to have two daughters but for me, it was a helpful thing to live with these young women who go through all the things that’s Esme’s talked about. For me it’s quite an emotional piece in a private way that no one else needs to know about, it’s not that relevant, but it means – then you see imaginatively you should be able to go anywhere, you transmute the emotional thing. If you try to write without that emotional sense of what you know at some point someone’s going to call you on it and someone else will have a better emotional intuition into it than you will and at some point then the project may actually not happen.
We’re in a moment now where authenticity is absolutely vital because the world is so mad, because of this notion that nothing is real, everything is fake, everything is doubted. The one thing we have as artists is the ability to be truthful, Esme can be a truthful actress, go on to camera and she can show truthfully, that’s what she does brilliantly, it’s what Mireille does brilliantly, and Joel does brilliantly. Writers have to do that too in a completely different way but you still have to have that. if you have that then it’s just about how good your imagination is and telling your story well.