Director Update: Joe Wright on Hanna and Ronin, The Little Mermaid and Anna Karenina Casting

by Anne Thompson
March 10, 2011 6:34 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, The Soloist) has a lot coming up, including coming-of-age thriller Hanna (April 8, pictured, trailer below), starring Atonement's Saoirse Ronan as an assassin; Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett co-star. In the works is a live-action version of The Little Mermaid and an adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, which may star Wright favorite Keira Knightley. See these excerpts from his interview at About.com.

About: Would you have wanted to do an action movie of some sort, even if Saoirse Ronan hadn’t sought you out for this?
JW: It hadn’t occurred to me, but when she came up with it, I was excited to do it. I just kind of respond to what’s in front of me each day, really. I don’t see each film as being the definitive film. I hope that I have a nice long career and I get to make lots of different films and each film is an experiment. You have a right to fail, and sometimes you fail and sometimes you succeed and that’s okay. I think action films is a medium that’s been kind of in the doldrums for a long time, apart from the Bourne films. I think the other thing that Jason Bourne showed us, that Paul showed us was that you could actually make action films with a social, moral, political conscience. That was a f*cking revelation to me, that actually action didn’t have to be chest beating tit f*cking gun loving Republican movies. But actually you could make something that had a conscience and was still exciting and visceral. So I wanted to play with those ideas as well.

Is it a difference between actors who speak with intention or speak off the cuff?
Maybe. I’m very interested in acting as a craft. I think that it’s stagnated quite heavily for the past 50 years, really. Since the emergence of Strasberg’s Method and the dominance of that during the ‘70s. Now I find that a lot of young actors just f*cking copy. Not to mention names, but there are actors out there at the moment who are doing impersonations of Robert De Niro doing an impersonation of someone else. I hate it and I don’t believe the Method has monopoly on truth. In fact, I think naturalism is probably a kind of false god, really. I’m far more interested in acting from the ‘40s and pre-Strasberg. In fact, I think David Lynch is probably the best director of actors that I know. I think David Lynch, the performances he gets out of actors is extraordinary. He knows what he’s doing as well. It’s no accident. When I saw Naomi [Watts] in Mulholland Drive and this kind of extraordinary heightened performance that she’s giving, and then when she’s doing the casting, the audition and suddenly when she’s acting she’s playing naturalism. I thought that was a fantastic little comment on sincerity and on the craft of acting, because I think that we’re all acting all the time. Philosophically it’s about sincerity and what sincerity is, really. Are we ever really sincere?

It fascinates me. I’m reading at the moment, I’m hoping to do Anna Karenina in the Autumn and I’m reading about St. Petersburg society in the 18th century. There they imported a complete foreign mode of behavior. They all decided suddenly that they were going to be French. They divided their brain into two halves, the Russian half and the French half. The Russian half was always aware of what the French half was doing, how they were performing, how they were exhibiting their manners. I personally find that acting is an art form that is underestimated and overlooked in terms of its potential and what it can teach us about who we are as human beings.

Will it be a challenge to make that accessible?
No, because I think Tolstoy wrote it as an accessible piece. It’s a family drama. War and Peace was his big political drama and Anna Karenina, as he says in the first sentence, is about families. 'Happy families are all happy in the same way. Unhappy families are all unhappy in different ways.' So he wrote it to be read by the new emerging literate Russian population. Obviously, it goes off into analytical theoretical studies of the Russian agricultural system which I won’t involve in the script. But the actual plot of it is fairly simple and very emotional.

Who’s your Anna?
Not sure yet. It’s fairly obvious, but I can’t quite say. She hasn’t signed on the line yet. I’m loyal to my actors.

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