Shortly after she received an Oscar nomination at the tender age of 13, Atonement star Saoirse Ronan needed a new movie. Despite a drama background, she was intrigued by the title character in Hanna, an ethereally beautiful teen who also happens to be a ruthless assassin. But the project was stuck in development at Focus Features; filmmakers like Danny Boyle had come and gone.
Ronan had a simple solution: "They said they didn't have a director," the Irish actress (first name SER-sha) recalls. "So I said, 'Why don't you just ask Joe Wright to do it?'"
Wright was a strange choice, to say the least. The British filmmaker was best known for his cinematic adaptations of Atonement, Ian McEwan's revered novel, and the Jane Austen classic Pride & Prejudice. He had won highbrow prizes. He didn't watch many action movies, let alone direct them. "If Saoirse hadn't been involved I wouldn't have given it much attention," Wright says. "But because she was, I thought I should take it seriously."
Oddly, their partnership almost never came to pass. To find the actor for Atonement's Briony Tallis, the director cast a wide net. Ronan didn't seem to fit.
"This kid obviously had this extraordinary talent but was as different from Briony as you could get. Saoirse was always very outgoing and happy and talkative. And she was obviously Irish."
He cast her anyway. Their collaboration yielded seven Oscar nominations and $129 million in worldwide box office. The movie turbocharged both of their careers.