Hanna, Amazon Prime Video’s new action series about a teenage assassin, is the second TV-to-film adaptation — after What We Do in the Shadows — to hit the small screen in the past week (with some of its original creative team intact, too). Like the 2011 Saoirse Ronan film of the same name, the show crosses the globe as Hanna, bent on vengeance, evades an off-book CIA agent. But it expands the world of the film as well, and provides much more insight into Hanna’s inner life and her origins.
Rotten Tomatoes spoke to stars Esme Creed-Miles, who plays the titular character; Joel Kinnaman, who plays Erik, her father and trainer; Mireille Enos, who plays Marissa, the CIA agent tracking Hanna and her father; along with the film’s writer and series creator David Farr and show director Sarah Adina Smith about the best and worst parts of adapting the film for television.
“My parents are really, really talented and really good at what they do, so I’ve always learned from watching them. But their style is something that you can’t really learn. They never went to drama school and neither did I,” she told Rotten Tomatoes and several other reporters. “I think the best privilege that I have in terms of having them as my parents was not just the doors that opened, but, I think, the stability to be graceful in the face of rejection, which is something that actors get every single day, and knowing it’s not personal and not having that be part of your psyche.”
While pilot director Adina Smith said she and the producers had a feeling Creed-Miles was their star after watching her audition tape, she still went through five rounds of auditions and screen tests, including submitting a tape training with her father.
“My dad’s been doing Wing Chun martial arts for 20 years, so he kind of helped me prepare for the screen test, and we did a bunch of cool stuff in preparation,” Creed-Miles explained.
Farr’s script for the film did not include two major elements of Hanna’s story that he had always envisioned: her back story and the political themes relating to Hanna and her father.
“There is a much bigger story, [and] the film really only touches into one slice. It was in my head, both the back story of Hanna, where she came from, the whole thing of who she is … Where does she really come from? What is she part of? What were they doing?,” he told Rotten Tomatoes and other reporters. The series is a more down-to-Earth version of the story with less of film director Joe Wright’s heightened visuals. The show has a coming-of-age narrative, he said, and “I’ve also touched into the political thriller, which wasn’t really in the film at all.”
Said Adina Smith, “The character of Hanna in the movie has this wonderful alien quality, and it’s more like a fairy tale. We decided to make the series to do a more grounded, real, gritty Hanna. We wanted to make her fully human.”
The TV show’s story is more emotional, because “Hanna is discovering her morality for the very first time,” Creed-Miles said. “So it’s this juxtaposition of coming from this wilderness where killing is kind of the nature of survival, but it’s beautiful as well, and coming to the modern world where she’s discovering her morality for the very first time and discovering the consequences of that and the emotional trauma that comes as a result of killing things.”
“I think my favorite part of the film was the relationship between the father and daughter, and that ends pretty quickly in the film and the girl goes on her won journey,” Kinnaman told Rotten Tomatoes. “Whereas in the series, the father-daughter story is sort of the arc of the first season.”
Kinnaman tried to build that relationship off-screen as well, and ended up both mentoring and training with his on-screen daughter.
“It’s a very tough endeavor for a young actor. It’s a big responsibility to take on. I have shouldered the lead in big action series myself, so I sort of know it really [well],” he said. “It’s very intense. It takes a lot out of you because you’re not only the lead of all the dramatic scenes, you also have all these action sequences and these stunt things you have to do.”
While that meant a lot of pressure for Creed-Miles, Kinnaman was there to help.
“I was trying to do my best to motivate her and to try to teach her what I’ve come to understand over the course of my career,” he said, including training together in jiu-jitsu for a fight scene in the first episode. “We designed it so she does this jiu-jitsu move where you take the other person’s back and then she performs a rear naked choke, and there’s this special technique to doing that,” he said. “It was pretty cool. I think that turned out really well. I don’t think you’ve ever seen a daughter choke her father unconscious in training before.”
Production was based primarily in Hungary, but the cast and crew filmed scenes all over the world — “in Slovakia, in Poland, in Morocco, in Spain, in Germany, in London,” said Kinnaman, “so all over.”
In real life, Kinnaman is American and Swedish. But in Hanna, he plays a native German, which is not one of the four languages he speaks.
“I only speak Swedish, English, and Norwegian, and Danish,” he said, modestly, “when I speak Danish, a Danish person would not think that I’m speaking Danish. They might understand what I’m saying, but yeah.”
While four languages (or three and a half, even) is no small feat, learning German dialogue made him nervous.
“The first version of the script that I got we were doing what the film did, and we were doing the Schindler’s List, where everyone is speaking English but in different dialects. And I really thought that it would be much better if everyone spoke in their real languages, and the decision later was made that we were going do that. So you have to be careful what you ask for, because all of a sudden now I have 20 scenes in German, and not just a character speaking German, but actually being German speaking German, and with a bunch of other German actors. So the bar was really high.”
With help from a German dialect coach, however, his confidence grew.
“I was pretty intimidated at first, but then after a while, I [realized I could say] the trickiest German sounds. And I think the combination of growing up in Sweden but being bilingual in English, it prepared me to do those sounds. And personally, I like dialects. I work with dialects in almost every role that I do, so I’m used to working with my voice in that way. But actually the praise that I got from the German actors, that meant a lot, because I just don’t want the Germans to hate me after this.”
Enos and Kinnaman became real-life friends throughout the course of their AMC-turned-Netflix series The Killing, and they stayed friends after; in fact, Enos had reached out to Kinnaman for help compiling a list of 40-something European actors to play the role of Hanna’s father.
“While I was putting it together, I then got the call that, ‘No, actually they want to go out to you.’ I was like, ‘OK. So I’m gonna tear up this list with Mads Mikkelsen on top,'” Kinnaman said. “Of course her being in it was a huge incentive. Even though we’re playing completely different characters with a completely different dynamic, it’s just easy playing with her. She’s so good, and we had such good chemistry, so it flows.”
The plan all along was to work together again, it just had to be a project that felt unique and worthwhile.
“We’ve always been playing with the idea of finding something to work on again because it went so well the first time around,” he said. “But I think the criteria was to find something that was very different from The Killing, just to not get an audience confused or taken out of it.”
Said Enos, “It’s so rare that two people happen to be on the lists of the creators, and happen to be available, and happen to love working with one another as much as we do.”
Hanna season 1 is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.