Joe Wright is a happy man. “I’m employable,” he excitedly tells ShortList. “I get to work again.”
This sudden rush of career confidence is based on the fact that Wright’s latest film Hanna — a slick, compelling thriller about a trigger-happy teenage girl — opened at No2 at the US box office.
Not that delivering flops is something Wright knows much about anyway — Pride & Prejudice and Atonement were both commercial and critical successes. Hanna, though, is a stylistic U-turn — its blistering fight scenes and electronic soundtrack a world away from the artfully shot period dramas that forged his reputation.
How did you feel moving out of your comfort zone with Hanna?
It’s quite important to do. I didn’t want to get into bad habits and rest on my laurels. I wanted to smash it up a bit.
And you’ve done just that — The Chemical Brothers recorded the soundtrack, and they’re not exactly best suited to a Jane Austen adaptation…
I’m sort of a groupie of theirs. I went to their first London gig nearly 20 years ago, so I’d wanted to do something with them for a while. Some of the music was made before we started filming — I told them that I wanted a “f*cked-up fairly-tale theme” for Tom Hollander’s character to whistle, and that’s exactly what they gave me. But mostly, I’d show them scenes and they’d go away and score them.
Have you mellowed or do you still regularly stumble in through your front door in the early hours?
Not often. But I did go to see The Chemical Brothers in Barcelona last year. I ended up on top of a scaffold tower in the middle of 18,000 people, having it large [laughs].
How difficult did you find it to get the ‘OK’ on an action film starring a 16-year-old girl [Saoirse Ronan]?
It’s difficult to get anything original made in Hollywood. Execs are always looking for something that they recognise as having been successful already. It all comes down to a fear of unemployment. The film industry — like a lot of other industries — is not in a good place at the moment, so companies are falling back on the tried and tested. There are creative scripts out there, but everyone’s nervous about them. I don’t blame the studios, though — I’d call on the audience to play their part too. They’ve got to support the film industry by spending their money on going to see good, original movies. Such as Hanna.
You recently had a few choice words about Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, for its portrayal of women…
I made some comments about the objectification of women in certain Hollywood films. I regret putting down any film in particular, though, because it takes a lot to make a movie and I’d hate to badmouth another director. Having said that, I think that there often isn’t enough thought given to subtext in the action genre, and I’d suggest that Hollywood thinks a little deeper from time to time. But then, what the f*ck do I know? I’m just some numpty from north London.
What’s your take on the current trend for 3D films?
I’ve actually never seen a 3D film. I should probably go and have a look at one before I make that judgement. I’m not really attracted to the idea of making one. I’m interested in storytelling, not special effects. Whenever I have to do anything with a blue screen, I get so bored.
You’re set to work with Keira Knightley for the third time, on your next film, Anna Karenina. What keeps the two of you coming back to do more films together?
With Anna Karenina in particular, I liked the idea that it was part three of a trilogy for Keira and me. She’s great to work with and she trusts me. I think. When I give her a note or an idea, she knows it’s coming from a good place and I’m not trying to trick her. It’s fascinating to have watched her evolve, too — she’s become a strong, powerful woman and she’s a lot more comfortable in her skin than she used to be. It’s exciting to see.
Do you have any odd techniques for getting the best out of actors?
I play a lot of music when I’m working. I always have a big sound system on set. I basically spend most days DJing between takes. When we shot the library sex scene in Atonement, I didn’t want it to feel like some f*cking chaste love scene in a period film, so I played modern music. Mark Lanegan’s Bubblegum, I think.
Do you take song requests from your actors?
Occasionally. But not if they start requesting bullsh*t R&B.
Hanna is at cinemas nationwide from 6 May
(Images: Rex Features)