Esme Creed-Miles is standing in a seemingly abandoned building in the heart of Budapest, Hungary. Behind her is a makeshift table featuring an assortment of snacks and drinks for the crew of Amazon’s upcoming series Hanna. It’s day 2 of Collider’s set visit to Eastern Europe, and while Creed-Miles looks ready to tussle with any evil CIA thugs that come her way, it becomes evident that she’s enjoying the break she’s taken to talk to this small group of press. Basically, she’s putting everything she’s got into this role.
“I did two months of training and martial arts training,” she explains when asked how she prepared to play Hanna, who is basically an enhanced human. “When I got out to Budapest, they had a stunt base with a room with equipment, and I got to meet all the stuntmen. And then I started having more rehearsals. And I train whenever I have free time, and after the end of the shooting day, I just keep training, weight training, cardio.”
When you take into consideration that an average shoot lasts a good 12 to 13 hours each day, that equals an epic amount of training. For Esme, who booked her first starring role with the Amazon series, that attention to detail is paramount. “It’s important that in a scene that, say, I’m running across the square, or whatever, I can be as convincing as possible.”
The majority of the time we were on set — which, for these few days, was located in an underground parking garage — Esme Creed-Miles was basically shooting running scenes. And it’s worth pointing out that she was consistently fast and, seemingly, never out of breath.
It’s intriguing to note that, before taking on the role and flying out to Eastern Europe, the 18-year-old actress was never into exercising. “I’ve never been someone who’d done any sports. I was like, literally, you could slap my arm and … no muscle was there,” she says, poking her arm. “Now I’m strong, I can run fast, and I can lift weights. And that, in and of itself, is quite empowering to have that physical strength. It changes my whole mental attitude as well.”
While the physical work Esme has done to take on this complex character is something to be celebrated, it’s her perspective on the complexities of being female in the modern world that really help round out her own inspiration and emotional honesty that she brings to Hanna.
“I always found growing up that, even inspiring female characters or complex female characters in TV and film … I often found that their complexity was actually just another facet of their sexuality,” she explains. “I thought Hanna was an opportunity to explore a character whose femininity was so raw and unconditioned by the modern world. And I think it was hard for me to understand what that would be like. […] As a young woman, my own experience of looking at myself in the mirror is something that’s plagued me in lots of ways, you know? It’s very hard, I think, the ideas we have about identity and looking in the mirror. And then I had this idea: What if Hanna’s never looked in the mirror? She’s never seen herself in that way. And she doesn’t have that concept of herself as being detached from her body.”
At its core, Hanna is a coming of age tale of a girl trying to find where she fits into the world. And since she’s been sheltered from the comforts of modern society — television, social media, other people — the series will eventually reveal the real world to Hanna, with all its emotional highs and lows. This all comes to a head for Hanna once she becomes friends with Sophie (Rhianne Barreto), a girl she meets as she travels across Europe.
It’s a bond that is integral to the story. As Esme puts it, it’s a “juxtaposition of a young girl who is very much a product of modern society and a young girl who is very much not a product [of modern society] and how they interact with each other and teach each other things.”
To further make her point, Creed-Miles gives insight into one scene from the series that stands out in her mind. “[Hanna’s] sitting and Sophie’s on her laptop, she’s looking at some gossip site, or Facebook or something,” she says. “And there’s an image of a young girl and she’s like, ‘Look how thin she is! Look how skinny she is!’ which is something, if I’m being honest with you, I think to myself every time I go on Instagram. And it’s horrible. It honestly affects my mental health, social media, on a really profound level. Because I’m constantly being bombarded with an image of femininity that I feel I have to adhere to. And I think there’s a lot of pressure in this industry, as well, being constantly discriminated on your aesthetic appearance. You know, part of the job is to look good. And that is a huge pressure for me as well, because it manifests insecurities. ”
But for Hanna, this whole source of insecurity is foreign. And that, according to Esme, is what makes this character so interesting to watch on screen, and so exciting for her to portray.
“I think it’s really important for Hanna, as a character, that, when she’s looking at these things, it’s utter bewilderment,” she shares. “She wouldn’t have the quick response to look at that image and it doesn’t necessarily make her feel insecure. […] Hanna looks at that image and she’s just confused. She doesn’t understand that. And I wanted to capture that feeling of innocence and naivete because I think that’s really beautiful. And I wish the world was like that.”
All that aside, let’s not forget that Hanna, for all intents and purposes, is a being who has been genetically designed to murder. And she’s quite good at it, too. But that dichotomy between her emotional wants and inherent DNA programming is a delicate balance to walk. Is Hanna a killer? Absolutely. But according to Esme, she’s not cold-hearted in the least.
“She kills with this grace and beauty that kind of encourages this idea of the circle of life: things change … and [there are] ebbs and flows and people die, and they get born and everything. So I wanted to find a way of interpreting it [in a way] that wasn’t just a cutthroat killer. I wanted to find a way of interpreting it that was actually almost beautiful, in a way. When you watch nature documentaries, if you see an animal eating another animal, it, for some reason, isn’t sad. It’s life.”
Esme acknowledges the work director Sara Adina Smith (Legion, Buster’s Mal Heart) has done on the series. Not only did she set the overall tone of the show, since she helmed the first two episodes, her perspective also adds a welcome female gaze to the often male-dominated action and thriller genres, which Hanna definitely falls into. So, when asked about her perspective on the growing availability of complex female roles available in Hollywood, Esme’s thoughts immediately go beyond the seemingly insulated bubble of the entertainment industry.
“Is it an exciting time for women? I think it is. And it isn’t,” she says. “We had the whole #MeToo movement and everything, but I think there’s still problems with the fundamental psyche of femininity that I think no one is really talking about. […] In the Western world, I think, problems of our psyche as women is completely neglected. And I think there is a neglect of that no matter how many lead roles there are for women, or how many women are, you know, number one on the call sheet in whatever project they’re doing. If we’re not directly looking at the actual psyche of women and their experiences — and we’re not clicheing those experiences, or sensationalizing those experiences, or sexualizing those experiences — we’re still not moving forward.”
Hanna will premiere all eight episodes March 29th on Amazon Prime Video.