'Hanna' Star Esme Creed-Miles on the "Visceral" Appeal of Amazon's Thriller

Esme Creed-Miles never really wanted to be an actor.

But with a breakout performance in Amazon's new prestige spy-thriller Hanna under her belt, that's changed.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, the actor, musician and feminist had a lot to say about being on screen, gender, and how the titular teen assassin escapes "internalized male gaze."

Though acting wasn't a career Creed-Miles (Dark River) sought out, it was something she was surrounded by, which gave her an in to the industry: "My parents [Samantha Morton and Charlie Creed-Miles] are both in the business, so I'm very lucky in that respect that I've had the doors opened to me," she said.

After auditioning for a bunch of roles where she "didn't really care" about landing the part, Creed-Miles found something in the role of teen assassin Hanna that changed her perspective: "I knew I really wanted the part, and I think this was the first time where I really cared about whether I got the part or not."

Despite her passion for the part, it wasn't one that she expected to get, stating that "it was crazy when I got the call." But after a rigorous series of auditions — which, she told THR, were a world away from the independent British films she'd auditioned for before — Creed-Miles was selected to take on the role made famous by Saoirse Ronan in Joe Wright's 2011 cult hit.

A fan of the original, Creed-Miles felt like she had "an expectation of what was going to stylistically be part of the agenda" of the new project, but she was surprised by the grounded angle director Sarah Adina Smith took on the highly stylized, fairy-tale nature of the source material. The fact that the team went for "more of a relatable approach" was a huge draw for the actor, who found the take "exciting" and "really cool."

Although she saw a space for Hanna to appeal to others, Creed-Miles "didn't initially feel like I related to her much at all." But as her understanding of the character grew, she found something in the role that was nothing less than radical.

"I feel myself in ways to be the product of internalized male gaze," Creed-Miles explained. "I think growing up, the assimilation of most cultural conventions typically encouraged by a heightened awareness of gender and sex encourages a sort of separation of the self. What's so special about Hanna is that her upbringing has negated this indoctrination; she's almost absolved of the pressures of gender or gender itself. So to me she isn't masculine or feminine; she evades these bindings and provides any audience with a kind of visceral animal-ness, which I think is quite contagious and refreshing."

The series — about a girl who is raised in the woods as a sort of survivalist warrior by her adoptive father, Erik (Joel Kinnaman) — is written by the film's screenwriter, David Farr, and shares a lot of DNA with the movie. But one of the things it expands on is Hanna's friendship with another girl, Sophie (Rhianne Barreto). It's a relationship that Creed-Miles sees as key to Hanna's story and the exploration of girlhood it represents.

"The juxtaposition [of Hanna] with Sophie's character is really interesting because Sophie provides us with this paradigm of teenage-hood and girlhood," she said. "Throughout the show, that relationship evolves and the two begin to influence each other in various ways, and we get to see Hanna being exposed to sexualizing yourself and objectifying yourself."

Creed-Miles said that arc resonated with her and presented her with an opportunity to escape the trappings of society that she found so uncomfortable. "That's always been something that makes me feel very uncomfortable and not present in my body," she said. "The whole thing of sexually objectifying yourself is really demoralizing and degrading as a human being, and it's something that men have never had to do, and it's something that Hanna has never had to do."

When it came to finding common ground with the character, Creed-Miles zeroed in on their shared vulnerability, something the actor thinks is missing from many of the current conversations about strong female representation.

"It can sometimes feel a little patronizing because it becomes more about strength," she said. "I think that's something that we associate with stoicism and masculinity and then assume that those things make us equal to men, when actually I'm incredibly vulnerable, and I think Hanna is too."

Creed-Miles called the trend for strong women both "empowering" and "isolating," as she doesn't necessarily find representation in "some woman in a catsuit who's really good with a gun." But in her mind, Hanna subverts that. "She's got some more to her, she's vulnerable and complex and confused about her identity, and I think that's something that's universal."

Hanna's journey into the wider world is intertwined with learning about herself, much of which revolves around her interactions with others. A scene in which she shares her first kiss with a boy named Arvo particularly moved Creed-Miles.

"She has this moment, which is the first time that she's met anyone other than her dad and also the first time she's met a boy and been sexualized, but it's also innocent because she doesn't really know that he's trying to kiss her or that there's a sexual undertone to it," she said.

Erik's response caused Creed-Miles to reinterpret the line that she delivered, after he tries to reassure the teen that the kiss she shared "didn't mean anything."

"I think that line was intended to be Erik the father figure trying to be reassuring, but this whole experience as a girl of having an intimate moment and it not meaning something to the guy is something that I've experienced, and I think other women have too," she said. "I don't think any kind of sexual encounter is expendable, so it's really interesting watching her discover her sexuality in this unabashed and uninhibited way, which is really empowering, because sex shouldn't be something that we're ashamed of as women."

Creed-Miles is clearly passionate about the subject and brought that passion to her portrayal of Hanna. "I think there's a misunderstanding around that, because especially in pop culture there's this idea that being sexually empowered means objectifying yourself, but I think that's actually something completely different from being open about your sexuality and wanting to have sex and wanting it to be a beautiful exchange of love," she said. "That's a vital part of Hanna's exploration of her sexuality, rather than sort of feeling like she's just catering to the male gaze."

Creed-Miles also said the physicality of the role has been "hugely empowering" for her, as she had "never done any sports before. I found myself loving the running and the fighting, and it was really important to me as an actor because I wanted that to inform the emotional beats as well."

As for the future of her career, her plans are as eclectic as the playlist she made while filming, which included PJ Harvey, Aphex Twin, Warpaint and the Cocteau Twins: "I want to be involved in lots of different things. I want to write and direct, and I make music."

But Creed-Miles' experience making Hanna has cemented one key thing: In spite of all of the "very long days" and television being "a grind," seeing the finished product makes it all worth it. "That's an amazing feeling, and I think I will continue to chase that."

Hanna premieres Friday on Amazon's Prime Video streaming service.