Esmé Creed-Miles | Through The Primeval Thicket, No One Can Hear You Scream
For many seasoned actors, a major role in a film or television series usually results in intense preparation, with work often spanning many weeks or even months. Yet for teenager Esmé Creed-Miles, preparation for her titular role in Amazon Video’s major new series, Hanna, was minimal: instinct, rather than rehearsal, drove her process. “I don’t really think you can prepare for anything,” the assured 19-year-old tells me on a bright spring day in North London. “You just have to learn the line as best you can. I work really instinctively. I just kind of do it.”
What Creed-Miles defines as “preparation” is certainly curious. To cope with the intense physical demands of playing Hanna, an “enhanced” human isolated in the deep woods who has inadvertently spent her whole life training to be the perfect assassin, Creed-Miles underwent a lengthy fitness regimen. Before they started filming, the actor had two trainers for eight weeks; an additional trainer later worked with her on set between four and six hours each day. When asked if she considers this preparation perhaps too comprehensive, the actor candidly replies, “Not really,” before elaborating further. “I’d never been a sporty person, and it was just a case of doing it for this job. I’d never thought that I would be able to do some of that stuff. The whole thing was pretty useful in terms of character, because I started to discover my physicality in a way I hadn’t before.”
It becomes apparent that Creed-Miles works in a way which belies her young years. Ripping up the rule-book and determined to follow her own confident path, Creed-Miles prefers to learn just as much about herself as she does about whichever character she depicts. Preparation, she says, is ultimately the antithesis of creativity. “I don’t think you can really prepare for acting, because you have to see what happens on the day in front of the camera and what happens in the room with the other actors. I don’t really get why people use that word in terms of talking about acting. I know some people have rituals or whatever... it’s just not how I work, so that doesn’t mean anything to me.”
The character of Hanna was originally created by David Farr, and adapted into a movie by Joe Wright. Starring Cate Blanchett and Saoirse Ronan, the film was a critical and commercial success upon its release in 2011. Now, Farr works as an executive producer on the television adaptation, alongside director Sarah Adina Smith. In a recent interview, Farr said he wanted to tackle the story again because the film “only told a slice of the story.” Wanting to “go much further” and tell a “deeper story,” the TV series explores Hanna’s relationship with her father, Erik (played by Joel Kinnaman), and unearths her journey into adulthood. Part thriller, part mystery, part bildungsroman, Hanna must tackle several identities at once: dutiful daughter, curious teenager, dangerous assassin.
Oftentimes, Creed-Miles had to portray these multiple personalities simultaneously. Was conveying the several parts of Hanna’s varied identity a challenge? Creed-Miles replies in the negative. “Any human being on the planet is complex... I sort of feel like she’s just like anybody, because everybody’s got complexities and juxtapositions to them. It wasn’t something I necessarily thought about.”
The greatest challenge, Creed-Miles reveals, was trying to empathize with Hanna’s seclusion from the world. Raised in feral woodland, Hanna has few cultural or social reference points to understand modern conventions. “I think the most challenging thing was having to see the world for the first time through her eyes, because she’s never really experienced anything other than the forest... it’s not something I could draw from my own experience.”
What it did do, she explains, was present a unique opportunity to embody a character unexposed to rigid gender binaries. Playing Hanna allowed Creed-Miles to challenge and subvert the performance art that gender adherence represents. “I don’t actually believe in concepts of gender. I think that sex and gender are two very different things, and that gender is something learnt.”
She continues: “When I was Hanna, in my head I was not considering her to be a woman. I was considering her to be an animal. This was interesting when she does experience a pressure to perform [gender]. She’s very unabashed; she doesn’t have any kind of social or moral filter. That was actually quite liberating rather than challenging because I am someone who has filters, just because I’m a human being in the 21st century.”
Despite the acclaim of her first major break-out role, Creed-Miles doesn’t exhibit the same kind of anxieties many teenage actors collectively suffer. This is probably due to her childhood surrounded by fellow thespians. Creed-Miles’ mother is double Academy Award-nominee Samantha Morton, and her father is Peaky Blinders actor Charlie Creed-Miles. While family connections have helped her, she tells me, work life and family life are kept very separate. “People often end up following in their parents’ footsteps,” she says. “It’s just what you’ve been around your whole life and it’s what you know. I’m really proud of where my parents came from and how hard they worked— especially my mum. I’m not ashamed of that, or the fact that they did open doors for me. But it’s not that I haven’t worked hard.”
Her filmography proves this: she appeared in Harmony Korine’s 2007 film Mister Lonely, and was featured in 2017’s Dark River. Ironically, it is the physical process of acting that Creed- Miles still finds daunting. “I was completely out of my depth the whole time,” she says about filming Hanna, in a sentence which feels at odds with her earlier confidence. The non-traditional route that Creed-Miles took to acting likely spawned this apprehension. “I was quite disillusioned by theatre when I was at school. I didn’t really understand it and I just wasn’t into it. I did a couple of school plays and things but I never had the lead role. I didn’t want to be an actress,” she reveals.
Filmmaking, on the other hand, has continually sparked her curiosity, further encouraged by Hanna’s director, Sarah Adina Smith, with whom she’s developed a close relationship. “I just have such a love of cinema. Films are so powerful, and there are so many performances that I watch and am moved by, so many that have changed my life. Initially, I just wanted to be a part of that rather than act,” she says. Those ambitions aren’t dormant— she has already directed a music video, written a feature, and is soon going into production on a short film.
As a filmmaker, Creed-Miles says she has been well- supported, and she admires the funding that arts receive in the UK. But with brutal cuts to the arts by the current conservative government, Creed-Miles admits that the uncertain post-Brexit future concerns her. “It’s fantastic that we live in the UK where the arts are celebrated and often funded by our government... I feel like that’s not going to be so much of a thing in years to come, depending on where we lean with our politics. I am terrified it will change, but I hope it doesn’t.”
Whilst Creed-Miles says she fears what will happen to the arts after the UK departs the EU, she also reveals she is disillusioned with politics—something she bluntly admits is in part due to her privileged background. “I’m a hundred per-cent left-leaning, but I think if I’m being perfectly honest, I feel so discouraged by everything that is going on, that I don’t really know how to respond to it,” she says. “I really admire friends of mine who go on marches and do and say things. I think it’s important to recognize that I am privileged white girl, that none of it really touches me. Cuts aren’t going to affect me and my family. I’m very lucky that I have a house that I live in and food on the table; there’s a lot of people in this country who genuinely are experiencing the repercussions of our government’s actions. I feel like I can’t relate to those problems and I wish I knew more about it and could use my position in order to do stuff.”
Her idea sets off a train of thought. Creed-Miles argues culture can transcend politics and effect change. “Any political agenda can be very esoteric, and I think that what film and characters have an ability to do is make them visceral and completely translatable so that anyone can engage with the idea and be moved by it.” She hopes to see more characters and roles focus on a female point-of-view. Working with a female director has offered her a taste of this. “Sarah is very good at what she does... When you’re exploring any kind of feminist agenda on screen, it’s useful to have women there because they’ll elevate female characters rather than objectify them.”
As talk turns to the future, can she look back on the show now as an achievement, thanks to the positive critical response it has received? “Now that the show has come out, I’m so glad I did it... everyone involved did an excellent job,” she smiles, pleased with her work. “I think people like it,” she adds, humbly, before disclosing her reluctance to read the press on the series. “I haven’t really engaged too much with the reception of it because it’s been so much of my life for the past year, and the thought of opening myself up to the judgement of it is really intimidating.” As for a season two? Creed-Miles laughs. “That’s going to be up to the writers and Amazon. Honestly, I can’t say!” That may be so, but when it comes to her own fate, it’s clear that this confident young woman is wholly in control.