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Susanna White directs ‘Traitor’ with shades of gray

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Susanna White directs the spy thriller “Our Kind of Traitor.” (Courtesy Jaap Buitendijk/Roadside Attractions)
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As feminism is seemingly regressing when it comes to the movie industry, Susanna White has stepped up to show women can direct thrillers as well as men.

She’s at the helm of “Our Kind of Traitor,” a film adapted from a John le Carré novel about an English couple (Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris) on vacation who help a Russian money-launderer (Stellan Skarsgard).

It was shot in five countries and takes place all over the world.

Initially, money-conscious producers wanted the English-born White — whose credits include BBC productions “Bleak House” and “Jane Eyre” and the feature “Nanny McPhee Returns” — to shoot scenes of Russia in the woods just outside of London, with fake snow.

“It really mattered to me that I had that big expanse and you could feel the scale of it,” White said while in town for the San Francisco International Film Festival. But “after a lot of persuasion,” she was able to shoot in Finland.

Other challenges included shooting scenes on a moving train: “We had one go. We had to get the landscape outside the window right before we went into the tunnel,” she says.

White also found herself scouting new locations at 1:30 in the morning, waiting for the dawn light in the freezing French alps, and eating elk stew in Finland!

“It was a different way of working!” she smiles.

White particularly paid attention to her depiction of violence. “I’m really interested in the consequences of violence,” she says.

While working on the miniseries “Generation Kill,” she noticed how excited the men became about blowing things up.

“I got the armorer to let me fire the AK-47 and then the Mk 19, which is the big gun on the Humvee that blows up a building, and I felt this massive adrenaline surge!” she explains. “That led me to become really fascinated with masculinity and the impulse to violence.”

Her explorations included other aspects of masculinity. Screenwriter Hossein Amini originally began the movie with a scene of ballerinas onstage, but White changed it to an image of Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. “I wanted people to think about what it means to be a man now,” she says.

Additionally, the relationship between McGregor and Skarsgard’s characters becomes surprisingly touching, leading some people to term the movie a “bromance.”

“I used lots of different muscles as a director,” she says. “It was an amazing adventure!”

IF YOU GO
Our Kind of Traitor
Starring Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis
Written by Hossein Amini
Directed by Susanna White
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 48 minutes

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