History is littered with the corpses of sports champs whose bids for movie immortality have been dubious at best; for every Hong Kong martial arts superstar and Austrian bodybuilder there are scores of straight-to-video beefcakes lacking the onscreen charisma to match their real-life skills. Rarer still is the successful female action hero crossover, but this week — with the somewhat unlikely help of genre-shifting filmmaker Steven Soderbergh — a new one arrives in the shape of Gina Carano, former Mixed Martial Arts fighter and now star of her very own spy thriller, Haywire.
The story goes that Soderbergh caught one of Carano’s fights on TV one evening and couldn’t believe the talented — and visually striking — fighter wasn’t headlining her own movie. So, with the help of screenwriter Lem Dobbs (The Limey) and a supporting cast of thespian eye-candy that includes Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum and Michael Douglas, he set about putting together an action vehicle for Carano, in which the fledgling actress plays a CIA-trained assassin on the loose and out to avenge those who double-crossed her. With its minimalist plot, punishing (yet expertly-staged) fight choreography and throwback thriller cool, Haywire is the kind of film that seems almost too good to be true in the movie release graveyard of January — and, if fate smiles upon it, should make a new action hero of its leading lady. We had the chance to chat with Carano about the movie recently; but first, she ran through five of her all-time favorite films.
True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993; 91% Tomatometer)
True Romance would definitely be in my top five. I particularly loved Patricia Arquette in True Romance. I loved how delicate she is but also how down she is in the fight scene in that film — it’s by far one of my favorite fight scenes ever. It’s just so real. I loved that hotel fight scene. And of course I loved the dialogue. I loved how you could just get so attached to the characters. That’s kind of like a fairytale for me: to think that two people could meet like that and be completely, you know — just 100 per cent have each other’s back, instead of all the bullshit we go through in everyday life. Two people that just fell in love, and their dedication to each other — that really comes through in the film. And I think the whole story, and the dialogue, is just really cool.
Another one of mine is Braveheart. I just loved the whole — I mean, I love anything that you can really feel. That was such a beautiful story, and the way it was filmed, and just the heart — it just grabs your attention and you can’t stop watching it. The tragedy in it. It’s epic. It’s one of those movies you can only dream about being in. I think I watched that movie before every fight. And I cry at the end of that movie. I must have seen it millions of times. I’m like that: I like to watch movies over and over and over, and so I’ve done that with Braveheart.
That ending gets you ready to fight?
Yeah! I just walk away from that feeling very good and free and ready to take on the world for some reason. [Laughs]
You know the movie Let Me In? The new one — I haven’t seen the original. I really liked that movie. I don’t know why. It’s just one of those movies that I loved the relationship, and the dark story behind it all. I loved those two young characters, and how wonderful actors and actresses they were. I really enjoyed that movie.
I have to say — there’s gotta be a movie with Johnny Depp in it, because he’s one of my utmost favorite actors. I’ll tell you one of my old school favorites, and that’s Cry-Baby. That’s gotta be the comedy part of me coming out.
Oh, I love Cry-Baby.
You do?! Oh my gosh, that’s so funny. ‘Cause sometimes people look at me like I’m crazy when I say that. But I really do love that movie. It just made me laugh. And the characters in it… At the time [I saw it] I was in high school. I could probably quote that whole movie without even watching it. It puts a huge smile on my face. And [Depp’s] just so phenomenal in it; and it’s a musical as well. I still love Hatchet Face: “There’s nothin’ the matter with my face!” [Laughs]
I liked Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I really enjoyed that movie. And I kind of fell in love with Paul Newman for a phase. [Laughs] I really kind of fell in love with him and started watching all of his movies.
He was a pretty handsome guy.
Yeah, and I hear that he was pretty short also, which is unfortunate for me — ’cause I’m 5’8″. So there would have been no me stalking him.
Next, Carano chats about working with Steven Soderbergh and dueling with her co-stars.
Steven Soderbergh really threw you in the deep end here, headlining your first major film against some serious acting talent. Were you daunted by the challenge?
Gina Carano: Yeah he threw me in the deep end, but he threw himself in with me, you know. It wasn’t like I was by myself — and he knows how to swim like an Olympic champion. He was right along with me and he knew exactly what he wanted. It was really refreshing to meet a man with a vision who knows exactly what he wants to do, and he doesn’t — he doesn’t panic, and never gives up. And I really saw that in him. The people that he surrounded me with — not only on-screen, but off-screen — made me very comfortable. I felt like the whole reason I got the job was because of my physicality, and so I felt more confident than I ever have in bringing fighting to the big screen.
Working alongside people like Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas — that must have been some crash course in acting for a first-timer.
Well, the first person I started off with was Fassbender, and whether any of them knew it or not I was 100 per cent observing and learning as much as I could from them. And what I realized was they really go with their gut instinct on certain things, and they really put their heart into what they do, and their opinion into the characters that they choose.
Even Steven said, It’s gonna be really interesting to see who takes these roles, because the guys that take these roles are gonna have to be okay with being physical with a female and/or possibly getting beat up by a female — so we’re really gonna find out who’s an actor by the guys that take these roles. And they were all so genuine. There were no egos involved. It was all about creating the best possible scenario, instead of, you know, “Well my character needs more of this or more of this.” It wasn’t about that. It was about creating something beautiful, regardless of how they looked after. So I thought that was really cool.
How did the other actors take to the physicality of the action in the film?
I think that, you know, being physical in those situations is acting. With physicality, even if there’s no lines in a movie, just walking around you still have a camera on you — so I really realized how genius these guys are. Because they didn’t have the last nine years I had to get good at technique; they only had a certain amount of time in their schedules to learn these fight scenes, so it was really fascinating to see how quickly they all picked it up, and how much they threw themselves into it. Every single one of them — Channing, Michael, Ewan — nobody wanted a body double, nobody said, “Oh, that’s too tough for me,” you know; they all wanted to do more.
Once they all realized they could throw me around, you know, and be as completely physical with me as they would a man — except that there’s no ego there — then it was so much fun for us to walk away with bruises. It was really one of the most poetic feelings in the world; especially because my purpose in the fight isn’t to hurt them as much as take care of them. So it was kind of like this cool, weird thing where you could be physically violent with each other but at the same time take care of each other. That was very interesting to see that they just threw themselves completely into it.
Haywire opens in theaters across the US and UK week.