Gina Carano on Haywire, Sequel Talk, and Men Who Cry During Warrior
Watching mixed martial artist Gina Carano fight on television, director Steven Soderbergh was struck by inspiration: Why not build an action movie around the lethal (and yes, gorgeous) athlete to show audiences what a real action heroine could look like? Forget Angelina Jolie in Salt, or any number of actresses who’ve unconvincingly flitted their way through the genre. Carano was the real deal, a woman who can dole out punches with bone-shattering believability, leap between buildings, and battle Hollywood’s best leading men with aplomb, as evidenced in this week’s Haywire.
For Carano, Soderbergh’s offer of film stardom was an opportunity. Written around the first-time actress’s physical strengths, Haywire keeps its premise simple: A betrayed black ops agent (Carano) tries to uncover a plot against her as she battles a stream of spies, muscle, and former associates. Paired with actors like Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, and Channing Tatum, who keep the dramatic scenes charging alone, Carano explodes in her action scenes with a ferocity even her castmates can’t match.
Movieline spoke with the MMA veteran and neophyte actress about the challenges of her work on Haywire, the encouragement she takes from female moviegoers, her future acting aspirations, the possibility of a sequel, and what she thought of 2010’s MMA drama Warrior.
It’s such a pleasure to see you beat up men like Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender on the big screen. How fun was it for you, doing it yourself?
It was incredible, because they are such wonderful, genuine guys who brought no ego. There were no problems – they wanted to do everything themselves, they wanted to be as physical as possible, and I think we all walked away enjoying the bumps and bruises we walked away with on set. Instead of there being any competition it was more about creating something beautiful. And honestly, it’s just one of the coolest things to hear from a female’s mouth that they got excited about the fight scenes, you know? It’s like one of the best compliments I’ve gotten so far, hearing that females got excited and that they were rooting for me.
Part of the appeal of Haywire for me was that most of the action heroines we’ve seen throughout film history have felt somewhat unrealistic, but your physicality was part of the reason Steven Soderbergh built this film around you. Look at Angelina Jolie; at AFI Fest Soderbergh described you as Angelina Jolie-meets-Steven Seagal, but I think there’s more of the badass Seagal in you. How important do you think realism is when it comes to action and female performers?
Well you know, I have the utmost respect for people like Angelina Jolie and Zoe Saldana in Colombiana. But here you have beautiful women and they’re taking on these rougher roles that they don’t necessarily have to take, but have chosen to take. So I have the utmost respect for them. But what I’m bringing to it is hopefully…I know that the whole reason I got the job is that I’m bringing a physicality that maybe people haven’t seen yet. So anything I can do and could have done for Haywire to be believable in these fight scenes, of course I did. I like being a little bit different in that way, and I have a lot to learn from these women as far as everything else goes, but I’m definitely comfortable saying that I felt good bringing my form of physicality for my sport and for other females to see, because I know there’s a lot of them out there that know what it’s like, that get a rush. And a man came up to me the other day and said, "I had to drag my wife to the premiere, and she was like, 'Oh, great – another action film.'" But after the premiere, she was so happy that she’d gone, she was so pumped! I think she was more enthusiastic than I was about this film! [Laughs] It was awesome. It was really cool for me to just offer up something people haven’t seen.
So the physicality came naturally to you, but what about the dramatic work? You had appeared in film and TV before…
Well, I hadn’t really done [film] – I consider Haywire my first acting experience. The other stuff that is listed was not acting. I have one fight scene in a movie called Blood and Bone, and it was kind of that thing where you just show up that day and it’s all improv. So Haywire was my first experience. Steven Soderbergh, first of all, he had the vision and he had in mind what he wanted to portray, and it’s always refreshing to me to meet a man who knows exactly what he wants – or a boss, or whoever. It’s nice when somebody wants to take on a project and they know exactly what they want out of it. Then he surrounded me with some beautiful people who opened up their arms, these genuinely talented human beings who had no egos and wanted to help. The actors were helping me with the dramatic side and I was helping them with the physicality of it, so it was really a beautiful trade-off with everybody being open-minded and wanting to make the most beautiful product we could.
Which scene did you find most challenging to pull off?
Well, I was extremely afraid of heights, and I had to jump from one building to the next and there were no wires. [Laughs] I had a serious mental block when it came to this one jump, and I was like, "Gina, this is the whole reason you got the job. Come on, suck it up!" And then I would think of my family, what if they hear I got killed on set? So I think that was one of the scarier moments of the film, but each day was new for me. Each acting experience was new, and every day I woke up just kind of blessed, but at the same time almost terrified of what that day held -- just adrenaline pumping through my body. But because of all that, now a couple of years later looking back it’s nice to know I got through something like that, and that I was able to keep my head cool and really enjoy the experience of it.
Are there many ways in which you see the worlds of fighting and acting overlap? I know you worked with Randy Couture as a fighter, and he’s someone who’s also made this transition over to acting. Did you ever compare notes with him, or with other athletes-turned-actors, about making that leap?
No, actually! Randy is a man of very few words, and he was just like, "You’re going to do great, Gina. Just have fun." [Laughs] Just like he said to me the first time I met him and asked him to be my coach: "Just go out there and have fun, be yourself." I didn’t know that many people – Randy had done it, a couple of other people in the sport have done it, but really not very many of the people who were around me had done anything like this. It was just kind of an all-new first-time experience, and the people I worked with were the people that showed me the ropes.
Are you having fun with all of this? I’ve seen you do interviews in which you say you’re looking forward to getting “on the other side” of January 20, and you’ve been described as a shy person.
Are you feeling more and more comfortable with having this media spotlight on you, the increased focus that acting adds to your already established MMA profile?
I feel really, really positive right now. I feel like I got to experience something that nobody around me has gotten to experience, and the people and the reviews and the comments that I’m getting back from those who have seen the film are also incredibly positive. I’ve just had a really blessed life until now, and to be negative or fearful of what comes next would be a shame, because then I wouldn’t be enjoying this moment right now, sitting on patio in L.A. talking about this beautiful experience. I’m looking forward to getting on the other side of it because I absolutely want to go back to work, you know? I want to figure out what’s next. I’m eager to do this again, and I want to raise the bar and keep going forward, but a lot of people have been waiting for this film to come out – it took a while to come out, two years now – so I’m just really excited that it’s finally coming out and I’m going to be able to get on the other side of it and kind of close it, land somewhere. I’m super excited about that.
In terms of your acting future, has there been any discussion of doing a sequel to Haywire with Steven?
Well Ewan McGregor... It’s funny because we were doing the press conference the other day and he was like, [SPOILERS] ‘Gina, you know my character doesn’t die…’ [Laughs] He was like, it’s kind of blessed that you left me there stuck on the rocks and he doesn’t necessarily die. [END SPOILERS] He keeps on talking to Soderbergh, and he’s such a lovely person – he’s talking about what could happen. He’s really pumped to go into a training camp with me for two months to do a Haywire sequel. And of course it would be another dream come true for me because I absolutely adore the film and I adore Ewan and Soderbergh, so to have another opportunity would be incredible. But we’ll see. We’ll have to see after January 20 and see if people really do enjoy the film and consider me believable.
Do you want to stay in this action niche, or perhaps take on roles that require no physicality, are more dramatic?
It’s such a good question. Regarding the physicality, I would love to explore different characters and I feel like you can still do that, but I know that right now my niche is definitely bringing something physical to the table, and I enjoy that and welcome that completely. I’m not going to say that I would never want to do something different, but I feel like I would love to represent my sport and represent women, and that reaction was so positive off of the fight scenes that I’m like, “Really? I can do more!”
Lastly, I was curious to hear your thoughts on Warrior, which was the most prominent MMA-themed film to hit screens. Did you see it, and if so how well do you think it represents what it’s like to be in that world?
Well, it was interesting; the day that I was watching it I was watching with a guy friend of mine, and I was doing laundry and coming in and out so I can’t say I necessarily got the whole vibe of the film completely, but I did notice and was impressed that it’s extremely hard to make a fight film look realistic, and I think that film to date has done the best job doing that. I always wonder, because all of my friends just beat the hell out of each other in practice every day, and they should just put these guys in the film! It’s not like they’re not doing it anyways, they’re doing it every single day so you might as well film it to make it more realistic in these fight films, you know? But the guy I was watching it with, at one point I walked back in, and I remember looking over at him and he was just in tears. [Laughs] Then I just settled down and started watching it a little bit and I’m like, “Well, geez, this film really had an impact on this person!” There was a guy just crying and bawling on my bed after watching Warrior! So I feel like I have to go back in the right mindframe when I’m not so busy, but I was impressed with how believable it was.