Interview: Carla Gugino, Emily Browning, and Abbie Cornish Talk Sucker Punch

In Sucker Punch, a young woman we know only as Babydoll is locked away by her lecherous stepfather in an insane asylum, where she is scheduled to be lobotomized. Here, she finds other girls just as trapped and, together with them, plots an escape -- both physically from the asylum and mentally from the hell that happens there. This latter escape, from the hell, carries Babydoll into her imagination where she finds herself and the other girls trapped in a brothel rather than an asylum. When forced to dance for me, she retreats yet again into her fantasies, this time into a second dream world where she and her friends battle steam-powered zombie German soldiers in WWI, dragons and orcs, and even travel to a fantastic alien world. It's, in short, as insane as the asylum where the girls find themselves. Babydoll, in case writer-director Zack Snyder never noticed, is probably crazy, too, she would have to be. But that's beside the point. Previously, I shared with you my interview with three of the actresses who play the young inmates: Vanessa Hudgens, Jena Malone, and Jamie Chung. Today, you get my interview with Babydoll herself (played by Emily Browning), her tough-as-nails cohort Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), and the psychiatrist in charge of the asylum (Carla Gugino).

Cole Haddon: Boys fantasize about big guns and being the action hero, and that's a common fantasy for male actors, too. Did you dream of being the action heroine and how excited were you to shoot the big guns?

Emily Browning: Absolutely. But for me, I always liked the idea of making every genre of film possible. But I'd never read a particularly well-written action script, and I most certainly had never read a female character in an action script that was more than one-dimensional and interesting. The fact that this is not just one, cool, strong action female character, but five -- six, even, with Carla -- it was amazing to me and so cool. I'm hoping we can maybe start a trend or something. Not of girls with guns, but smart, cool, interesting girls ... with guns [laughs].

Abbie Cornish: Yeah, it's incredibly exciting. I'd wanted to do a film like this for a while. The idea of doing it was amazing. For me, I've always been interested in other people's careers, particularly male careers. Someone asked me, if you could play one character in film, who would it be? And the only character that came to my mind was: I want to play the Godfather. Imagine that. How awesome would that be? Of course, there are a lot of roles for me that I'd like to explore. When you get to play a female role that explores some of these things, and you get to shoot guns, I loved it.

CH: Carla, there are six women in this cast, but you're technically the outsider amongst them. They all had action roles they had to train hard for and were, as inmates all, plotting an escape from an institution/brothel you were affiliated with. Does that mean you weren't as close to the other girls on set, not being part of their little posse?

Carla Gugino: It was actually a really great ensemble cast. As much as they all trained together and were a team, there wasn't any excluding of anyone. I think that's something that Zack and [his wife and producer] Debbie [Snyder], having done Watchmen with them as well, do really well. It feels like you're in a theater repertoire when you're with them. You just end up with a group of people doing the best they can together.

CH: Emily, there are three levels of reality in this movie -- one being reality itself, and the other two being levels of dreams or fantasy that get increasingly stylized and extraordinary. How did you prepare your performance for each of these realities?

Sucker PunchEB: For me, because the fantasy worlds were in Babydoll's imagination, I felt it was important that my character remain pretty solid. So her personality doesn't fluctuate between reality and the dream worlds.

CH: What about you, Abbie?

AC: I was fascinated by that for a long time and asked Zack a lot of questions about it. It was something where I decided it was all the same character, but, in different worlds, you could look at her from different angles. For me, I kind of put a lot of trust in the fact that, when you actually see her in the dream worlds, what that's like, and then who she is at the bookend of the film, that would be enough to say who this girl really is in real life. The burlesque stuff was just a hyper-realization of that character, [for example]. Who she is is carried with her into that world and the action world -- where she's looking after [her sister] Rocket (Malone). Where's Rocket? Is she safe? There's really a heavy load that she's carrying because of that. Those action scenes weren't the most fun for her. Other characters had smiles on their faces, so excited to escape [into the fantasy action]. But for Sweet Pea, it's frightening, there's so much to stay on top of. It's interesting to figure all that stuff out.

CH: Emily, I think a lot of guys are going to love the Sailor Moon get-up Zack had you wear. Were you a Sailor Moon fan beforehand and thus got the reference, or did it just strike you as some pervy way to dress up the action heroine?

EB: Sailor Moon was my favorite cartoon of all time, and I'm still kind of obsessed with it. I own all the DVDs and watch it at home. I think I was obsessed with that culture as a kid, like Hello Kitty and Dragon Ball Z.

CH: Carla, Zack Snyder is kind of a singular talent. Having already worked with him on Watchmen, how did you react when he told you he had you in mind for a part in Sucker Punch? Is that an instant "yes," or do you ask questions first?

CG: Of course [as an actress], you have to feel like you can connect with a character. But there's no doubt, Zack's a visionary. I would rather go to work for someone who has a strong vision of the story they want to tell and the world they want to create and want to include you in that. I find that incredibly exciting.

CH: Sucker Punch feels like a movie, but also like a video game; then there's the musical element and editing style that makes it feel like a music video. Of course, the heavy anime references, too, right?

CG: It seems like, as the world is getting smaller, all these things are melding. People are watching movies on the Internet and on Apple TV. [The way video games become more cinematic]. In every way, these things are melding, and I love how [Zack] has taken from all these different mediums and turned it into something that could only happen in cinema.