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Jena Malone plays Rocket, part of a sisterhood of young women who hatch an escape plan from an asylum in Zack Snyder's hyperreal spectacle "Sucker Punch." Ever since her heralded film debut in 1996's "Bastard Out of Carolina," Malone has drawn comparisons to Jodie Foster in mostly indie-type roles in films like "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" (co-starring Foster), "Saved" and "Donnie Darko" -- and she even played a younger version of Foster's character in "Contact."
Now the 26-year-old has "womaned up" for her butt-kicking role in "Sucker Punch," which shows a new side of this versatile actress. We sat down with Malone and talked about her transformation into tough cookie and what she and Ice Cube now have in common.
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This is the first time that you have played with guns and kicked ass on-screen. Was that an easy transition for you after so many indie films?
I really became Rocket—she completely possessed me! I loved her love for adventure, excitement and her ability to want to throw her whole heart into this plan of escape. She was willing to sacrifice so much. It's something that an actress salivates on: creating new challenges for oneself. I feel like, as a woman, you don't get as many physically demanding roles. I think all of us were very excited to prove to ourselves that we could really do this, woman-up and become these really strong female characters regardless of how we previously saw ourselves.
The cast had weeks of training and fight evaluations, right?
We did three months prep and five months training throughout the film, so it was eight months total. I used to think I was pretty strong and scrappy, but the strength I gained from this film is seven times larger than I could have ever imagined. What I can do with my strength—mentally and physically—is incredible.
It looks like you did a lot of wire stunt work in "Sucker Punch," like during the scene on the train.
I had really intricate wire work for that. It was spread out over 17 little shots. The head of CGI pulled me aside and said, "This shot I'm working on with you is one of the most complicated ones I have done since 'The Matrix.'" We both kind of geeked out and it was exciting to be part of something so intricate and beautiful. There is one part where I'm hanging 40 feet in the air upside down in a harness and I had to be lowered while I was unloading my UMP and switching out a mag. When I was done, these stunt guys looked at me and one said, "Whoa. The only other person I've ever known to do that is Ice Cube." I thought that was the best compliment.
"Sucker Punch" director Zack Snyder uses so many CGI effects in his movies. As an actress, how do you react to green screens?
Zack is very much an actor's director in that he wants to provide, as much as he can, textures and real sets. All of the orcs, knights and robots were really stuntmen in different prosthetics. This film is about 80 percent real built sets and about 20 percent green screen. The only world that was almost 100 percent green screen was the train sequence, but even then they built a real train and there were robots to work with so I never felt like I had to imagine or pull something out of nowhere. I couldn't ask a stupid question to Zack because he had an imaginative answer to everything.
Rocket at one point during the movie asks Baby Doll if she wishes there was anything she did that she wished she could take back. In your life and career, do you feel that way about anything?
No. I feel that every step of the way led me to where I am now, and it's a beautiful gift to be able to have hindsight and see the reasons behind certain mistakes and awkwardness. I'm so excited to be alive and there are so many beautiful things…I feel like regret is more of a theory than a feeling.
There is a lot of girl power and female bonding on display in "Sucker Punch." Was there a strong sense of sisterhood on set that lingers offscreen?
Absolutely! When you throw five young actresses that have never done anything like this before, you are throwing them into the barracks together. In the beginning it was an animalistic bond because we were going through these firsts together. We became this support system that grew and grew and, even a year and a half after we finished filming, we are still best friends. Luckily they cast five women who really got along.
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We loved you as Donnie's girlfriend in the cult classic "Donnie Darko." In your mind, do you think Donnie was a time traveler or just certifiable?
I think he was a normal boy. I don't think he was a time traveler, actually. I think he was given visions and sort of acted on them.
You are often compared to a young Jodie Foster. Do you think you two share some qualities?
We hang out and have beautiful conversations, and she's super-smart and grounded and makes awesome decisions. If I ever had any questions, she's really open to just going there. I really admire her. You can't help but look up to her as a young actress—she's the ultimate.
You've posted music tracks on your Myspace page as "Jena Malone and her bloodstains." What is the meaning behind that?
Blood is the truth of the matter and the most important element of the heart. It is the language of the body and holds so much information. Bloodstains, as music, felt like truth stains that I had to release into the world. It's a little awkward and feminine—not a lot of women can talk about their bloodstains—so I figured it was nice to add to the conversation. I do my own form of touring and release albums in my own way, so I like to be my own boss.
You've said, in the past, that you want to get behind the camera. Do you still have that ambition?
When I was younger, I feel like I had that more on my mind. I've been doing other aspects where I've had more creative control, like music and directing little things. Every actor wants a little more control over the output of their creativity, and sometimes you don't see anything until the end as an actor. We'll see where it goes, but now there is so much to learn. "Sucker Punch" really taught me, holy s**t, I'm just a child in the sense of the challenges of becoming an actress and the new things to learn. I felt like I was completely spoiled after that film because so much was demanded of me, and no one had demanded so much before.