Q&A: 'Haywire' Star Gina Carano on Beating Up Famous Actors

In an already narrow playing field of female actors who play characters as tough as their male counterparts, Gina Carano is just about the only one who’s tougher than most of them. In Steven Soderbergh's new film "Haywire," the former mixed martial arts star not only holds her own against the acting talents of Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor and Antonio Banderas (among others), but she also convincingly beats them all to a bloody pulp.

Carano plays Mallory Kane, a freelance operative who must fight her way to freedom after she’s betrayed by the people who hired her. Conversely, Carano indicated that the experience of shooting her first film was a great collaborative experience. She recently explained to us how her previous career has helped guide her through a whole new one.

I understand that you have a background in fighting, or something? No, I’m only kidding.

[laughs] I’m like, uh-oh, he’s got a lot to hear right now.

No, I definitely know about your history. But how much, beyond her physicality, did you identify with the character when you agreed to play her? Was she easy to tap into emotionally?

I think it was Aaron Cohen that Steven Soderbergh put me with, who’s an ex-Mossad. I read his book, I spent about three hours a day with him for seven weeks, and I was not only training in boot camp getting yelled at by him, but also hearing his stories and spending time -- and seeing that war changes people. And this is a lifestyle that he is going to be this way for the rest of his life, and so I think it was really a way to get into Mallory Kane’s character.

Could you relate to her being a strong women in a male-dominated world? Was that relevant to your experiences as an MMA fighter?

Oh yeah, absolutely -- I mean, my whole career has been that. I’ve been called pet projects in my fights, and singled out as a female, and so I definitely found a lot of relatability. And I’ve been around men my whole life, so putting me in a film full of them doesn’t really bother me.

Did you find that your physical capabilities assuaged other people’s concerns about what you were being asked to do, even if it was different from what you’d previously done?

Well, I think that after fighting in front of thousands of people and having a camera on you, representing yourself all of those times, it’s kind of refreshing to play a different character ... You could get into this character not having to represent yourself as Gina Carano, but as Mallory Kane, and also get to do multiple takes, whereas in fighting you just kind of show up and you only get one take for that. So I found that the adrenaline level was the same, and being able to get that high off of doing something amazing and different and unique, that kind of artistic output of acting and stunt acting, was just as exciting as when I got my adrenaline fix in real fighting.

Also Check Out: Gina Carano Trusts No One in Exclusive "Haywire" TV Spot

Was there any physical challenge that even with all of your physical preparation was still really intimidating?

Yeah, I was afraid of heights when I first started this film, and they’ve got me jumping from rooftop to rooftop in Dublin, which was really funny. I remember looking down, and I had to jump from one rooftop to the other, and there was only a board for safety -- there were no wires or anything. I was like, oh my God, this is how Hollywood does this? I’m like, I can’t believe this. And I’m afraid of heights, so what if I trip, or if I make any type of stupid, nervous breakdown moment, I am done for. So I really had to get past that, because my whole reason for getting hired on this was my physicality and doing my own stunts and everything ... But once I walked across it once very slowly, I was walking across it fast, and then I was leaping and then I was doing it on my own, and then I got completely used to it and had some fun with it and got a thrill out of it more than being afraid of it.

Channing Tatum described Steven Soderbergh as a director who hires people he trusts, and then gets out of their way and lets them do their job on set. How collaborative was he with you on the film, and how much did he let you figure out how to play scenes?

Well, with the action scenes, of course, he gave me full rein ... But when it came to the acting scenes, I felt like he tightened up the reins a little bit and was definitely giving me the right way to experience a film firsthand as a first experience. So there wasn’t a whole lot of play going on there; it was more he told me what he wanted out of my character, and I performed it and gave that to him, and that kept it very simple and kept it very basic and straight to the point. And I think for a first-time acting experience, it’s not too bad, and I think that was probably very smart.

What do you think of Hollywood’s portrayal of the MMA world? Did you see "Warrior," for example? It seemed like the most complimentary portrayal of that world I’ve seen in a movie.

I think it’s really hard for some reason to authentically portray a fight movie on film. I’ve got so many friends who just beat the sh** out each other daily that I’m like, just put them in the damn film and they’ll beat the sh** out of each other -- and it will be real [laughs] ... I was in and out when I was watching "Warrior" -- I had ADD that day, but my guy friend was sitting there the whole time watching it -- and I thought it was really interesting because I thought those actors did a really good job. You could tell that they trained and got in shape for it, and really tried to learn some technique for it, and you’re right, to date that is the best representation of the fight world.

But I also think we can do better. I’d actually love to do a fight movie, and do all of the action stuff for it, I mean, do it all for real. But it was a good story and it’s cool to see the reaction that story actually had on people because it was really touching. I remember I came back in and the guy that was watching it with me was in tears, and I’m like, wow -- this is really having an impact on you! So I need to sit down and watch it again, but as far as I know, it’s a great movie and it touches people.

What are your thoughts about the way strong women are portrayed in movies now? It seems like there’s a real dichotomy -- they’re either totally invulnerable, or they’re totally feminine.

I think for me, I’m more drawn to, instead of a woman trying to conquer and be a man in a man’s world, I’m more fascinated with a woman being completely female and coming through as a strong female -- and still being completely female. That’s really something I’m kind of drawn to, when I see female action stars.

I heard there’s a rumor you might have a role lined up in the next "Percy Jackson" film.

We haven’t specifically talked about the "Percy Jackson" movie; I know that’s a rumor on the IMDB, but I haven’t heard anything about that, so I think that is just a rumor. But we are starting to get some interesting phone calls and we have some interesting ideas that we’re bringing to the table, so I think a lot of people are waiting for the movie ["Haywire"] to come out on January 20th, and then we'll see the lay of the land on the other side of that and really get a feel for where we’re at after that.

Also Check Out: This Steven Soderbergh Giveaway Is Totally "Haywire"

What has been sort the most intimidating moment in this process? Is it waiting for the film to open, or was it something else like getting on set for the first time?

I think the most nerve-wracking moment was the first day of filming, and realizing, oh my gosh, this is happening, I’m in Dublin, and this movie is going to have to happen. It just got real for a second. There’s no running away from it now; you’re here, and I didn’t even know if I could do it at that point -- I’d never done anything like that before. So I think that once I started getting into my groove and be vulnerable as an actress, and started learning from the actors and directors that I was surrounded with, it really started going. But I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t completely [scared]; I had a real moment of do or die, fight or flight type of [feeling], and so I just really pushed through it. And I know that since I got through this whole experience, and I’m still getting through it, it’s definitely made me a stronger person.

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