By Susan Hornik
Formerly the number 3-ranked 145-lbs female fighter in the world, according to the Unified Women’s MMA Rankings, actress and T.V. personality Gina Carano’s been dubbed the face of women’s MMA. She stars this month in Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Haywire.
Soderbergh’s thriller is the story of a black-ops agent (Carano) who sets out to find why she was betrayed by her bosses. The film showcases an all-star supporting cast (Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor) and action sequences of the highest caliber.
The Smoking Jacket: Where did your passion for martial arts come from?
Gina Carano: I think I was the son my dad never had. I have two beautiful sisters, both very thin and beautiful. When we were back in high school, I was always, like, the brute and kind of the middle child. I was a little bit of a recluse. I got [into] street fights. Not a lot, but a decent amount.
One day I was dating someone named Kevin Ross, and he realized, while we were drinking our forties of Old English, that maybe this wasn’t the best lifestyle. He decided to quit the next day and become sober for a year. He walked in to Master Toddy’s Muay Thai in Las Vegas [and he started to train there], and always wanted me to come in and watch him. So I finally went in and I became completely addicted to something that made me want to get up and live a healthy life. I just threw myself into it.
TSJ: Can you tell me about how your physicality influences your choice of roles?
GC: I think my physicality is the whole reason that I got the job in the first place. I fight like a guy, a little bit. I run like a guy.
TSJ: Tell me about coming out as an action star at this point in your life.
GC: The whole reason why I got the movie is because I’m physical and I have been my whole life. I’ve grown up a tomboy and I’ll probably never stop being that way. I enjoy being physical. I enjoy expressing myself that way. So, I hope to continue doing that in whatever I do, whether it be acting or fighting or just living day-to-day.
TSJ: How did the meeting with Steven Soderbergh come up?
GC: I got the call after I lost my first fight to Cyborg Santos. I didn’t really want to speak to anybody at the time. I was really bummed. Had a black eye.
My agent called me and he said that this director wanted to meet me. I didn’t know who he was. I don’t know anything about Hollywood. So he called me and I knew that he did ‘Traffic’ and that was a movie that really touched me. I decided to pick him up from the train station in San Diego. We had a four-hour lunch, and at the end of it he offered me a movie. There was no auditioning. I don’t really know what that’s like yet.
TSJ: A lot of young actresses look up to women like Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton as the top fighting women in cinema. Who were the people that you looked up to?
GC: What’s funny is that I grew up on Anne of Green Gables and then after that the earlier Pride and Prejudice. I know that sounds really weird coming from a tomboy, but I think I balanced myself out that way, by watching those films. So, I don’t really have someone that I was looking at to mimic.
TSJ: Did you have to adjust your workout at all when you were working on the film?
GC: Absolutely. They had me getting up at five o’clock and then I did three hours of stunts, and then three hours of Mossad secret service training with guns, and pretty much boot camp and getting yelled at, getting stalked and stalking other people. Then after that I went and did strength and conditioning. There wasn’t any acting training until probably like the week before. I had the script with me and I just had so much anxiety about it. I was like, ‘I don’t even know what to do with this damn thing,’ and then finally the week before they were like, ‘Alright, let’s try reading some lines with this acting coach.’
TSJ: Did you have to be gentle on these guys? I read that Soderbergh said no doubles were used in the film, and that there was no wire work, that we wanted it to look as real as possible. Can you talk to us about learning to pull your punches?
GC: The guys wanted [us] to do everything–from the smallest things, even off-camera [ourselves]. I showed up with the stunt crew and we coordinated the fights together. [Ewan McGregor and I] filmed our fight scene in two days. It was a long fight scene and then we put it on sand and in the water and added all those crazy elements to it.
TSJ: What about Michael Fassbender?
GC: Fassbender is crazy. He loves that shit. He had no problem slamming me into anything. Actually, Steven Soderbergh told him once, he was like, ‘We need to get this shot better, when you slam her into the wall.’ I was like, ‘Damn–that thing is not soft.’ But Soderbregh is behind the camera and he’s being really mischievous, like he wants something bad to happen. Better acting that way? I don’t know. He slammed my head so hard into the wall that I kind of lost it for a second. I slammed [a] vase right into Fassbender’s face. He said that he knew it was coming because he saw a flash in my eyes. Right after that happened I was like, ‘I’m so fired. I’m going to lose this job,’ because it was the first fight scene that we did. But Fassbender loved training for the fight scenes.
TSJ: What about Channing Tatum?
GC: He wanted me to do more to him. He said, ‘I want some bruises.’
He slammed my head so hard into the wall that I kind of lost it for a second.
TSJ: How does it feel to kick the crap out of two of the sexiest guys in the world, and then pretend to kill them?
GC: I loved it. I loved every moment of it. It was a really beautiful experience and these guys made it ten times more of a beautiful experience than I could’ve ever imagined. Everyone around me on set was like, ‘It doesn’t normally go like this, Gina. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.’
TJS: Antonio Banderas said that if you wanted to stop fighting you’d probably have an acting career.
GC: Of course I would love to do more acting. I’m not trying to force myself into any situation, but I’d absolutely love to.
TSJ: What about giving up fighting?
GC: I haven’t been able to say that yet.
TSJ: Have you been getting offers to do action films? And what about beating up Antonio in Haywire 2?
GC: I think, to be very honest, that a lot of people have been waiting for this to come out and see how it does, [and see] and my performance in it. It’s not the easiest world to break into. As far as Haywire 2, that’s all up to Soderbergh.
TSJ: So many people, both guys and girls, are going to be motivated to get into MMA after seeing your performance in Haywire. Any advice?
GC: Do it for the right reasons. Do it because you’re passionate about it, not because you’re trying to prove a point. Keep your hands up.
Read Playboy.com’s review of Haywire here.