By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Gina Carano has dominated the world of mixed martial arts fighting for the past five years and has starred in the hit NBC show, “American Gladiators.” She now turns her sights to the big screen, making her feature film debut in Steven Soderbergh’s action-packed thriller “Haywire.” Carano plays Mallory, an ex-Marine turned freelance covert operative on a rescue assignment in Dublin when the operation goes awry. She has to figure out how she was double crossed and by whom, which leads the self-reliant agent on a wild globe-trotting adventure in which she seeks out the rat who betrayed her without getting herself—or her beloved father—killed.
The preternaturally beautiful fighter turned thespian spoke with Front Row Features about making her Hollywood debut, in which she stars opposite a handful of handsome hunks, whom she gets the pleasure of beating up. The 29-year-old Texas native explains how she became a fighter and what’s next.
Front Row Features: How did you get this part? Did you have to audition?
Carano: I got a phone call after I lost my first fight to Cyborg Santos. And I didn’t really want to speak to anybody at the time. I was bummed. I had a black eye. My agent called me and he said (Steven Soderbergh) wanted to meet me. I knew he did “Traffic,” and that was a movie that really touched me. So I decided to pick him up at the train station in San Diego. We had a four-hour lunch and, at the end of it, he offered me a movie.
Front Row Features: What was it like being “the woman” in this male-dominated film?
Carano: I think my physicality is the whole reason I got the job, and I think it’s probably because a lot of it has to do with I do a lot of things like guys maybe. I fight like a guy. I run like a guy. The whole reason I got this movie is because I’m physical. I have been my whole life. I grew up a tomboy and probably never stopped 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.
Front Row Features: Did you grow up watching fight movies?
Carano: You know it’s funny I grew up (watching) “Anne of Green Gables,” and the earlier (version of) “Pride and Prejudice.” I didn’t really watch action films. 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 didn’t really have somebody I was looking at to mimic (acting-wise), and I didn’t have somebody to mimic in fighting, either.
Front Row Features: Did you adjust your workout when you were working on the movie?
Carano: Absolutely. They had me getting up at 5 a.m., and then I did three hours of stunts, and then three hours of Mossad secret service training with guns and boot camp. It was pretty much getting yelled at, and getting stalked and stalking other people. And then after that I did strength and conditioning, and there wasn’t any acting training until probably like the week before (filming). I had the script with me and I had so much anxiety about it. I (thought to myself) I don’t even know what to do with this damn thing. And then, finally, the week before, they were like let’s try reading some lines with this acting coach.
Front Row Features: What was it like adjusting to fighting with famous actors like Ewan McGregor and Channing Tatum?
Carano: These guys wanted to do everything, and of course, they have busy schedules, so they would come in whenever they could and learn. (McGregor and I) learned our fight scene in two days. It was a hard fight scene. It was a long fight scene. (We fought) in the sand and in the water.
Front Row Features: You and Michael Fassbender have a pretty intense fight sequence where you really go at each other. What was that like for you?
Carano: Fassbender’s crazy! He loves that shit. He had no problem slamming me into anything. Actually Steven Soderbergh told him once, we need to get this shot better where you slam her head into the wall. I was like, damn, that thing’s not soft. Soderbergh is behind the camera and he’s being really mischievous. He wants something bad to happen. I’m supposed to throw the vase right past Michael. So, we were going for it and he slammed my head so hard into the wall I kind of lost it for a second. I kind of slammed the vase right into Fassbender’s face, but he said he know it was coming because he saw a flash in my eyes. And right after that happened I thought, I’m so fired. I’m going to lose this job, because this is the first fight scene we did.
Front Row Features: You also have an intense fight sequence with Channing Tatum in the diner?
Carano: He wanted me to do more to him. He wanted bruises. (She laughs.)
Front Row Features: What was it like to kick the crap out of two of the sexiest actors in the world?
Carano: I loved it. I loved every moment. It was really a beautiful experience, and these guys made it 10 times more of a beautiful experience than I could have imagined. Everyone on set was like, it doesn’t usually go like this. It’s a once in a lifetime thing.
Front Row Features: How do you feel about established female action stars? Has your viewpoint changed after making this movie?
Carano: I’m definitely not a judgmental person. I’m a fighter and I think every fighter watches action scenes, and they think what they would have done and what is realistic. And everybody has been trying to compare me, and take away from certain females that are skinny and beautiful and great at acting. I don’t want that comparison. What I’m bringing is just whatever I can to make fights look good with my own flavor and my own personality.
Front Row Features: How did you become a fighter? Did someone steal your lunch money in second grade?
Carano: (She laughs.) I think I was always the son my dad (former Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Glenn Carano) never had. I have two beautiful sisters, both of whom were very thin and beautiful back in high school. So, I was always like the brute, the middle child. I was a little bit of a recluse. I got in a lot of street fights, not a lot, but a decent amount. I was dating someone, and one day I realized while we were drinking our 40 (ounces) of Olde English that this probably wasn’t the best lifestyle. (My boyfriend) decided to quit the next day and become sober for a year. And he walked into Master Toddy’s Muay Thai in Las Vegas and always wanted me to come in and watch him. And I saw a huge transformation in a human being I was close to, 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.
Front Row Features: Are you going to pursue acting as a career?
Carano: Of course I would love to do more acting. But I’m not trying to force myself into anything.
Front Row Features: What about giving up fighting?
Carano: I haven’t been able to say that yet.
Front Row Features: What did you learn from working on “Haywire?”
Carano: I honestly have to say this is one the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had. I got to travel to places I’ve never been. I got opened up to a world I haven’t seen, and realized how big this world can be and how small it can be. I was surrounded by the most beautiful people. I have seen these people on television, but being around them and knowing I haven’t done this before. It was very comfortable to be vulnerable, because I’ve never been so vulnerable in my life, to be honest. I woke up every day and I felt like I was on some strange drug of adrenaline. I almost didn’t want to see the movie, because I felt every part of it.
Front Row Features: Will there be a “Haywire” sequel?
Carano: A lot of people are waiting to see how this does and my performance. As far as “Haywire 2,” that’s all up to Soderbergh, and I think everyone is just waiting for this film to come out. Regardless, I am really excited to get onto the other side of it and just land somewhere.
Front Row Features: Do you have any tips for women interested in getting involved in MMA?
Carano: Do it for the right reasons and keep your hands up. You see a lot of people trying to be something that they’re not, trying to be violent but they’re not. If it’s in there you’ll find out about it. Do it because you’re passionate about it, not because you trying to prove a point.