||01-11-2012 10:43 AM
Still got tickets to give away for next Tuesday's advance screening
If you're in the SF Bay Area or Sacto, hit me up! :cool:
From the Cage to the Screen, With Fists Flying
Gina Carano in a scene from the film "Haywire."
By MARGY ROCHLIN
Published: January 1, 2012
Gina Carano, a professional mixed martial arts fighter, stars in the movie "Haywire."
THE first time Gina Carano met with the director Steven Soderbergh she arrived with a black eye and an air of depression. Just days earlier she had experienced her first loss as a professional mixed martial arts fighter: She’d been taken to the mat in 4 minutes 59 seconds by an impressively sturdy Brazilian, Cristiane Santos, who is known as Cyborg. What Ms. Carano couldn’t have known until Mr. Soderbergh told her — especially because she’d never heard of him — is that he had recently experienced the film industry version of a technical knockout: Sony Pictures had pulled the plug on his version of the sports drama “Moneyball.”
“It was an interesting place for us both,” Ms. Carano, 29, said recently, recalling how their moods were perfectly in sync during that initial meeting at a cafe in San Diego, where her parents have a home. “We were two wounded birds just sitting there, going, like, ‘Life isn’t fair sometimes.’ ”
Mr. Soderbergh had an antidote for the bitter pills they each had swallowed. “The first thing you need to do is just immediately get back to work,” said Mr. Soderbergh, who, post-“Moneyball,” had been wallowing in front of the television when he spotted Ms. Carano in a match. He was struck by the notion that she would be ideal as the lethal covert operator in a “pseudo-Bond” action film he had been thinking about. “She needed to get her head out of that fight,” he said. “There’s nothing, in her case, like somebody saying, ‘You’re going to be the star of a movie’ to put yourself in a different space.”
Taking a page from the Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal franchises, Mr. Soderbergh envisioned “Haywire,” opening on Jan. 20, as a revenge thriller that capitalized on the effortless-looking athleticism of the pretty dark-haired Ms. Carano, who is considered one of the world’s top female fighters. What didn’t concern him was that her on-camera experience until then had been limited mostly to televised mixed martial arts bouts, a brief cameo in the direct-to-DVD movie “Blood and Bones” and a two-season stint competing under the name Crush on the reality contest “American Gladiators.”
He asked himself: “Why are action films so ugly? Why can’t there be action, and why can’t they be beautiful to look at?”
“Haywire” is lovingly lighted and filmed, its action as sparingly edited as old Hollywood musicals, so that the painstaking fight choreography can be appreciated. As the double-crossed freelance agent Mallory Kane, Ms. Carano gives “Haywire” jolts of energy with her arsenal of explosive moves: pushing off walls, slinging sheet pans, twisting arms until they break. In one memorable scene Michael Fassbender, playing a suave colleague, engages Mallory in a furniture-smashing brawl in an expensive hotel room in Dublin. Mr. Fassbender recalled Ms. Carano needling him to hit her harder. “I kept telling her, ‘Gina, this is called acting, yeah? It’s pretend. I don’t have to hit you,’ ” said Mr. Fassbender, who in “Haywire” tosses Ms. Carano, dressed in black Herve Leger, into a flat-screen television. “I’m going to make myself look like a real wuss, but I was wearing padding. But she wouldn’t. She was stubborn like that. I think she likes the bruising.”
Or perhaps she feels that scrapes and goose eggs come with the territory. One of the earliest memories of Ms. Carano, the middle daughter of Dana and Glenn Carano, a former backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, is the after-dinner entertainment at family get-togethers: sofas and chairs would be cleared from the living room, and one after the other, little Gina would wrestle her male cousins.
“They were all fascinated by how I could handle myself,” she said. “But I’ve been physical my whole life. I have these big legs, and I’ve always been so strong. I was born this way.” Each of Ms. Carano’s war stories, and she seems to have a lot of them, tend to include vivid details — what kind of taunt incited the battle, what happened to her white jeans — and are related so cheerfully that one tends to forget that she’s talking about something involving tears (not hers) and bloody noses.
It never occurred to her that not backing down could be turned into an occupation until she was in her early 20s, and a boyfriend introduced her to Muay Thai kickboxing. “I was actually really good at it,” said the 5-foot-8-inch Ms. Carano who, five months later, began participating in underground “Fight Club”-like events. She would be paired with a female fighter, then proceed to beat her senseless.
Once she entered the more animalistic world of cage fighting, she gained a reputation for strength, technical proficiency and regular employment of the rear naked choke, a move that involves wrapping your arms around an opponent’s neck and applying pressure to her carotid artery until she concedes or faints. But part of what drew her fan base was the sunny, girlish vitality she brought to ringside victory interviews.
Unlike her all-business “Haywire” character, she is quite animated in person. After one “American Gladiators” bout, for instance, she was accused of using an illegal kick to the head. But she just shrugged lightly and said, “It wasn’t a kick, it was a step,” demonstrating with an insouciant smile.
By the time Mark Koops, an executive producer of “American Gladiators,” met her in 2008, Ms. Carano was on a winning streak. Despite the allure of exposure on that NBC series, she didn’t want to ruin her professional-athlete image by pulling on a shimmery superheroine hot pants outfit.
“I joke that we signed her and unsigned her five times prior to the first day of shooting,” Mr. Koops said, adding that once Ms. Carano committed to shoving amateur opponents off platforms suspended in midair and other contests, she quickly became a viewer favorite. “She can get on camera and instantly know how to turn on her competitiveness and charm. She’s beautiful and has a smile, when you can get her to smile, that lights up the room.”
On a recent chilly morning at the Mr. C hotel in Beverly Hills, Ms. Carano sat at a table on the patio directing her charm offensive at the waiter with a hand brace who brought her scrambled eggs. “What happened?” she asked him about what turned out to be a softball injury. “Slow pitch or fast?” Judging from his demeanor he didn’t know that the woman before him in a zippered leather jacket, fingerless gloves, jeans and a striped knit hat was capable of breaking his other hand and a lot more.
Though her mixed martial arts career has been put aside for 2 ½ years, Ms. Carano still thinks of herself as a fighter. Time and the “Haywire” experience have allowed her to view her loss to Cyborg differently. “It put me in a very humble and honest place,” Ms. Carano said. “Like: ‘Gina? Maybe that can happen. Maybe life isn’t always going to go your way.’ ”
She’s wary when it comes to speculating about her future in movies, but she’ll allow that she’d love to play someone more light-hearted than the tough customer she portrays in “Haywire.” “She’s very serious. I laugh a lot,” Ms. Carano said. “There’s only one time in the movie that she smiles, and that’s when she’s pretending to be drunk.”
Then there’s the matter of her battered black notebook, which she flipped open after asking for suggestions of classic movies to put in her Netflix queue, then wrote down the titles in her looping, schoolgirl handwriting.
“I guess no one would be surprised if someone like Gina came off as crustier, a little more sarcastic,” Mr. Soderbergh said, after being told that she’s home-schooling herself in cinema history. “But her sincerity and lack of guile is real. There’s a funny dichotomy there. On one hand she’s a cage fighter, and on the other hand she’s someone who is still evolving.”