In the last few years, Carla Gugino has been in overdrive defining and redefining herself as an actress; jumping back and forth between mainstream fare like Race to With Mountain, the transgressive comic book adaptation Watchmen, a hit TV series like Entourage, and certainly not least, a variety of stage projects, she's impossible to pin down, much less catch up with. But Boxoffice sat down with Gugino last week at the Los Angeles press day for her latest film Elektra Luxx, where she plays the title character, whom she originally created in the 2009 film Women in Trouble. In addition to discussing the challenges of getting back into the mindset of her pregnant porn-star alter ego, Gugino offered some insights about her eclectic spate of recent roles, and examined her own barometer for success and satisfaction in an industry where so much of the end result is out of her control.
How quickly was this film put together after Women in Trouble?
I believe it was made just about a year after we made Women in Trouble, because the intention was to make this trilogy much faster. But because our cast has grown, thankfully, to get everyone together to make it, even though we were doing it in less than 15 days or whatever, is challenging but kind of what's exciting about it too because when we get to do it, we need so little prep and then we just get in there. But I was thinking about it because with this and Sucker Punch, they were very close to each other and they both feel like it's been endless for them to come out, so I'm glad that the world will see them.
Also for me, it's interesting because one of the things that is important to me as an actor is that I like to disappear into my characters and I have no interest in being a brand or whatever, which seems to be a term of late. I was thinking that it's kind of exciting that A Girl Walks Into A Bar is a totally different character; in Elektra Luxx, we get to introduce her sister, so I get to play two, and then Sucker Punch is also a dual role, but it's so different, so it makes me happy that in one month I have four different characters out there in the world. That makes me happy because I still always feel like I am at the beginning of my career and the process, but when I look at it as "oh right, I've been doing this for awhile," I'm like "oh, good. This is representative of what I believe in and what I care about."
How tough or easy is it to get back into the mind set of a character like this, particularly since she is getting markedly more complex over the course of each story? Is that a difficult process because you're going from the stage to Sucker Punch to this, and then back and forth?
It is interesting, and yet with the engine-revving theory, I think there is something too about the fact that creativity breeds creativity. But there is no doubt that the stripping down of Elektra is such an interesting process and I think in the third one there will be more Celia too, she'll enter in. But it's funny—I know Morgan Freeman mentioned it once about a hat or a pair of shoes, that once he wore those shoes he knew who his character was, and when I put on that blonde wig, I look in the mirror and I'm like, "oh, there she is." So I think that really is oddly helpful, and also because her voice is clear, so as soon as I hear her voice I'm like "Oh right I'm back there." But it does take a day or two of centering myself.
I mean it as a compliment when I say these films have a shaggy charm to them. How organized do you have to be in thinking of about a character over the course of multiple films?
It's interesting, because first of all the shagginess, which I like that word, because this really did start as Sebastian saying "I have this one scene from this movie that never got made and maybe I can make a short." It started out almost as a fun, creative science experiment. So I think that with these movies that it's just great to create and then share it, simple as that. That's what I love about Woody Allen—some of his moves are good, some of them are bad, but the guy keeping making movies. These are people that make you go, "wow—you just keep cranking them out." And I think there is something to be said for keeping the engine revving that way.
But I also think so many people, if they hear that you shot in 12 days and with no money, they think it's sort of a haphazard process, which it actually isn't. I mean, the scripts are very specific and I think that's what gives me the solace to be able to jump onboard quickly. Because there is very little improvising in these movies—I mean really little, like 5 percent or something—and Sebastian writes very specific rhythms [of dialogue]. In fact, I remember Emmanuelle Chriqui saying the first movie that she did with Sebastian, Women in Trouble, because she's is also in A Girl Walks Into A Bar, she was like, "that was one of the hardest jobs I ever had," because it's so dialogue heavy. You're shooting 10 pages in one day and it's really like we kind of have a little finely-oiled machine now that then we get to jump into. I think if we didn't have that as a base, I don't think movies would work as well as they do—and I don't think we would get the people [we do]; I would never do anything because I know someone well, or they're a friend or anything like that, nor do we expect any of our friends to do that, so it always has to be first and foremost about the material.
It was interesting contrasting the song and dance scene I do in Sucker Punch and the one I do in this, because one of them I had maybe two hours and half of rehearsal and maybe about half a day to shoot, and one I had a nice month of rehearsal and a day and a half to shoot. So seeing those two, it's kind of the beauty of the beast because one makes me appreciate the other, and it's good to just get it out there and do it. And it's also awesome when you have time and money to be able to actually hone it and make it really precise.
What's your threshold for your satisfaction with the jobs you take on? Where do you define how satisfied you were by this experience?
That's really interesting because it's kind of like a new chapter for me because the last three years I have been crazily [working] nonstop, since I have been two or three things at the same time, and I love that. But this year like seven things come out that I did within the last few years, and I don't regret anything that I have done, but I just think as the next step, I need to find things that give back as much as I give to them. The two things I would say is one, that's one of the main reasons why I'm so thankful that I also do plays and I get to go and do a play on Broadway for six months and have complete control over my performance, because ultimately that is an actor's medium. You go on that stage and you're the one who is doing it, whereas film, as they always say, it's made three times, in the script, on the set, and then in the editing room.
And there is a real thing like "I'm going to be vulnerable and I'm going to show you everything and then I'm going to trust that you are going to do something good with it." Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't, so I do feel maybe because I have gotten to many extraordinary roles in theater and been so lucky that way—I mean my Broadway debut was After the Fall when Arthur Miller was still alive with us, and then to follow that with Tennessee Williams and most recently Eugene O'Neil, I feel that I've gotten to play some of the most extraordinary roles in theater and it does make me hunger to have that kind of depth and complexity and girth of a character. So that is why I'm always appreciative to Sebastian, because he does love women so much and loves writing for them; this movie is obviously very light, and there are some deep parts to it.
But it's so rare in film for women and I talk about this with my guy actor friends too, guys, maybe they're in some bad movies, but they get to play the lead a lot, and they get a lot of shots of it too. Maybe you're a guy, and you get paid $20 million for a long time, before they're maybe like, "not so much," whereas a woman has one movie that she does [where she has that shot], and all of a sudden it's like, "they don't like to see women in the movies!" And so I guess in terms of my own satisfaction, because I am my own harshest critic too, I am usually somewhat dissatisfied, no matter how much of a great job I think so many elements are, and then maybe more dissatisfied if I didn't like the movie, and then sometimes pleasantly surprised and happy about it.
I recently went to do some looping for a movie, and they were like, "oh, this scene got cut out, and that scene got cut out," and it's par for the course. But especially if you are a woman, [sometimes] you have a limited number of scenes in which to create a full human being; if you are the lead of the movie and couple of scenes go, like for me in Elektra Luxx, then it doesn't make that big of a dent. But if I'm in a movie where I have seven scenes and two go, you're like, "oh, those were the two lynchpins!" So I find it frustrating, but I guess not frustrating enough for me to direct my own movie, because I really don't have that bone in my body.