Gina Carano—a Texas girl with a killer high kick—is the most famous female fighter in America. You might know her better by her American Gladiator name, "Crush," but even before she picked up a padded joust, Carano brawled in the first ever ladies—only MMA battle and, two months later, the first televised female fight on Showtime. She won both and kept winning for a career tally of eight fights and seven wins, three by knockout. In short: if there's an apocalypse, you'd want to stick close to her. So what makes her nervous? Not much—but helming an action-thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh came close.
For people who haven't followed MMA or American Gladiators, this is their first introduction to you. It's such a defining role, they're going to think of you as this ice cold killer Mallory Kane.
I don't know how that's going to be because I'm so completely opposite her. She's very serious. Usually, if you see me outside this movie I'm constantly smiling—I'm a goofball. It was a challenge to be so serious. It's my first acting job and she's completely opposite of me. And she's kind of alpha female, which I don't feel like I am at all.
I know! I don't know why people are so surprised by that, but while I'm good at being physical and asserting myself, I'm kind of a goober. So outside of the ring, people that know me are just going to laugh their asses off like, "Oh, Gina." It's really cool—I always needed to find that confident side of me, and I think I was somewhat able to find it for the role.
You'd done some work on reality shows like Fight Girl. Were you already feeling comfortable in front of the camera?
I think I got used to ignoring the camera from fighting—you just forget that it's there.
But a scripted movie is so different.
And I didn't want to be one of those sports people that tries to move over into acting and have it be extremely cheesy. So I tried to stay relaxed as much as possible and just have it be natural. But I also had wonderful people that surrounded me. Steven just held my hand through the whole thing. I could trust that he had the vision—he knew exactly what he wanted to do in this movie. And then he surrounded me with a wonderful cast who were all beautiful to work with. Even the people who weren't actors—the hair and make-up, the sound, the lighting—were all a family. It was very comfortable.
What tips did he give you when you started shooting?
He's kind of funny because he does his own cinematography, too. He gets very, "Try it this way," or "How about this?" or "Good, but...." He gives you very little changes that he wants you to do, but I feel like I communicated better with him non-verbally. I could look at him and know if it was good or if it was bad, know if I should maybe not try that again, or if we got it. And then after we got it, he'd be like, "Okay, we got it!" But even though he likes to shoot fast, he'd then give me a free one to try it any way I wanted. It was really like Acting 101 for me, or Movies 101. He brought me up from the basics and tried to teach me the right way to do things.
It's funny how hard it is to talk in front of a camera when we talk all the time normally.
I don't know—I think I have trouble with both. I've come a long way. In college, I was very socially quiet. Unless you know me personally—then, you can't shut me up. But with new people, some people just have more boundaries and take more time getting used to. I think since the fighting, I've had more cameras pointed at me and it's really helped me be more natural because you just learn to ignore that they're there. I always said I'd only do a movie if somebody approached me for it because I don't think I look very Hollywood, I didn't know if I had any acting talent whatsoever. So it was always: if this is going to happen for me, it's only going to be because someone gives me the opportunity. And sure enough, Steven Soderbergh did. Somehow, some way, I attracted that. And now I'm dreaming really big-if I could attract that, I'm just going to start thinking of all sorts of crazy stuff. Dream big. What is it: "Shoot for the moon, and if you hit the stars, then you're good."
Something like that—
You're like, "That's not exactly it...." [Laughs]
It's reversed, but you're close! But as you were talking about getting used to a camera while fighting, I was thinking that fighting is such a personal, vulnerable thing—people see a side of you that you don't show almost anybody, but here you are showing it on TV.
Yeah. You know how it takes you a long time in a relationship to get serious and let yourself get upset when you don't like something that he says? You never really want to show people that serious side to you. But with fighting, you just naturally get there and you don't really give a f--k who is watching because you're this other person. And I think that's what I really like about fighting: it's so natural, it's so real, and it forces you out of yourself. I think that's why I've always been drawn to fighting. Acting is very similar—I've never felt so vulnerable in my life. Every single day I woke up and I was like, "What the hell are we going to do today?" It was all new to me. And your body doesn't become your own. I'm a person who's trained for fights, trained all night, and to have all these people focus on me—hair and make-up, wardrobe—to have someone literally telling you what to wear, how to do your make-up and hair, what to say, how to act. To have all these different actors that you're working with, the different chemistries and the of bouncing ideas off of them. For a long time, for however long the filming was, I experienced a beautiful vulnerability. It really forces you to get out of yourself, and I think that's something I need to do: I need to get out of my head or else I don't know what I'll do.
Knowing they had fight scenes against a professional, were the guys scared of you?
I don't think they were scared. I think it was just a ton of fun for them to be able to do their own stunts. Michael, Channing and Ewan all wanted to do everything-they didn't want to have any doubles. There were no egos involved. It was more like we enjoyed beating the s--t out of each other.
Did you ever have to say, "It's okay-you can hit me harder."
Yeah, I made that clear. I was like, "I'm a pretty sturdy girl, you're not going to hurt me." I think that they could kind of tell when we were practicing. I think they really enjoyed it-they were surprised to handle a girl like that. They probably have to be a little bit more careful normally.
I heard you knocked someone out during rehearsal.
No, no, I did not. It was kind of like a little joke between me and the stunt guys, 8711 in LA. They did Mr. and Mrs. Smith and 300 and all those movies. They're an amazing stunt group.
So that story was invented? I keep hearing it get repeated like it's true?
[Laughs] All I can say is nobody got hurt.
Between Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor, who could you really take in a fight?
I would not say. [Laughs] I would never, never say.
Just say yes if you think you could take at least one of them, even if you didn't want to name names.
I-I-the last thing I would want is for one of them to hear my answer and say, "Oh, Gina's getting a little cocky now."
I think my favorite move of yours is during the chase scene in Barcelona. You're running after someone in a hallway and you prop yourself in mid-air horizontally against the wall with your legs. What is that even called?
You like that? I actually came up with that. It's called a "sprawl"-you do it when somebody shoots in on you like that. They were like, "How about this guy lunges at you here?" And I saw it in my head that I thought I should just sprawl up against that wall. Usually, when I can see something in my head, I can do it. But thank you! I put that in there myself!
It's the first moment when you're like, "Whoa-her physical skills are for real."
Thank you! With some of the fight scenes, once I got comfortable with 8711, I got to start putting my input in, so there's certain moves I can claim and that's one of them.
Which stunt was your favorite?
Each one of the fights that we did had its own style because of the different guys. Channing's very athletic—he's a dancer, and dancers pick up fighting really well—so that one was different because you're dealing with a complete other athlete. And he's incredibly strong, too. It was like, "Oh, s--t-he's going to slam me hard." But then Michael has a trickiness about him, so that was fun and a beautiful fight scene. We smashed each other into walls and vases, we stumble over a couch, he sends me into a flat screen. I think we almost took out the wall that he slammed me into. It was just a really rough fight scene. And then with Ewan, it was adrenaline on the beach. It's cool that I was able to do all the fights and not have to use a body double or anything-that was my favorite part of the movie.
I was almost surprised at the end of the Fassbender fight when you pulled out a gun—I thought you were going to break his neck or do something physical.
I know! I almost didn't want to shoot him so that if there was ever a sequel, he could come back! I was like, "Are you sure you want to put that in there?" But I think it kind of makes it more realistic, really blunt. Hopefully there will be some gasping in the crowd when they see that scene. I want to get some gasps out of people. I think Steven does, too. When he was behind the camera shooting all of the fight scenes, you could see this mischievous grin on his face like, "Is this okay?"
You once talked about how there should be a romantic comedy set in an MMA gym.
I just think gym life is hilarious. There's so much funny stuff that goes on at gyms-it's like its own world. So I think it'd be funny if there were a sitcom like Friends or something, but based around a gym. But I don't know if I'd make it a romantic comedy anymore, though I'd love to do anything from a romantic comedy to a drama to a great action film.
I think you're on to something, though: fit people, lots of sweat, lots of showers.
You've got all these guys on steroids and you've got all these girls. And people can be so quirky when they work out. People are such weirdos.
People always talk about the pressures on actresses to watch their weight. But MMA fighting seems worse: you get weighed in public with everyone watching.
I think you could pretty much ask any fighter if they're developed an eating disorder sometime in their life. I guess it helps you learn not to care. You learn how to support your body as it is. But being a fighter, your first fight is definitely getting on that scale. It is what it is. You've just got to roll with it and do the best you can.
Before all of this, someone once asked you if you'd ever go into acting. You said, "Only if it was a mute part." Do you want to go back in time and tell that girl not to be such a coward?
No, I'd still want to play that mute part. [Laughs] I think I'm better physically and I'm just trying to grow my verbal acting. I'm just learning more about myself with the opportunities that are coming my way—but that mute part still sounds pretty good.