At film festivals, it’s hardly uncommon for a Q&A to get hijacked when an overzealous audience member decides to compliment the filmmakers and then ask an eight-minute question that almost always boils down to “how did you do _____?” But on Sunday night at AFI Fest, none other than the moderator spoiled a post-screening question and answer session, when “The Informant” actor Joel McHale stumbled through a spectacularly awkward and nonsensical conversation with the cast and crew of “Haywire” after Relativity offered the film for a secret screening (read our review here).
McHale is a gifted actor and a generally quick-witted TV host as the chief commenter on E’s “Talk Soup,” and given his past with Steven Soderbergh his participation probably seemed like a no-brainer. But it seemed as if McHale left his own brain at home, or perhaps it was kicked out of his head by “Haywire” star Gina Carano, because from the moment he sat down with Soderbergh, Carano, Ewan McGregor, and Michael Fassbender, he seemed at a constant loss for words trying to find anything to ask them about.
Nevertheless, McHale got Soderbergh to describe how he first came up with the idea of casting an unproven mixed martial arts fighter in a tentpole action film. “I was watching these fights on CBS,” he explained. “CBS started broadcasting these MMA fights – it was the new thing – and Gina was fighting. I just thought, wow, somebody should really build a movie around this woman – she’s kind of amazing! She’s a natural beauty and she beats people to a pulp in a cage; why wouldn’t we want to build a movie around her?”
Soderbergh has flirted with action filmmaking in the past via the “Ocean’s” movies, but he indicated that he looked at “Haywire” as an opportunity to fully tackle that sort of material for the first time – and on his own terms. “I’ve always liked the early Bond films, sort of the ‘From Russia With Love’ era, and I’d just been fired off of a movie,” he remembered. alluding to the infamous "Moneyball" incident of 2009. “So I thought, here’s an opportunity to combine my interest in making a certain type of spy film with an unusual and compelling person. So I reached out to Gina’s people and I went down to San Diego, and I said, how would you feel about being in a movie? And she said okay.”
He also said that there was a larger sociological reason for enlisting Carano in the film. “There were two things that were motivating me,” he said. “One is that why is Angelina [Jolie] the only woman currently who’s allowed to run around with a gun and beat people up? And the other is that 20 years ago, someone decided to put Steven Seagal in a movie, who had never been in a movie – why don’t we [do that again]?”
Fassbender revealed that his hotel-room showdown with Carano was the first fight shot in the film, and it prompted him to warn off the other actors who would soon be trading blows with the actress. “I said to Ewan, just run,” he said. “I said, I can tell you from experience from my scene, where I get my ass kicked, just run.” Meanwhile, he also said that shooting the sequence was both fun and arduous. “One of the first things Steven said to me was, how do you feel about getting your ass kicked by a woman? And I was like, it’s funny you say that, because that is one of my fetishes. But it’s nice to get to play out a scene like that, and to do it, blow for blow, and be allowed to do it all.”
“It was a lot of fun, and we shot it for two days, and I think after the second day I puked,” he confessed. “But I think that was a bug – I’m sure it had nothing to do with getting the shit kicked out of you by Gina Carano. But it was a lot of fun, and hats off to Gina.”
McGregor, on the other hand, said that Soderbergh approached his fight scene with Carano in a remarkably mellow and relaxed way. “It was very cavalier I thought, this huge long fight and [Steven] was like, well, we’ll just do it in a couple of hours today and tomorrow’.” Despite Soderbergh’s lack of concern, McGregor indicated that the scene was carefully mapped out to maximize productivity. “The fights were all choreographed and rehearsed, although ours was done kind of quickly at the last minute. But they were rehearsed with the fight people, 8711, and they were fantastic – unbelievable. We shot our fight, Steven wanted that evening light, so we shot our fight over two evenings, like between 3:30 and 5:30.”
Offering evidence of Carano’s toughness, McGregor said that she responded unexpectedly when the two of them collided during the fight scene. “There was one little series of three punches, right, left, right, and on the second right I had to punch right over Gina’s head,” he remembered. “And she had to duck, but she didn’t duck that much, and I didn’t stop it in time, and I punched her in the head. And she came straight up and went, ‘Are you okay?’ And she was right, because I really fucking hurt my hand. She didn’t even feel it!"
After McHale awkwardly tried to wrap things up by asking McGregor about his attire and Fassbender about the origins of his name, Carano revealed that the whole experience of making the film was more than a little overwhelming. “It was just kind of surreal – all of this is surreal, right now,” she said. “But Steven surrounded me with some of the most beautiful people, right here and all of the other actors, and gentle people that actually spent time with me and helped me out with it. I felt more vulnerable than I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Perhaps needless to say, however, Carano said she felt most at home when she was doing the fighting. “I loved the fights,” she said. “The fight days were where I actually would feel like myself, but other than that, there was all of these guys, so I was in really good care.”
“Haywire” is scheduled for release on January 20, 2012.