With Steven Soderbergh‘s next next next film being announced earlier in the week as psychological thriller “The Bitter Pill” his next, “Haywire” (shot before “Contagion,” but released after, although still ahead of the just-wrapped “Magic Mike“) is getting closer and closer, and the film screened in New York last night to a delighted audience, many of whom were MMA fans.
Soderbergh and his star, MMA fighter Gina Carano — who makes her acting debut as the lead role of covert operative Mallory Kane, betrayed and left vengeful by the shadowy people she works for — were present for a Q&A afterwards. While it was a slightly odd evening — a security guard fell asleep in the front row, and the venue kept dimming the lights, prompting the director to joke “It’s apparently last call. They really want us out of here” — there were plenty of insights into the making of the film, and in particular the brutal hand-to-hand action featured throughout.
Soderbergh commented that when co-star Channing Tatum first saw the film, he commented, “God, it’s so much fun to watch [Gina] beat her way through the cast.” And seeing Carano working her way through guys like Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor and Antonio Banderas certainly seems to be one of the biggest selling-points of the film, especially for female audiences if our crowd was any gauge, but she reveals that the stars were a little reluctant to go toe-to-toe with their leading lady at first.
Carano said that she has no problem squaring off with men saying, “I’ve dealt with men larger than me, smaller than me, I’ve been hit where I can’t catch up with my head, and I’ve been hit not so hard. It’s all about the chemistry with the person. There were no egos involved, it was all about creating the best fight scene that we could. It was ok to get hurt.” But the stars still took a little convincing not to hold their punches. Soderbergh comments, “[Gina] had to convince both Channing and Michael, ‘You can hit me.’ Because that’s sort of the point of the film, as Ewan says, very late, ‘Don’t think of her as a woman, that would be a mistake.’ There was a little bit of that, and you had to go, ‘Come on.’ “
Even the stuntman were trying to remain gentleman, as Carano relates, but she was admittedly taken aback a little once they let loose: “With the stunt guys also, they were used to actresses. I actually had to tell that one stunt guy, ‘No, you put me into that wall as hard as you can.’ And he put me into it so hard I actually went white for a second. But I actually enjoyed that. Is that weird?”
Of course, as a professional MMA fighter, Carano should enjoy it (she told the audience at one point “fighting is the most honest form of communication you can get”), but those wussy actor types were just as happy to take a hiding. Carano tells of how the star of “Shame” proved her match. “[Michael] Fassbender just became a mentor to me, he was so supportive. And he was so down to just bang into everything we could, vases, everything. He always was like ‘We need to slam our head into that wall a little harder.’ “
Those words came back to haunt him, however, in one brutal fight scene. “In the hotel room fight scene,” Soderbergh relates, “which was rehearsed at length, for weeks, our lead stunt choreographer explained to Michael ‘Listen, here’s what’s going to happen. When she reaches for the vase, your instinct is going to be to look at it. Don’t do that, because if you do that, she’s going to hit you right in the eye with it.’ They drilled this into him, and sure enough, on take one, she grabbed it, and he looked right at it, and she hit him right, flush — and it’s the take that’s in the movie. That’s the good news. But he really got clocked. I mean it’s breakaway, but you don’t wanna get hit by her with this at full tilt. He took a beating.”
That scene itself, heavily featured in the trailer, was in fact the spring-off point for the whole project, via a mostly forgotten vehicle for “The Birds” star Rod Taylor. Soderbergh explains “The writer, Lem Dobbs, had turned me on to a movie that was made in the 60s called ‘Darker Than Amber,’ which starred Rod Taylor, who I always liked a lot. And there’s this scene in the middle with him and what must have been a stuntman, where they get into this incredibly brutal fight in a hotel room, smaller than this one and not as nice, and they just tear each other apart, and tear the room apart. And we talked about it, and I thought that would be great, but it’d be even better if it was a four-star hotel, and he was in a suit, and she was in a cocktail dress. That would be a really odd juxtaposition of elements. In a lot of ways, the movie was built out from that idea.”
And true to its retro inspiration, the director was keen to stay away from any contemporary “Bourne Identity“-style camerawork. “I don’t think there’s a single hand-held shot in the movie,” Soderbergh said. “We were really consciously going against the grain there, because my feeling is that lately, there has been a way of disguising the fact that the people can’t really do what’s required, and knowing that I had Gina, and knowing that we had cast people around her who could actually do this stuff, we took the conscious position of letting you really see it, not cutting as fast, keeping the shots looser, and having you feel, ‘Wow, that’s really happening in front of us.’ “