Director Steven Soderbergh's motivation for centering an action film around a female Mixed Martial Arts champion with no real acting experience was simple.
"I saw Gina fighting on television. Remember when CBS was running MMA fights on Saturday? I turned it on one time and thought, 'why doesn't someone build a movie around her?' " Soderbergh said of Gina Carano, the lead of his new spy thriller "Haywire." "I've never seen someone like her fight – in a cage." Soderbergh quickly sought out the fighter, pitched her the idea and then called up his old screenwriter friend and DVD-commentary sparing partner Lem Dobbs, who had written "The Limey" and "Kafka," to pen the script.
One of the elements the Academy Award-winning director of "Traffic" wanted to emphasize was real fighting with very little tricks. “They wore padding, but when Gina was punching Michael [Fassbender] in the ribs, she was really punching him in the ribs,” he said.
Co-star Channing Tatum was just one of the many men in the film who took a beating at the hands of the MMA-fighter-turned-actress. “I had to hit her with a ketchup bottle, and I couldn’t do it. She called me the p-word, so then I did it for my ‘manity,’ " he laughed. "But then she hit me back twice as hard, and I didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Two sequences were shown to the Comic-Con crowd. The trailer, which you saw earlier today, and a brutal and matter-of-fact fight sequence between Carano and Fassbender—note a major spoiler was shown, so careful what you read out there.
Eschewing the conventional wisdom of quickly clipped and disorienting 'Bourne' style fight sequences, this brawl between the two actors was extremely grounded, mapping out a plain-in-sight geography that put the focus on pure and grueling mano y mano combat.
Featuring no music and no sound other than grunting, the smashing of fists on flesh and the breaking of glass and furniture, the sequence is a bold statement flying straight against the grain of modern action sequences. So strangely centered that while watching you almost forget to breathe; this is no frills, punishing stuff.
While there's yet to be a taste of David Holmes' score -- said to be out there, Lalo Schifrin-like and full of brass -- his take on "Haywire" should whet the appetite for fans of action films that do not use vertiginous editing to hide the ferocious, and at times uncomfortable, pounding of flesh.
"Mallory Kane is special ops and she just gets the job done and people want to work with her," the director said of Carano's protagonist character. "She's a private contractor and she's... a professional doing her job, and I think she definitely believes in what she does because her father was in the military as well, so it's in her blood."
Soderbergh noted that the film plays with narrative at times. "It's kind of a cold open, we kind of parachute into the beginning of the story," he said. "At a certain point, the story catches up...the second half of the film plays out in real time. I love spy movies and we tried to be really accurate about this world...we had a couple of consultants who worked with us to a make sure that everything we were doing was factually accurate."
"The fights are probably shorter than you're used to seeing in movies because at a certain point, someone is going to get the drop on the other one and it's going to be over." the director said, noting Dobbs was inspired by '60s movies featuring Rod Taylor kicking ass in a suit and tie in the middle of a four-star hotel.
In related Soderbergh news. The filmmaker says a DVD re-release of his depression-era 1993 film, "King of the Hill," is ready to go, but it all depends on the studio who owns it. "I'm hoping that all studios eventually adopt the system that Warner has," he said of the celebrated Warner Archive. "I don't know when Universal is going to release it, I just know that I had to look at the remaster and now it's sitting there."
As for all that retirement talk? Well, it's real, but Soderbergh blames it on Jason Bourne. "Matt Damon is apparently about as discreet as a fourteen-year-old girl," Soderbergh quipped to much laughter. "I had this drunken conversation with him...and that's how all this started...It kinda got a little bit blown out of proportion there and it's Matt's fault." - Reporting by Kimber Meyers & RP. Photo by LATimes/AP