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MMA Fighter and Action Star Gina Carano on In the Blood and What Makes a Good Heroine

Interviews
by Laura Berger
April 3, 2014 10:15 AM
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Still from "In the Blood"

In the Blood is a love story -- a bullet-riddled, blood-soaked love story. When Ava's (Gina Carano) husband (Cam Gigandet, Twilight) goes missing on their honeymoon in the Caribbean, she resolves to get him back by any means necessary. The blushing bride transforms into a detective and executioner intent on discovering what happened to her husband and who needs to suffer for it. 

And suffer they do. Ava is relentless in her pursuit of the perpetrators, and racks up a considerable body count on her mission to find and protect her husband.

As one of the world's foremost mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters, Carano is, of course, no stranger to physical combat. Director Steven Soderbergh was so taken with her that he invited her to a lunch meeting and asked to work with her. That led to Haywire, her first starring role, resulting in a Critics' Choice Award Nomination for Best Actress in an Action Movie. 

In this conversation with Women and Hollywood, Carano discusses how she sees film as a means to change viewers' perception of the world, what makes a good female superhero, and the biggest challenge she faced filming In the Blood which opens on April 4.

In the Blood takes the familiar narrative of a man doing absolutely anything he can to save his wife or daughter and swaps the gender of the characters. We see Ava fighting, stabbing, shooting, and doing everything imaginable for her husband.  Do you think that changing the gender of the protagonist from a man to a woman inherently changes this story?

It doesn't necessarily change the story of what we've seen and felt, but it does [make us] let go of the stereotypes related to gender roles. You end up rooting for a human being to get to the end of her mission to find and help her husband. 

Hopefully, it's done in a way that makes people feel it is believable. I feel that women can be fighters especially when it comes to a loved one. Hopefully, doing that isn't making the male character look weak, but just showing the passion and love -- and what [this woman] will do to save her husband.

I don't think the movie makes the husband character look weak at all. In fact, contrary to those movies where it's the man saving the woman, your spouse isn't helpless -- your husband is also shown being super tough and kicking ass. 

Right. And you know what? A strong woman -- someone who is willing to go to the ends of the world for their husband -- she's obviously going to be attracted to someone who inspires her and makes her feel strong and encourages that behavior in herself. He can't be a slouch either.

You do amazing work on this movie with fistfights, shootouts, even on a zipline, but audiences also see a less recognizable, more emotional side of you in this movie. Did you see In the Blood as a chance to show more emotional range in your acting? Was that something that you found exciting or daunting?

It was something that has always been a part of me. Before I filmed the movie, I wanted to figure out how to show emotion -- believable emotion, on film. When that moment came, it was really scary. I've taught myself my whole life not to show people what I was feeling or thinking. Then I found [myself] in a circumstance where I had to go there, and stay there, and [experience] that emotion and share it with everyone in the room. To force myself to do that it was probably one of my proudest moments on film so far. I've done so much physical stuff, but to be able to do that was like, "Ahh! I can breathe! I wanna do that again! Make me cry! Make me cry!" 

As you mentioned, you're generally really physical in your onscreen roles, but I read that your dream role in high school would've been something from Pride and Prejudice. What are you looking for next?

There's so much. I think that for future roles, it would be something that has nothing to do with any type of fighting, but all performance based on character. Hopefully, a very realistic story that people can be captured by -- not threatened by. A more realistic story that can have a positive impact, and make people question themselves. That's why I love movies. I think stories can -- and movies do -- change people's perspectives and hearts. I want to be a part of that someday. 

I don't want to do the same thing over and over -- I don't want to be "The Physical Person." I've run into a lot of actors and actresses who are just fine being that person. They like being "The Action Person." I'm not. I know it's a bigger risk, and it's going to be harder to do, but I'd rather be true to myself creatively because that's who I am in life. 

Through flashbacks, we're provided with context that helps account for Ava's incredible fighting skills and her drive. Her father raises her to use her body as a weapon: he tells her never to be a victim and to rely only on herself. Do you think Ava's father ultimately helps or hurts her? 

That's a really good question. Ava learned some hardcore skills of how to do certain things, but by the time she got married to the man of her dreams she was trying to figure out how not to show that side of herself. She might have been a little bit suppressed. Then all of a sudden something extreme happens and she reverts back. She is able to use the good parts of it. Her husband is looking at her like, "Where did that come from? Who did I marry?" I'm sure that a lot of couples can relate to that: Who are you?

You're a big fan of Wonder Woman, and your name is usually thrown around when casting is discussed. I read that it's important to you that the film adaptation is "done correctly." What idea or vision do you think the film should capture?

Wonder Woman is something people ask me a lot about, and that's such a huge compliment. I can't wait to see [Zack Snyder's movie, which introduces Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.] 

What I want to see in an action heroine, and in Wonder Woman, [are] the two parts I have in me. One is very creative, emotional, female, protective, with motherly instincts and sisterly instincts, but the other side of me is this really aggressive skill set. There's anger and violence in there.

Hopefully what I'll be able to do in the future in my characters is combine what a real woman is -- which is both of those things. Men and women feel a lot of the same things. More often than not, women feel violence and aggression, maybe in the form of, "How will I be able to lift this car off my baby? How will I be able to find my husband?" Or even, "How can I protect my country?"

As far as action heroines, I want to play a character who is very realistic and very human.


Laura Berger is an editorial assistant at Women and Hollywood and works at Ryerson University in Toronto. She has spoken at academic conferences across Canada and the United States about representations of gender in film and television. Her recent publications include pieces in Joss Whedon: The Complete CompanionBitch Magazine, and PopMatters.

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