As she approaches her 40th year on earth, actress Carla Gugino really has it all–diversified acting chops, brains and a sexy bod to boot–which may be why Zack Snyder chose to bring her back following her memorable appearance as Sally Jupiter in Watchmen in the role of Doctor/Madame Gorsky in Sucker Punch. It seems like a role perfectly suited for Gugino, to be training and pushing the next generation of female action star, and she brings a formidable amount of genre cred for comic fans, considering her early appearance in Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City.
She wasn’t actually working the day we visited the set but she stopped by to fill us in on her character, working with Zack again as well as reflecting on her famous nude scene in Sin City.
Q: All these girls have the action. Do you have any action at all or are you just the behind the scenes psychiatrist?
Gugino: Do you have to put it that way? I actually, let’s see, do I have any? I do, I have some moves. I get to sing and dance, which is so cool and new for me. I have a couple, like, I get sort of hit, which I realized… I’m like, hmm, “Watchmen 2, what’s that?” Wait a minute. No, it was funny though, because Damon, who’s our amazing stunt man extraordinaire… He was like, “Zack’s gotta get you fighting in the next one because you’ve got so much potential.” And I was like, “Yes, I would like to realize my potential that way,” but no, I don’t do any of the big fight sequences. That’s Scott Glenn’s character, [he] sort of takes over the… It’s interesting because my character sort of brings Babydoll into these worlds. I, as the choreographer, play these certain pieces of music to her that transports her to this magical place, and he takes over on the other side.
Q: Vanessa talked about how each of the different fantasies bring out different aspects for each character. What’s the throughline for your character through all these?
Gugino: Yeah, it’s interesting because, that’s what’s so strange and interesting about this movie is that they are these multitude of worlds. I am a psychiatrist in the Lennox House, in the insane asylum in the 1960’s. Very Freudian-based. I kind of thought she’d be more Jungian and then I started doing the research and I was like, “No, for good and bad she’s definitely progressive for that time.” She doesn’t believe in lobotomies. She’s Eastern European, Polish, Dr. Gorsky. And then in the alternate world, Madame Gorsky is a dominatrix choreographer slash madame of a brothel. I just like to put those sentences together and make you think, “What does that even, what could that be?” But it’s true. And in both of them, I think the truth is that she really does care about these girls. I think it’s definitely a tough love situation. There was a moment where Zack had considered her being German and then we considered maybe she was going to be American, but the way in which it had been written, there was this great heightened dialogue and just dialogue that felt to me like English was their second language. And then I also felt, it was really important to figure out where she was coming from and Eastern European philosophy seemed important, which is that she’s not soft and she’s really hard on the girls, but it is absolutely to protect them and she believe in them and basically, in both worlds, is like, “If you connect to who you are, you are much more powerful than you think you could ever be.” So I would say that’s the through line for this character.
Q: With Babydoll, she’s put there wrongfully and shouldn’t be there. Is it the same with all the girls or do some of them actually have mental issues that got them placed there?
Gugino: No, it’s not the same with all the girls. It’s interesting because, again, one of the things I love about this movie so much is that, when you hear about it conceptually, you would think it would go down certain roads thematically or even just plot-wise, but it doesn’t. So you think you’re gonna be like, “Okay, maybe it would explore the sanity of these particular girls” and it doesn’t in a typical way. I guess because we’re seeing it through Babydoll’s perspective in so many ways, what we are in our alternate incarnations, including the other girls, is sort of up to you as an audience to decide how real or manufactured by her that is. No, they’re not all wrongfully in there, but certainly this is something that Oscar Isaac’s character has been doing, which is that he’s been taking money to get girls lobotomized who probably shouldn’t be.
Q: Vanessa talked about the bonding they went through with the training, but your character has a different relationship with them. What was your experience with getting to know them and was it standoffish?
Gugino: No, I’ve totally fallen in love with every one of them. It’s funny to be sort of the oldest girl on set. I’m like, “How did that happen?” The big sister slash momma hen slash whatever that thing is. And also they’ve all become such dear friends. Same thing on “Watchmen.” I think Zack and Debbie, they are such exceptional groups of people that are really talented but are also great people, so it’s been kind of a love at first sight kind of thing. I trained with them for a while just because Logan and Dave are here, the Navy Seals trainers. You gotta take advantage of that. Plus I’m in these tiny corsets, so anything that can help me is a good thing. But yeah, I guess to me I just feel like they all are, in their own rights, really fantastic actresses. But also really good people and people who were at a really young age had a really strong sense of themselves, which is not always the case. And if I can in any way kind of help them keep that… I think that’s what’s been interesting with this in comparison to “Watchmen” because the collaboration, the elements of collaboration and inspiration and it’s a safe environment to be able to try things. Zack’s absolute amazing imagination and endless energy and all of that is really the same. And yet, what’s really interesting about this is that there’s a lot of female energy, which has made it different. And today is my last day. I’m off to the airport after seeing you guys. It’s been one of the most emotional ends of a movie for me for a really long time and I think that’s part of the reason why.
Q: When and how did Zack and Debbie push you about this? During “Watchmen” did he mention it?
Gugino: We had talked about “Sucker Punch,” not in regards to me but that he’d been working on it for a while when we were doing “Watchmen.” And then when we were doing the European press junket for “Watchmen” he said, ‘There’s a role that I think you’d be really awesome in. Will you check it out?’
Q: Did you know anything about it or the characters before this?
Gugino: No, he had just told me, at the junket he told me a little bit about the character and the plot and then I read it and went from there.
Q: How has working with Zack on this been compared to “Watchmen”?
Gugino: Amazing. I think what’s cool on this one is just that we have a real shorthand and we kind of know each other more and how we work, and it’s just a continuation. I would really love to work with him for the rest of my life. It’s really a unique combination and I’ve found it only in the directors that really have a sense of their own vision and are strong directors. He knows exactly what he wants and he’s also incredibly collaborative and open to what we want to try. Usually it’s the defensive directors that are not very good, so in this particular case it’s really amazing because he’s like, “Try anything,” but you also feel like you have a fearless leader, which is important. Especially with a movie like this because I feel like, tonally, there’s so much to wrap your head around in terms of the fantastical elements, the heightened elements and then also certain emotion being played really for real. And the movie’s just incredibly visceral. That’s what I would say most about what I’ve seen and what we’ve shot so far is that it’s not an intellectual, it takes you on a much more visceral ride and an emotional one, while being of course visually astounding.
Q: It seems like the big difference in this and “Watchmen” is that in “Watchmen,” you are playing someone with so much baggage and here it’s totally fiction. Is that freeing for you?
Gugino: Absolutely. Really freeing. That being said, what’s also been really challenging about this as opposed to “Watchmen” is “Watchmen” there was always a bible for us to refer to. Do you know what I mean? Creatively it was always like, “Well is she this or is she more that?” “Would she do this or would she do that?” or “Do you think this scene should start here?” and then it was like, “Let’s check it out.” Whatever, it was always that. So in this one there was a lot that was suggested on the page that we really just discovered, and for sure in the relationship with Oscar and my character, with Blue and Gorsky. Huge amounts that we all found while shooting and so it was more fly by the seat of our pants in that regard, which is both really exciting and also scary.
Q: When you read a script like this, does this part jump out as being very unique to you and do you wonder how he’s going to pull it off?
Gugino: Well, I have to say, I love Warner Bros. so much for making this movie because it isn’t a typical big studio movie in any regard in that way. I think it is in the sense that it will be super entertaining and sexy and the action will be unbelievable and I think that it has an emotional core that people don’t really expect. All of that stuff. Mind-bending, it’s cool, I think it’s going to be an amazing movie. I guess for me, having done this for so long, any time I read anything that has a specific vision and that is like… I had said to Zack when they were doing “Watchmen” and they said, “The visionary director Zack Snyder” and I was like, “Very few people can you actually put that up there and not have it be lip service but actually have it be real. He really is and so I guess to have one person’s vision, to have that support and not have all those cooks in the kitchen is really, I was just jumping up and down when I read it and so excited. As an actor, I guess the only part we can be a part of really is to just make it the best movie possible and then hope that people want to see something that’s not like everything else, which I think they do. I do.
Q: Were you surprised by audience reaction to “Watchmen” and how do you think they’ll take to this one?
Gugino: Well, I think there’s just no one who was a fan of the graphic novel that didn’t kind of think that what he did was extraordinary. It was interesting traveling the world with “Watchmen” because it was so fascinating to see the different countries and the different takes. In France they were all like, “Oh yes, but you and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, they are in love but he’s terrible and yet she loves him. Yes, it’s love, it’s true love” and I’m like, “Yes, yes she does” then in the states people are like, “He rapes her and then she still loves him? I don’t understand.” (Laughs) So it’s fascinating to hear all the responses. I think what is really amazing about Zack and what I loved about “Watchmen” was that it was so true to the graphic novel, but it also is stand-alone. It wasn’t something that you had to know the graphic novel to get the full experience on the movie. You’re still on this amazing visual ride. He really somehow taps into something really new that pays homage to cool genres that we all love. I was just watching something the other day that he showed me and I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this” and that’s so exciting.
Q: Is this a different kind of exercise for you than something like “Women in Trouble” where there are fewer logistical things?
Gugino: No, it’s different. “Women in Trouble” being really an extreme example because we shot it in 12 days. That was such a different set of challenges. But this has been interesting because there’s been a huge amount of… This has been much more intensive because, she’s Polish, so there’s a whole accent changing who she is, you know? And then there’s the singing and Marius, who’s our musical director, is just phenomenal. There’s been a huge amount of recording done for that, and then all of the dance rehearsals and working with the trainers and working all these looks for this character and then the dual characters because I’m playing two characters. Definitely it has taken a lot more work for me behind the scenes than I’ve had on a movie in a while and I’ve had the luxury of time to do that research too, so it has been different and also it’s so lucky to have the resources to do that.
Q: How do you switch gears from a movie like this with all these big sets to doing smaller independent films?
Gugino: Well before this I was doing a Eugene O’Neil tragedy on Broadway with Brian Dennehy which is, again, a totally different world. I don’t know. It’s my favorite thing. I just love to do the opposites. So it’s always a strange transition to finish any job, especially one that I love, but then I’m usually craving something that is different. I think if you’re an actor, you have to be a bit of a gypsy to be able to kind of re… I moved so much as a kid that I was used to new environments and going, “Okay, how do I fit in here?” So I think that probably actually has helped me in terms of doing this.
Q: Between “Sin City” and then “Watchmen,” you’ve become a genre heroine, so are you looking for more genre stuff to keep that flow going or do you feel like you’ve done enough?
Gugino: It’s so funny because I was never a graphic novel kid, but now it has become such a big part of my life and Frank Miller has become such a close friend. I would love to do more. I kind of want to do it all. If there’s a great role for me in a genre movie… I’ve love to do a great thriller. I’m always a sucker for a good thriller, so maybe that will be next.
Q: One of the funny stories off of “Witch Mountain” is that your co-star Alex Ludwig wasn’t familiar with your work so he rewatched “Sin City” and essentially hit puberty.
Gugino: I know, I know, it was just awful! (laughs)
Q: Is this movie going to just rock a generation of kids?
Gugino: With these girls, are you kidding? It’s going to be out of control, out of control! Yeah, that was an awkward moment, I must say. When Robert Rodriguez asked me to do that movie, I was like, “Sure, I’ll do anything for you” and then later I was like, “Hmmm, yes. Now I have to live with that.” Even though I loved Lucille. She was really fun to play. This, are you kidding, this is like, because they’re also so gorgeous obviously, but they’re also so strong and great in the movie. I think it will rock a new generation of boys for the obvious reasons, but also I think it will be really empowering for girls.
Q: Are you talking to Zack yet about the next project he’s working on?
Gugino: I can’t bug him yet. (Laughs) No, I mean, the guy’s still shooting.
Q: He hasn’t talked about some other script he has in a drawer somewhere?
Gugino: No. (Laughs)
Q: Where is Frank on “Sin City 2″?
Gugino: I know they really want to, but I don’t know, it sort of does seem like everybody’s gotten busy in different directions, meaning Frank and Robert. So I don’t know. I don’t have any inside scoop on that one. But it could happen.
Q: You’re still up for it?
Q: Well if it is a prequel you guys…
Gugino: Yeah, I haven’t died yet. It’s true.