Heading straight from their well-received presentation in Hall H, writer/director Zack Snyder proudly led his cast to a press conference in the neighboring Hilton. Ready to talk Sucker Punch in depth was Emily Browning (Babydoll), Vanessa Hudgens (Blondie), Jamie Chung (Amber), Jena Malone (Rocket), Carla Gugino (Madam Gorski) and Zack’s wife and producing partner, Deborah Snyder.
The first completely original film from Zack, Sucker Punch takes place in the 1950s and tells the story of young woman (Browning) who is confined to a mental institution by her abusive father. Facing a lobotomy in five days, Babydoll works on an escape plan with her fellow inmates. The story moves in and out of anachronistic fantasy sequences, replete with dragons, robots, heavy weaponry and musical numbers, depicting Babydoll’s perception of reality of a number of imaginary levels.
Also starring in the film but, unfortunately, not present for San Diego are Abbie Cornish, Jon Hamm, Oscar Isaac and Scott Glenn.
Q: A zombie film, comic book movies, an animated owl story and now this. So you are just schizophrenic, right?
Deborah Snyder: Who isn’t?
Zack: That’s my wife. But yes. The real answer is, “What’s not cool about all that stuff?” Nothing. I think we’ve been trying to make movies that, so far, are things that we’re interested in, that we think are cool. If it happens to have a broad — Though, I would say that zombie movies and comic book adaptations aren’t a crazy jump there. Animated owl film? Okay, I’ll give you that one. But it is animated, so there’s the whole maybe-relationship.
Q: Are you finding it harder and harder to top yourself?
Emily Browning: I should say, in Australia, “top yourself” means “commit suicide”.
Zack: Oh, great. If I don’t do good, I will top myself. This is what happens with an international crowd.
Q: Vanessa, your early career started with Disney. Is that a hard association to break and is that something you’re consciously doing with edgier pictures like this?
Jena Malone: Yeah, but to her credit, every young actor has something they start in that they need to break out of as they get older. Whether it’s Disney or whether it’s this or whether it’s that. You could ask any actor that question.
Q: What sort of discipline, dancing or otherwise, did you have to learn for playing your part?
Q: 300 was pretty much an all-male cast. Can you talk about working with a primarily female cast in this one?
Deborah: 300 had some kick-ass women, too.
Zack: Yeah, it did. Absolutely. The one… That character was based off of one frame in Frank [Miller’s] graphic novel. But that’s okay. Some things are based off one frame.
Q: Do you ladies have any special gear or technology that you love?
Zack: They all came from a farm.
Deborah: I want to steal Zack’s iPad. I don’t have one yet, so I’ve been trying to get it out of his hands. Especially because you can get service all over the place. The computers and the phones aren’t working too well here because everybody’s on them. But he seems to have good luck. I’m going to steal his.
Emily: I’m fond of the occasional videogame now and again, but not very cool video games like Mario Kart and those sort of things.
Vanessa: I want to find the Call of Duty: Black Ops people here. I think they’re showing a little bit here and I love that game.
Zack: That is a good game.
Emily: Your stock just went up so much here, Vanessa. Everyone is just like, “Oh my god! She’s amazing!”
Q: Your known for striking effects and visuals. Can you talk specifically about the production design of this film?
Q: Vanessa, do you still feel any connections to High School Musical?
Q: Carla, this was your second time working with Zack. How did you come aboard the film?
Q: Why did you make the decision not to go 3D?
Q: The footage was amazing, but the plot was a little unclear. Can you put the story for Sucker Punch in your own words?
Q: Can the actresses each talk about your characters a little?
Vanessa: I play Blondie. She’s in this whole crazy world as well. She starts off as kind of a follower. I feel like in a lot of the fight sequences she becomes a total badass, which is kind of funny because it’s a complete difference. As well as the whole Blondie thing.
Emily: I play Babydoll. She’s the only character whose story you get to see any of outside of the asylum. She sort of comes into the institution and has very little time to kind of escape, so she rallies these girls together and gets them to help her escape as well. It sort of goes into her imagination a lot. It’s really cool, being at the center of those fantasies.
Jamie: I play Amber and she’s kind of the first one to jump onboard with Babydoll’s plan. She’s really sweet and she is extremely loyal to her friends but, you know, she’s always there for Babydoll. All she really has is her friends.
Carla: I play a Polish psychiatrist named Dr. Gorski. It’s all in the world of the 1960’s, but it’s kind of Zack’s reality, so there’s a heightened reality to it as well. The time and place is sort of questionable. In the alternate world, I play the keeper and sort of Madam of the brothel who is Madam Gorski. She just has a really interesting journey because she’s clearly been through a lot before. She’s in charge of taking care of these girls and she does it in a very strict, tough love way. But there’s probably no one who understands them like her. It was such an incredible experience because you’re trying to see all these characters come to life as we were filming. We were discovering things while we were shooting, which is a luxury that you oftentimes don’t have. We’d find these little gems of the relationships.
Zack: If you get a chance to look at the footage again and pay close attention, there’s a lot of the background in there.
Deborah: What I think is amazing is that a lof of these women are so multi-dimensional. They can be strong and they can fight, but they can also be feminine and sexy and vulnerable at times. I think we haven’t really seen that yet in these female action films. I think that, for me, that’s what was so exciting for the project.
Q: Can you talk about the special training?
Zack: The idea for me was to give these guys a chance to live like a pro-athlete instead of an actor for a little bit.
Jena: And eat like one, too.
Zack: To feel like, in a sense, that there was no movie to made. That what they were doing was just every day going to train, go to the gym, shoot a gun, go to bed and wake up and do it again. I think that that’s kind of a cool way to think about it and I hope that their experiences together in that setting then had an influence on the movie itself and, having to do those scenes, there was a weird leftover from the sweating and the gun shooting.
Jena: In a lot of ways, three months of training in the stunt gym felt a lot like a mental institution. You just do it, pushing past this idea of pain or emotional discomfort. You get to this point where you’re crying.
Zack: Take your vitamins!
Jena: You get 45 minutes and a juice break. But it’s amazing because once you get back that routine of discomfort, you get to this amazing point of exhilaration. You’re totally finding new things inside you every single day. As a woman, I’ve never been asked to push myself to such extremes. So you’re finding out some strengths that you can play directly to the characters and the relationships between the characters. So that was smart on your part.
Zack: I didn’t do it on purpose. (laughs)
Q: What was it like acting without the CG backgrounds? Was seeing the footage close to how you imagined it?
Jena: And we weren’t shooting in a vacuum. We had the ultimate resource which was the interior of Zack’s mind. It was all there. As much information as we needed. Of where to go and what to shoot and what everything looked like. We had so many things to pull from.
Jamie: And there were images onset and clips of what the scene was supposed to look like. So that really helped, visually.
Emily: But even seeing the footage today, we all knew it was going to look cool. But it was 10,000 times cooler than I had expected.
Q: Carla, can you compare this film experience to Watchmen?
Zack: Yeah. With Watchmen, there was, “She says this, so say it.” Where, with this, we could play with it.
Q: She was Polish in Watchmen as well.
Carla: But she hid her Polish nature!
Zack: Yeah, Alan [Moore] didn’t want her to be Polish and I did.
Q: Was it fun to wear those outfits and did you take anything home with you?
Q: Were you able to incorporate those outfits into your performances?
Zack: What hurts.
Emily: But I felt tougher in the costume, actually. I found it kind of easier to fight in costume. Michael [Wilkinson], when he designed, was obviously somewhat revealing, but also wanted to make sure we were really comfortable. I felt awesome in my costume. It was kind of easier to fight, in a way.
Jamie: It really helped put you into character in all the different fantasy realms that we were in. All of the costumes translated really well. They still gave the essence of your character. They were great. Most of the things were vintage of handmade. The corsets were custom-made to fit our bodies.
Carla: What’s great about Michael is that he’s just really a genius. He’ll work with you. There was an entire crystal outfit that just snapped on. There were certain moments were it was just like, buck up. They’re so beautiful that you have a to have a sense of humor.
Zack: Yeah, a sense of humor is perfect. You don’t have to wear it too long.
Sucker Punch hits theaters on March 25, 2011.