Last year Devin paid a visit to the set of Sucker Punch (Opening 3.25). His series of interviews will appear over the next few days. – Eileen
Previous Interview: Jamie Chung and Vanessa Hudgens
Jenna: The dance today is crazy. Each of us girls – except Emily, because her dance becomes the key point to the tipping off to the fantasy world – each has our own burlesque dance, which is our persona coming out and all of the different icons we represent. I’m the nurse because the first time Baby Doll sees me I’m done up as a nurse. It’s a crazy zombie robot nurse dance.
We heard you guys went through some pretty rigorous training. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Abby: We started out in Los Angeles. We spent a month there. We’d train in the morning for three hours martial arts, warm up and warm down. Then we’d have a half hour break, have our protein shakes and amino acids and vitamins.
Jenna: Then Logan and Dave would take over, the Navy SEALs. Our weight and strength advisors.
Abby: They would train us like maniacs.
Jenna: For an hour and a half.
Abby: Then Logan and Dave would also do gun work as well. That was so much fun. Then when we came to Vancouver it was pretty much the same schedule, but mostly we were learning the moves we would use for the film, the choreography, and everything ramped up once we got here.
Jenna: On top of the martial arts, weapons, strength training, we were doing costumes and walking through the sets and meeting with Zack. It was a full on rehearsal schedule. What was interesting was that the first three months that us girls trained together, Jamie and Vanessa didn’t come in until August, I think?
Abby: End of August.
Jenna: That was the rehearsal, all three of us girls sweating, crying, figuring out what our pain threshold was all together, and in a weird way it was like an asylum. We could eat at a very specific time, we had to push ourselves to the limits, we were wearing these sweat uniforms, everything was very regimented. In a weird way, and I know in probably a roundabout way for Zack, it was a far more interesting style of rehearsing, which is getting to know the physical body of the character. Finding out what the character’s pain threshold is, working together as a team, seeing each other in very horrible moments – like when I’m doing my 20th farmer’s carry and I’m freaking sobbing but I want to get it done for the girls. And you can do it. I think any form of around the table, reading the scene, trying to figure out who you were – we would never have gotten to that closeness without those three months.
Abby: It was such an unspoken thing that we went through. We would sit and talk about it but there were so many moments where we were just going hard and doing the thing we were doing. For me in particular in those three months there was a feeling inside of me that was almost zenlike, so peaceful. Coming in, working out, learning how to use a gun, doing martial arts – you have to be careful with a gun, it’s a deadly weapon. There’s something very focused about that process, very determined. To be able to exert that much energy and let it out every day.
Was it harder to rehearse a musical sequence or a fight scene?
Jenna: This is the most terrifying thing I’ve done in the whole film. I can shoot orcs until my fingers fall off. I can be in the gym doing deadlifts until my body gives out. But this dance is terrifying me, because it’s totally different. You have to get out of your mind, which is what they’ve been training us. Mental discipline, physical discipline. To get back into the body, the rhythm, the sex, the breath, which is a hard thing. We were doing the fighting sequence in the morning – you’re there with your guns and then you have to let it all go and remember your languid curves and the softness of the body too.
Abby: It’s been like being in some institution of some sort. We’re learning so much, and it’s not just one thing we’re learning. Singing and dancing, it’s just crazy. With training I felt like a stunt person. I didn’t feel like an actor.
Jenna: It’s a standby job now. We could definitely do it!
Can you guys talk a little bit about your relationships to Baby Doll, and the archetypes and how they relate to Baby Doll?
Jenna: It’s a little more abstract. It’s all through Baby Doll. I understand my character through Baby Doll and I understand the story through Baby Doll. Those are the eyes that we’re watching the story through, that’s the key, that’s the truth. All of these fantastical sequences that we’re a part of. It’s just as simple that the first time Baby Doll saw me I was in a nurse costume. There’s something that takes care and is nurturing there, and that’s the archetype I become in her mind. She creates me in a way.
Abby: It’s interesting too because we’re playing these characters yet you see these characters in all different dimensions and worlds. For me it was about coming to an understanding of how you portray the character regardless of the world, and creating a throughline for the journey. But it’s also a question of what do you show in these different worlds. At first I was struggling with that but then I found a great deal of freedom because when I’m in the psych ward I can be Sweet Pea in the psych ward and when I’m in action world I’m Sweet Pea in action world. I let myself go in those worlds and trust in the character and trust in the story. I feel like my character is a cube and each day I turn the cube and look at a different side, but it’s all one cube. It’s fun.
We got to see some footage from the WWI scene. There was a cool beat in there where you’re character is surrounded and there’s a beat between the two women where you look like you’re going to break down. Can you talk about finding the balance between playing kick ass women and finding the moments of vulnerability and character?
Jenna: I think that’s a tribute to Zack Snyder and the script. He was really, really adamant about finding these characters amongst absolutely crazy feats of strength and confidence and out of this world action. But in the midst of it there’s “I messed it up, I’m sorry.” There are still the women we know from the other world – it’s all very humanistic and realistic. We would go through the script and Zack would say ‘Maybe there’s something here.’ Also he allows us to develop things on our feet. If there’s a little look we can give before we cross an archway, he allows those moments to happen.
Abby: Also just storywise I know for me WWI is very much about Sweet Pea worrying about Rocket. She’s only there for her, she’s only doing it for her. Through WWI everything we did I carried that as my intention. Where is she, what’s she doing?
Jenna: Sweet Pea!!!!
Jenna: [laughs] That’s how we find each other.
Abby: It’s fun because even though you’re in this crazy killing martial arts world, the characters exist.
This is a period piece, but Zack is obviously playing fast and loose with it. Do you approach your characters through the prism of what girls in 1967 would be imagining or do you take a more modern approach to it?
Jenna: I think it’s really pigeon holing when you say ‘What would a girl in 1967 talk like?’ They all talk the same. They may not use the modern vernacular saying ‘like’ all the time or something, maybe our ghetto slang. But we haven’t really changed that much. I find that really dangerous when you’re doing a period piece, trying to act period. Then you’re not tangible, you’re not human. You always want to see humans up there, regardless of the era. The period will speak for itself because that’s the confinements we as humans find ourselves in – the corsets or the asylum outfits or the hair or the makeup.
Abby: And the 60s weren’t that long ago, but I think that even if you go back to 1600 if you deal with the character from a human level…
In the real world, why are you in the asylum to begin with?
Jenna: That’s something we came up with. It’s hinted at in the script, but it’s more vague to let people fill in what they want.
How much backstory did you get and how much freedom did you have to come up with that?
Jenna: Ultimate freedom. He did have final say, but he’s a collaborator. That’s what’s so exciting about this – it’s whatever Abby brings and whatever I bring and whatever the moment brings. Back history is something we’ve been allowed to work on, the script works on and something that works on us. Just being in it and finding the trust that all of the girls have in training together it brings out a whole other level of intimacy. It’s more than just theory – more than just ‘Maybe I wore red’ or ‘Maybe there was a spider when I was younger.’ It becomes way more human and animalistic in relation to the girls.
Can you talk about your reaction when you first saw the costumes you would be wearing?
Jenna: I thought mine wasn’t revealing enough! I got on set and all the girls had their thighs out and I was covered in fishnets and I thought give me more skin! It’s weird man, we’re wearing nothing but various forms of underwear, but it again goes back to trust. Obviously early fittings were intimidating, and it was before we started training. Oh well, let’s see what my thighs look like in seven months.
Abby: You get used to it. The action outfit to me is just a second skin. We’ve been wearing that stuff for so long.
Jenna: Everybody is really respectful, considerate and gentlemanlike.
You have to shoot guns, do dances, do martial arts and have dramatic scenes. That’s like five different movies you’re doing. Is that frightening?
Jenna: We’re frothing at the mouth with excitement. If you don’t have fear and excitement in your body, what are you doing?
Abby: We’re also so keen and eager and excited to embark on this film and it’s fulfilled everything for all of us.
For a lot of audiences Zack Snyder is a macho dude director. This is a very woman centered film. I assume you wouldn’t sign on if he didn’t understand women, but how does he deal with such a female-centric story?
Abby: Zack is really open and I think he’s as much in touch with his femininity as he is with his masculine side. He’s very caring, and I think he sees a lot.
Jenna: The script speaks for itself. If we read the script and it felt like he didn’t know what he was talking about I don’t think any of us would be here. But the script itself explores so many levels of female archetypes and allowing them to break and bend and expose themselves. Allowing women to be these really fully fleshed characters. I was thinking about it – they could be men or women. Literally we could almost be sexless if it wasn’t for the specificity of the world we’re in.
Abby: And the abuse that’s centered around that world as well. The thing about Zack that I found really fun is that he knows what he’s doing, he’s a great filmmaker, he’s super technical and he has this film in his head from start to finish, but at the same time he’s open to exploring it. When you’re on set even though he has his shots worked out you don’t feel restricted by that. Every day is that day – he’s so in the moment. He really is a lot of fun to work with. I’ve had the most fun on this film than I have on any film.