Born from the creative vision of filmmaker Zack Snyder, “Sucker Punch” is an epic action fantasy that takes us into the vivid imagination of a young girl who’s been locked away against her will. Babydoll (Emily Browning) has not lost her will to survive. Determined to fight for her freedom, she urges four other young girls – the reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), the outspoken Rocket (Jena Malone), the street-smart Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and the fiercely loyal Amber (Jamie Chung) – to band together and try to escape a terrible fate at the hands of their captors.
MoviesOnline sat down with Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung to talk about their new film. They told us about the extraordinary training they underwent to prepare for their roles, how much fun it was to engage in fantastical warfare against everything from samurais to serpents with a virtual arsenal at their disposal, and why “Sucker Punch” is unique because the damsels in distress become their own heroes in order to save themselves. They also updated us on their upcoming projects.
Q: So how badass did you guys feel while you were shooting this movie?
JM: Pretty badass. I mean there was definitely a point where I felt like I could pretty much do anything — anything that you threw at me – because before I thought my strength was only this big. And then, by the end of it, it’s like the size of an albatross and I was just like holy…that’s incredible.
JC: It felt like definitely the females dominated the set. Yeah, there were all the set guys, but you know, us plus our stunt doubles. There were lots of tough chicks on set.
VH: For sure.
Q: So we wouldn’t want to meet you all in a dark alley because you’d take us down?
VH: Oh I wouldn’t really go into a dark alley.
Q: You guys talk about the ‘beast within’ in some of the press materials. Where did that come from?
JM: Where did that come from?
JC: I just picked it up from you guys.
JM: It think it was Abbie that was the first person that did that because maybe like week three we were, because Emily, Abbie and I were trained for two months prior to filming and then the third month all of us got to come in and train together. I think she was on the rower and it was pretty much the only machine that we used besides just our arms and our legs to lift and carry weights which is a form of cross fit, the epoch training. It was the Navy Seals that did all of our physical training. That’s sort of what their mentality was. They were doing these rowing circuits which is like you do a thousand meter row or sprint on rower and you just die. I mean literally. Abbie, I remember the first time she had to do her 500 meter sprint, her lips just went blue. She was hyperventilating. I was like this is not okay, like I’m going to take her to the hospital and Abbie’s like “Oh no, I’m fine. I’m fine, mate. It’s no big deal.” And I’m like “Oh my God! She’s so strong. Cool! I love her and I’m so intimidated.” But I think at the moment it was like maybe she found something because she became super calm instead of freaking out. Like sometimes when you get really worked up and you run for a really long time, you’re like (gulping for air) I can’t do this. But what it is, is you calm your body and you find this burn in your belly that feeds off of that pain, that finds that the pain is a good thing, and that pain is not representative of death or the end. It’s actually representative of a reward or some sort of goal in mind. And so, when we talk about the beast, it’s getting pushed so far physically that you’re able to find this Zen that comes through, this animal that actually craves the pain in a weird way instead of fights it, which is crazy. Literally I think every time we made T-shirts for these girls it was like “Find the beast.”
Q: It’s like what Baby Doll does and then you close your eyes and transcend?
JM: Yeah, indeed.
Q: In real life, in the aftermath of the film, do you guys look forward to or dread the fanboys and geeks that are going to be part of your fan base now?
JC: I think I look forward to a loyal, generous, youthful fan base. I mean there’s nothing wrong with that.
JM: You know, any fan of Zacks, we’re a fan of.
JC: Like Comic Con, all of the fanboys who came out to support us, it’s great.
VH: It’s so much fun. It’s a lot of fun having interaction with new types of people who enjoy what you do.
JC: Fan bases are…the fans are awesome. It means that they’re supportive. It’s more the critic base that you have to be worried about. Right?
Q: Can you talk about how the women are empowered in the movie?
JC: That’s what the movie really is about.
JM: This is the first kind of film with a female ensemble cast where the damsels in distress become their own heroes and they save themselves. That’s very empowering.
JC: Don’t you know, the clothes they’re super sexy, but it goes hand in hand with us being really strong so it’s a great balance.
VH: Totally. And I think what breaks it is that usually in the action genre female characters are resigned to two extremes – the damsel in distress or the sexy bombshell. Those are very one dimensional characters and I think that’s way more of an exploitation because you’re not showing the true reality of what a woman can be. So these are multi-dimensional characters and we’re exploring fears and we’re exploring vulnerability and we’re exploring strength and confidence and how it operates on different levels in your mind. And who you can be in your real life may not be who you project yourself as. That can actually maybe be your saving grace. I think that’s the most amazing thing that Zack is giving to the action genre is a new empowered female that we’ve never seen before which is super exciting.
Q: Jamie, you’ve done action scenes before in other movies. In this movie you have some nice action sequences with the other girls such as when you fly the helicopter. At some point do you ask the director to maybe give you more?
JC: I was giving him such a hard time about it. And, you know, most of the stunt guys that were on this film I worked with on a different film so it was good to see everyone.
VH: Which film?
JC: “Dragonball.” But it was good to see everyone and I was like “Oh c’mon!” There was this bit with Vanessa’s character and my character but they had to cut it out because all of it was a bit too long and it never really made it. We didn’t even shoot it. But yeah, there was something I just loved [about] doing the action and I missed it so much but watching these girls do it and kick butt was just as gratifying.
Q: Since you have had training in the past, did you only do light training for this?
JC: Oh no, no, no. I still got put through the ringer. I just didn’t get to do any cool stuff. You know, I did get to fly. I got to do something that I’ve never done before which is fly a helicopter or be 25 or Mecca. It was still really fun.
Q: When you were auditioning, did you know which character you were going to play?
VH: I think in the very beginning everybody went out and read the same side which was the Sweet Pea monologue at the beginning of the movie.
JC: Where she says “Get this thing off of me.”
VH: And then, from there, they just broke it up into different characters that they wanted you to read for.
Q: There’s lot of music in this film. Did you guys listen to music on set? Did Zack play music for you to get you in the mood?
JM: Not necessarily on set. I think it was always “White Rabbit” and so there was a couple times that we listened to it while we were filming World War I. I think that was the only time but there was a lot of music in the gym. I feel like forming a play list to work out to was something I had never done in my entire life and instantly I realized that none of my music stood up. Like literally, none of it had a good enough beat. I really needed like up, up, up and it was like I had to get a whole new realm of hip hop and music and things that I like. It made me want to start making music that you can work out to. This was like the first time in my life where I was like actually this is an important part. You need to get up and go. The music is so transportive.
Q: Jamie, you sing in the film and on the soundtrack?
JC: Nope, I don’t, just Emily.
JM: Well there was a song that we rehearsed and that we all trained for and that we did record but they ended up not using it.
Q: Vanessa, this is your first action movie. Do you see yourself wanting to do more or would you like to go back to doing a musical?
VH: No, I love it. I want to try to touch every genre at some point in my career. I think doing this, it’s going to be hard to top because I did get to have such an amazing experience working with Zack and being able to meet such incredible girls and work by their side. It’s a lot of fun to be able to unleash something that you don’t get to normally. I really enjoyed that.
Q: When it comes to the 3D environment, how prepared were you for what it was actually going to look like?
JC: Pretty prepared. I mean, Zack really, you know…
JM: He had a really good idea about everything.
JC: There was an actual set that was very detailed and there were storyboards. There were visual boards. There was an art department that you can walk through and you can see pictures of the orcs or the knights, pictures of the dragon or my Mecca. So there was lots of visual help.
JM: Zack, he’s a pretty incredible director in that way in that he provides the actor with all of the tools that they need and he wants your wardrobe to have as many details that feel authentic to you and the hair and make-up that feels authentic to you and getting to ask as many questions. I remember at times I’d be like “So how far is this jump?” “It’s 40 feet.” “Okay then, what do you think the weather’s like on this planet right here?” And it’s just like he knew off the top of his head absolutely every single thing. There was no stupid question. We could always [ask]. It was just like he was our resource which was kind of an incredible thing to have. But obviously the final picture is so much more rich and detailed. It becomes like a completely other world watching it but we were aware of what it looked like and what it was going to feel like. But that’s the magic of filmmaking. Something happens in post production that most actors don’t get to be a part of and I think that’s kind of an exciting element too is letting it go and then getting to be like kids on Christmas when we go to the screening.
Q: Did you girls go out and have fun together?
VH: Oh no, we never had fun. We never went out. We would watch workout videos when we weren’t working out.
JC: We spent a lot of time together. We’d do an entire day of filming and then go out to dinner.
JM: We were addicted to each other basically. We couldn’t get enough.
Q: Did they ask you to stay fit or be on a diet?
JC: Yeah, they put us on a diet. Not a diet, they just put us on clean food that gave us plenty of energy and would help us through the workouts and the long days of filming.
JM: They were training us to be high performance athletes and you can’t keep doing that. You can’t keep up the level of workload that we were enduring on Cheetos and wine coolers. I mean, it’s physically impossible and it was part of the challenge. But we were up for it. It was like changing our entire lifestyle to be able to fit into this new world that we had been invited into.
Q: How challenging is it to remember all the stunt choreography while you’re armed to the teeth and trying to act all at the same time?
JC: Well I felt like isn’t it like repetition?
VH: It’s muscle memory and it’s like a dance. It really is.
JM: It’s probably challenging if you had people behind the scenes that weren’t as prepared as Damon Caro is. He’s such a masterful stunt choreographer. We had months and months with these pieces and I knew them inside and out. I could do them in seven layers of clothes or I could do them in high heels. I could do them with my eyes closed. I mean, we really felt prepared when we got to that set. It was kind of time to just do it. We got to a point in training where I was like “I can’t do this again! I know it so well.” You want to get in there and do it. But it can be difficult. It’s tricky in the beginning for sure. You know, is that a left punch or a right punch, and then if you do the wrong punch, it’s going to hit somebody else.
JC: You always go like 50%. So it’s like you’re doing the movement slowly. You’re remembering it before you speed things up.
JM: And the funny thing is when we’re all doing it is what if my 50% was like Abbie’s 40% and then like Emily’s 50% that’s like my 100%. So it was interesting to have to level each other out.
Q: Who got to use the biggest gun?
JM: Actually the missile launcher that Emily used in World War I. That was one shot she got.
JC: When they said multiple.
VH: Yeah, I got to shoot a saw which was Rambo’s gun which was amazing because I mean this gun by itself is so heavy and you have to carry it around like it’s a part of yourself. So that was a lot of fun shooting 30 cal on a B25 bomber plane. Shooting a 50 cal was crazy because we were shooting it on this one stage and the guys that were looking after the guns told me that I had to keep my mouth open because if I close my mouth I could possibly blow out my eardrums. And the gun just had so much kick to it. It was crazy. But I mean it was amazing because I was in there and Zack was in the cockpit with me and he was filming. He actually was hands on with the camera and there every single step of the way and I could feel his energy which kind of pushed me into this whole other level that was exhilarating.
Q: And the weapons were quite detailed, weren’t they, with symbols on them?
JC: They had little trinkets.
JM: It was very personalized.
VH: Yeah, my tomahawk had a little heart in it. I wanted to take it home but that never happened. I don’t think they’d like me with that on a plane.
Q: For Vanessa and Jamie, as Asian American actresses, how do you personally feel about being in a big budget movie and not playing that stereotypical Asian role?
JC: The great thing about Zack and Debbie and everyone that was part of this movie, it wasn’t really about “Oh let’s have three blonde girls and two Asian girls.” It wasn’t anything about that. It was really like can these people bring this character to life? Like can we see this person playing this character? I feel like what’s most important is, is the chemistry there? There are so many other elements than race or color of the hair or the skin. They’re very open to anything. They saw thousands of girls for these parts and I felt like it was really just about “Oh, I really see you as Rocket.”
VH: I think times are changing, especially now too. It’s like nobody’s stuck to the mold, the stereotypical beauty isn’t just blonde hair and blue eyes. People are really opening their eyes to a whole new inviting world that is amazing.
Q: What’s coming up next for you guys?
VH: I just finished a movie called “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” It’s like a fun, big family 3D adventure film. I got to work with Michael Caine so I get to check it off my bucket list.
JC: I have “Hangover 2” and “Premium Rush.”
JM: I have three independent films: “The Wait,” “Jack and Diane,” and “For Ellen.”
Q: So “Jack and Diane” is happening?
JM: Oh it’s already been shot. Yeah, it’s in the can. It’s being edited right now.
“Sucker Punch” opens in theaters on March 25th.