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'Sucker Punch' stars love playing it tough

By Tim Lammers
Published On: May 12 2011 10:11:17 AM CDT
Vanessa Hudgens, Carla Gugino in 'Sucker Punch'

Warner Bros. Image

Perhaps the only thing that could have been more satisfying for Vanessa Hudgens than working with director Zack Snyder on his new action fantasy "Sucker Punch" was to have had the opportunity to work with him once before, like her fellow star Carla Gugino did on "Watchmen."

After all, Gugino knew going into "Sucker Punch" that working with Snyder isn't just a job -- it's an experience -- and Hudgens was knocked out by an impactful story that she didn't see coming.

"I thought it was the coolest script I ever read -- and it was not just because it came from Zack and knowing how visual of a filmmaker he is. It was also because he writes out all of these tiny details. It's what makes Zack Zack," Hudgens explained in a recent interview. "Plus, there was the fact that it was this all-girl, kick-ass cast who were really standing up for their friendship and fight for their freedom. It was all so mind-blowing."

For Gugino, having to opportunity to work with Snyder again was like attending a massive family reunion: yet one that was held in an intimate setting where everybody knew and understood each other.

"It's such of an amazing thing to work on a movie of this magnitude budget-wise and crew-wise, and still have it feel like you're making a little, independent movie with a group of really talented who are really passionate just to be there every day to do their job, " Gugino said in separate interview. "Zack really does create an environment where everyone is really at the top of their game and are really inspired to go that extra mile."

"Sucker Punch" is set in a brutal Vermont mental institution in 1960s, where a young woman, Babydoll (Emily Browning), has been locked away by her evil stepfather. With an unbreakable will to survive -- and an imagination not bound by space or time -- Babydoll plots her escape from the facility by retreating to an alternate universe: a place where she and her fellow inmates, Blondie (Hudgens), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone) and Amber (Jamie Chung) battle samurais, zombie soldiers and a fire-breathing dragon in their quest for freedom.

Gugino stars as Dr. Vera Gorski, the institution's psychiatrist who becomes a brothel madam and ally of the group of women as the fantasy takes hold.

Knowing Snyder had established himself adapting other people's works for the big-screen in films like "Dawn of the Dead," "300" and "Watchmen," Gugino said she was thrilled that "Sucker Punch" was a product born of exclusively of the filmmaker's imagination.

"I loved the fact that it was an original idea. He's such of a creative person who's adapted things so beautifully for the screen, but this was different because he himself was the graphic novel," Gugino said with a warm, infectious laugh. "The mythology originated with him and his endless imagination, so I was excited about the film's overall aspect."

Fit For Battle

While much of the action around Hudgens and her co-stars was brought to life via the wonders of CGI, the actress and her co-stars had to convince audiences what they were experiencing was real. To prepare, Hudgens and her co-stars began intense, physical and weapons training long before the cameras started to roll -- but that was really only the beginning.

"Training went on the entire duration of the movie," Hudgens said. "All day, every day it was a complete regiment, from martial arts and all different types of fighting -- my specialty was Muay Thai -- to physical training, lifting weights with Navy SEALs and learning all about guns. Our characters had to be 100 percent there during the filming."

Not only did Hudgens learn about weapons, she used some pretty serious artillery -- a liberating experience considering the star of the "High School Musical" films was more used to firing off tunes than shooting multiple rounds of ammunition.

"Oh, man, it was the most exhilarating thing in the whole wide world when you're shooting these guns," Hudgens enthused. "Not only was it just fun, I actually learned a new-found respect for them. The guns sort of became an extension of our characters."

Due to the psychological nature of her role, Gugino said her research on the role focused on the cerebral. Better yet, once production began, Snyder was very open to Gugino's thoughts about Gorski's characteristics -- including the psychiatrist-turned-brothel madam's drop-dead sexy accent.

"I have been told that that voice works well," Gugino said, laughing. "Finding that voice and accent was really key to the discovering who she was. The character wasn't originally written as Polish. Zack discussed maybe that she was German or perhaps even American. There's a stylized nature, of course, to the whole piece, but Gorski has this heightened, poetic way in which she expresses herself. She has a regal nature."
Gugino said Gorski's demeanor was pivotal in establishing the relationship with Babydoll and company, and she kept imagining that the character had to hail from Eastern Europe. At their first table reading of the script, Gugino convinced Snyder that her idea of Gorski being Polish was the absolute right thing for the character.

"There had to be a way in finding out her perspective as a character in regard to these girls," Gugino said. "She's not innately warm but yet she profoundly cares for them, so I was curious what kind of woman would manifest in this way. Being Polish was a bit softer than being German, yet it still had this removed quality to it. Plus, being a woman who came from Poland at that time, I thought, 'Wow, what she must have gone through in her past was worse than anything these girls were going to go through, so she can guide them in a tough love kind of way.'"

While Gorski has the mental wherewithal to guide the girls of "Sucker Punch," Gugino's not sure how she would match up to them physically -- whether in character or real life.

"I think Madam Gorski has some sort of mental and psychological prowess over them and is a tough cookie," Gugino wondered aloud. "But they trained for three months straight before they ever uttered a word of dialogue, so I would say they probably would kick my booty."

Hudgens said there's no worries of that ever happening -- but at the same time, if Blondie or any of the other female characters from "Sucker Punch" inspire women to take charge and kick booty in real life, she's totally cool with it.

"I think this movie is very empowering for women, and the most important thought I took away from it is, 'If I can set my mind to anything, I can get it done,'" Hudgens said. "Hopefully others can take that away as well."