It will see Zack Snyder cut loose...
Having witnessed the kinetic blastathons that were 300 and Watchmen , you could be forgiven for thinking that Zack Snyder is not a director who reins himself in very often. However, the germ of the idea for Sucker Punch apparently came about because Snyder was tired of doing just that.
“A while ago I had written a script for myself,” Snyder told SlashFilm back in 2007, “and there was a sequence in it that made me think, ‘How can I make a film that can have action sequences in it that aren’t limited by the physical realities that normal people are limited by?’”
The answer to that question is apparently to operate in the world of fantasy. Whilst 300 and Watchmen were both deliriously OTT, they were both grounded to some extent (although 300 takes some pretty spectacular detours) in the real world. However, Sucker Punch will spend much of its run-time in the imagination of its protagonists, allowing Snyder to really crank the mayhem up to eleven.
“I’ve tried to just make good looking shots all the time,” Snyder told Movies Online. “It's not just in the action sequences. Movies are visual, and (the visuals) influence the movie all the way across. In every aspect of the film, I think we did something that was striking, and that's kind of how I want the experience of watching a movie.”
"It's Alice In Wonderland with machine guns..."
The above quote has long been the film’s unofficial tagline, but what can we actually expect in terms of the plot? Well, in brief, the film will follow a young girl known as Baby Doll, who is committed to an insane asylum by her abusive stepfather. Reasoning that if he puts her away, she won’t be able to reveal his abuse, the stepfather arranges for Baby Doll to be lobotomised, a procedure that is set to happen five days after she arrives in the facility. Naturally, Baby Doll will do anything in her power to avoid that happening, delving into the world of fantasy to aid her (and her fellow inmates’) escape…
“One of the procedural parts of the movie is that when one of the girls fantasizes, their adventure parallels a little adventure they’re doing in reality,” says Snyder. “For instance, they need to steal a lighter from a dude that has a dragon etched on it. That’s what they’re really doing, (but in) Baby Doll’s version of it, they go to another world and fight a dragon. And that’s what you see.”
As Zack’s wife (and producer) Debbie explains, the fantasy element isn’t just an excuse to throw a dragon into the mix. It’s supposed to represent a coping mechanism for the film’s damaged protagonist.
“When things are so bad,” she tells Collider, “where do you go, what do you do to escape that, how do you cope with that? A lot of times you’ll visualize somewhere else, you want to be somewhere else. I think Baby Doll finds strength (through that). She goes to a different place and each time she seems to get a little bit more strength.”
The film will be presented in spectacular...2D?
What with all this magic and fantasy flying around, the assumption would be that Sucker Punch will be a 3D extravaganza, particularly given Snyder’s use of the technique on Legend Of The Guardians . However, in this case, the director reasons that throwing 3D into the mix might make things a little too taxing on the eyes.
“When we started talking about Sucker Punch , I had a certain idea of how I wanted to move the camera and I had a certain idea of how I wanted the film to feel,” said Snyder, speaking at last year’s Comic-Con. “I’m a fan of 3D, Legends is all 3D. It was conceived in 3D and, if anyone has seen it, I think the 3D is pretty frigging awesome, if I do say so myself. We really were considering it, but we had seen a bunch of tests and conversion didn't sit with me that great, so it's in eye-numbing 2D, which is also awesome.”
Clearly, what was on the table was a post-production tune-up, which has produced some iffy results in the past ( Clash Of The Titans …we’re looking at you), and its refreshing to hear a studio give a director their backing to leave it at just the two dimensions. “We’d been spoiled by the kind of baked-in 3D that we created for Guardians, where every bit of it was perfectly rendered,” Snyder told Collider, “so to kind of go and do it half-assed…it can only look so good.”
“I think there’s enough ways not to do it,” agrees Debbie Snyder, “and to Warner’s credit, they were really supportive in that they didn’t want to screw it up either. They saw the first visuals and (agreed) it really didn’t need it.” A studio turning down the opportunity to charge more money? Wonders will never cease…
Emily Browning is Baby Doll...
The film’s petite but feisty protagonist will be played by Aussie starlet Emily Browning, who is understandably excited about what promises to be her breakthrough role. “It’s like a dream come true,” she told Collider recently. “To get to do this kind of crazy other world, then the fighting, and then there is actually some really intense emotional stuff. It’s like a total dream come true to be able to do it. I thought it was going to be difficult, but no.”
The role had initially been earmarked for Amanda Seyfried, but when the Dear John star pulled out, Browning was only too happy to step in, recognising the chance to play a potentially iconic character. “I love the fact that it’s this total flip of what you would normally expect from that really innocent schoolgirl,” she says. “She’s totally stoic, tough, and kind of angry. I just like that kind of juxtaposition. I think it’s pretty cool.”
Perhaps best known for her work on 2004’s Lemony Snicket film, Browning would have been the last person to predict her becoming an action hero, but has apparently taken to it like a duck to water.
“It’s something I never thought I would do,” the actress told MovieWeb at Comic-Con. “I never thought I would do an action film because I’d never read a good action script until this one. So I was kind of amazed when I got thrown into it, but we just had so much fun. It was insane.”
Jamie Chung and Abbie Cornish will be helping to kick ass
As mentioned before, Baby Doll won’t be going it alone in her asylum adventure, with some of her fellow inmates proving equally eager to escape. Jamie Chung is one of the four, and her character Amber is the first to befriend Lennox House mental facility’s newest patient.
“Amber is kind of the first one to jump onboard with Baby Doll's plan,” explains Chung. “She's really sweet and is extremely loyal to her friends. She's always there for Baby Doll, because all she really has is her friends.” And just like Browning, Chung is only too happy to wax lyrical about how great the part was to film.
“Every day is like a fresh start,” she says to Collider. “It never gets old and tiring because we’re shooting something different everyday. It’s like (one day) it’s the Orc world and then we’re in our brothel look and then we’re in an insane asylum, so there’s never a dull moment. Every day you wake up and you go, ‘Wow, we’re here. This is what we’re doing.’ I feel like everyone has this great attitude about it.”
Abbie Cornish plays Sweet Pea, the more reluctant member of the group, and the Australian actress admits she was pleasantly surprised by how understanding her director was. “I think Zack himself is very much in touch with his femininity as much as he is his masculinity,” she told Collider. “He’s very sensitive and caring!” And joking aside, Cornish goes on to explain how Snyder’s directing style is tailored towards getting the best out of his talented cast.
The thing about Zack that I’ve found really fun is that he knows what he’s doing,” she says. “He’s super technical, and has had this film in his head from start to finish. It’s all there, all storyboarded. But at the same time, he’s constantly exploring it. He’s very instinctual, so you don’t feel confined or restricted. I’ve had the most fun on this film than I have on any film.”
Jena Malone and Vanessa Hudgens are also along for the ride
The rest of the fab five are filled out by Vanessa Hudgens (yes, she of High School Musical fame) and Jena Malone. “I play Rocket,” begins the latter, “I help Baby Doll rally the troops and form a really beautiful bond with her. And, you know, I’m kind of crazy.”
Like Cornish, Malone is also ready to sing Snyder’s praises, who she credits as a constant help throughout filming. “I've never been asked to push myself to such extremes,” she tells Movies Online, “but 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.”
Hudgens meanwhile is gleefully subverting her Disney-friendly image as an all-punching, all-shooting action star. “It was a bit of a challenge at the beginning,” she says, “because I felt like a lot of people could only see me as the girl who randomly broke into song and dance. But I loved this movie. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I auditioned for it several times and just tried to put the work in. I hope that people give me a chance and, once they see me in this, I won't be the little showtune girl.”
To be honest, they probably won’t, because it sounds as though Hudgens’ character is a million miles away from anything she’s done in the past. “It’s crazy,” she told Collider, “I’m shooting big guns and running around screaming. (At one point) I get this Tomahawk and I just run ahead of everyone else and go through like ten guys! That was my big moment. It’s a lot of fun, everyone get’s their chance to shine.”
Debbie Snyder is particularly enthusiastic about the cast that has been assembled, claiming that the chance to present a new type of action hero was a big draw for her. “What I think is amazing is that a lot of these women are so multi-dimensional,” she tells Movies Online. “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.”
Watchmen star Carla Gugino is back to reteam with Snyder
In a staggeringly talented cast (Jon Hamm and Scott Glenn also pop up in smaller roles), Snyder has also made room for his old Watchmen cohort Carla Gugino, who plays one of the staff at the ominous Lennox House.
“I play Dr. Gorsky and her alternate personality, Madame Gorsky,” says Gugino to Collider. “In the real world, I’m a psychiatrist who is very Freudian in her ways and not a big fan of the lobotomy. And then Madame Gorsky appears in Baby Doll’s fantasy as a heightened version of what she observes initially.”
When speaking to Movies Online, Gugino elaborates further, explaining that, “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.”
Having worked with Snyder on Watchmen , Gugino had some sort of idea of what to expect from proceedings, but explains that the pressure was lessened this time around by not having to adhere so strictly to an existing text.
“With Watchmen , we had a very specific bible that was always something that being allegiant to was of the utmost importance,” she explains. “So there was something that predated any of us that we had to refer to. This was also, absolutely, a bible that had as much significance to us as that did. But because the creator of that bible was also the director of the movie, it was cool because we could ask, "Is this where you're coming from?" And we could ask and try things. There was a certain kind of exploration that was a little bit different because there was less pressure.”
It's not all action. There's dancing too...
Yep, you read that right. Zack Snyder, he of 300 ’s rippling torsos and snarled dialogue, has found room for a song and dance routine in his new film. Fortunately for him it’s a burlesque routine (one of Baby’s alternate realities is set in a brothel run by the aforementioned Madame Gorsky) so he won’t lose too much street cred amongst his action-movie mates.
Whilst talking to Collider, Jena Malone was able to shed a little more light on proceedings: “Each of us girls, except for Emily (because her dance becomes the tipping off of the fantasy worlds), we each have our own burlesque dance. It’s our personas coming out, so mine the nurse because the first time that Baby Doll sees me, I’m done up as a nurse. It’s a crazy-dead-zombie-robot-nurse dance. It’s going be awesome.”
It certainly sounds it, although Malone admits that this sequence more than any other, has put her through the emotional wringer. “This was the most terrifying thing of the entire film,” she laughs. “I could shoot Orcs until my fingers fall off. I could be in the gym doing dead-lifts until my body gives out. But this dance is totally terrifying me.”
Unsurprisingly, there were no such worries for Hudgens, who was only too happy to return to her comfort zone for the odd scene. “I grew up dancing,” she beams. “I spent six years of my life in the dance studio just going every single day. As I grew up, I started to move around and stopped dancing. Dance studios in LA are pretty intimidating, so I haven't gone back to it, but once I found out that they were going to do a little bit in this movie, I was just so excited. It's more of a themed dance in this. And it's just so much fun, you know? It's very theatrical. You just get to play.”
The cast became action junkies...
In order to make sure they looked the part in the movie’s frequent action scenes, Snyder put his young cast through a gruelling physical training regime, drafting in some hard as nails Navy SEALS to push the girls to the absolute limit.
“We trained for three months before we started filming,” explains Browning. “We did lots of martial arts and gun training and me and Abbie did swordfighting. We also just did a lot of physical strength training with scary Navy SEALS. It was our whole lives for three months. It's all we did.”
“We did tire pulls, used kettle bells…” continues Hudgens, “Things that you kind of avoid when you got to a gym these days! These are basic things. Slam the ball. Lift the weights. Pull the rope. I’ve never been so physically challenged!” “We trained our asses off,” agrees Browning. “We worked really hard.”
“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,” says Snyder, more than a little gleefully. “(I wanted them) to feel like, in a sense, that there was no movie to make. 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.”
However, if the workouts were gruelling, the weapons training more than made up for it. “Shooting a .50 gun was like the most exhilarating thing that I’ve done,” gushes Hudgens. “It’s not necessarily a matter of being comfortable, it’s more a matter of confidence. You get behind that thing and you feel like the toughest person alive and just after every single take it’s this massive adrenaline rush. I kind of love gunpowder now!”
“If they weren't fighting (with) guns, they had withdrawal," laughs Chung. "Jenna was always talking about it ... she was so obsessed." Sounds like Snyder has created a bit of a monster…stay away from the testosterone girls. It’s addictive!
There was some serious bonding going on...
With such a testing schedule to get through, things would have been unmanageable had the five girls not got along. Happily that wasn’t the case, with the young co-stars becoming firm friends from the off.
“I was worried that five girls in a film together could be super bitchy,” says Browning to Collider, “but it’s not like that at all. Jena and I live together. If I don’t see one of them every day I will freak out. It’s like I need it! We visit each other every weekend and we’re like a total sisterhood. I think it’s because we trained together. The first time you meet you are sweating, crying, and bleeding, and it builds this crazy bond.”
“When you’re suffering together, a very strong bond comes from that,” agrees Chung. “We were encouraging each other and giving each other pep talks, like, ‘You can do it.’ It was really a team effort and I felt the bond immediately. On the first day of training, Jena was cheering me on on the sidelines, letting me know that I could do it.”
“It sounds cheesy,” says Browning, “but it’s the total truth that I just love everyone so much that (the training) hasn’t really been a problem. I mean, when I am here by myself, and the girls aren’t here, I get tired a lot quicker. When the girls are here, we can all keep each other’s energy up. It’s like a fucking party here!”
It will be pretty raunchy...
As you might have guessed from the fact that part of it is set in a brothel, Sucker Punch is set to send teenage boys flocking to the multiplex by pouring its female cast into an array of improbably sexy costumes. So what was it like attempting to act whilst decked-out in such figure-hugging outfits?
“Well, when I signed on the film was still R-rated,” says Browning. “There was going to be a scene where I was going to be almost completely nude, so I was kind of prepared for it from the beginning. (That said) I think the costumes are almost more intimidating to wear than actually being there topless because everything is so pushed up and sucked in!”
However, despite being daunted at first, the girls soon adjusted to their new attire, and even found it a help when it came to filming. “It really helped put you into character in all the different fantasy realms that we were in,” says Chung. “All of the costumes translated really well and gave you the essence of your character. They were great!” “You kind of get used to it,” agrees Cornish. “This outfit for me is now like a second skin.”
So is Snyder grateful to his obliging cast? After all, they’re the ones bringing his fantasy to life. “A sense of humour (for them) is perfect.” He laughs. “They didn't have to wear it for too long…” Course they didn’t Zack. Course they didn’t…