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On Going to Los Angeles to Talk to the Pretty and Talented Actresses Behind the Female-centric Action Flick Sucker Punch

In director Zack Snyder's

, his main character Babydoll (Emily Browning) occupies an alternative universe--just as did I when

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City Paper

got invited to Los Angeles for the film's junket last weekend, on a very rainy March 20 at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Some of the journalists were mentally done by the time the round tables began late that afternoon, having got their interview chunks in during one-on-ones earlier in the day. They appeared to to be biding their time before hitting the hospitality suite one more time for a bevie and snack. So, maybe eight of us, armed with all sorts of recording devices, sat at a table while three sets of stars filtered in and out followed by Znyder and his producer wife, Deborah. The lady who sat closest to the talent was from

People

, and asked dopey questions--but she knows her audience so what are you gonna do? The old guy beside her practically gave me a headache from rolling my eyes at his stuffy questions--

Was your character Polish?

Um, duh (and then you feel bad and ageist). Some didn't ask one question the entire time and some threw random statements out every once in a while and cut the talent off (sorry Jena Malone, but seriously, you didn't have to be a bitch about it). It's almost stupid how pretty the first stars to sit down are. Carla Gugino plays Madame Gorski, and her shiny hair and make-up matched the subtle browns and soft pinks of the muted tiger print dress that hugged her figure without causing a scandal. Her heels were sky high and made her as tall as Oscar Issac, who plays Blue, whose dark eyes and 5 o'clock shadow belied his boyish smile.

People

started off with,

What was your first impression of all these young actresses?

to which the very sweet Gugino answered in the way actors always answer such fake questions: "I can say that I genuinely love each and every one of them." (I won't even go into her answer to,

How would you describe their different personalities?

) Issac perked up when asked about the mood off camera, since the movie is filled with such dark material. "Zack kept thing pretty light," Issac says. "There's a moment when I walk in and I'm terrifying the girls and they're all trying to go there and there's all this noise in the back. I go around the corner and Zack's throwing the football with his friend in between takes and I'm like, ‘I'm trying to terrify these girls,' and he's like, ‘Yeah, yeah, everybody quiet.'" Then the three young ladies that help Babydoll on her scavenger hunt sit down. Jena Malone, who plays Rocket, wore a gray sweater edged in a round black collar, a tight light pink skirt, black tights, rolled-down black socks, and lace-up black boots. She gave thoughtful answers, but I got the impression she wasn't happy to be lumped in with the other actresses because her role was bigger (but not as big as Abbie Cornish's who got to do the rounds with Browning, the lead). Also, don't ask her a question about her dance scene (answer: "Look for the director's cut"). Vanessa Hudgens (Blondie) wore a light coral and pink floral print ruffled silk dress, has a habit of hunching her shoulders, which makes her look even smaller, and trailed off most of her answers. Jamie Chung wore animal print something or other and was once on

The Real World

according to another journalist, apparently the San Diego season. The writer from

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People

: "When you were on set, what did you think of each other?" Not surprisingly, they all loved each other and Hudgens was "kind of blown away honestly because everybody is very different in their own right but has a strong sense of who they are and isn't afraid to show it." OK. Chung said something about how Hudgens came up with the theory that each girl represents a bit of Babydoll's character, which is a tad obvious and a basic tenet of a hero's journey. Malone knew how to make the most of

People

's questions. Answering "What empowers each of you?" they hold up what they are drinking: Malone has a coffee, Hudgens a Red Bull, and Chung says "Tea," and Malone jumps in: "Right now I think the most empowering thing I've done in my entire life is surviving the eight months of physical rigmarole of martial arts, stunt training, and physical training with the Navy Seals [for the movie]. I made it through to the other side actually doing above and beyond what I ever thought possible--and knowing that I have that somewhere in my back pocket even though I haven't kept it up is an incredible thing for a young woman, to know that you can do anything." So they worked out

hard

. Talking about their favorite fantasy world to visit, they all said the trenches of World War I. "I remember looking around one moment during a piece that we all do together and seeing these girls in their ultimate, bad ass, confident state, it was just like, so empowering," Hudgens says. "We're walking down and all these bombs are going off and dirt is sticking to our lip gloss and eye lashes," Chung adds. "I thought, 'I guess this is a part of filming and we have to make this look good.'" The personal fave random comment? Chung: "I really think

Sucker Punch

could be turned into a comic book." Now to the very similar sounding Aussies: Abbie Cornish, who plays Sweet Pea, the eldest of the elite fighting squad and older sister of the reckless Rocket, and Browning, the troubled and fierce Babydoll. Tall and with more of a presence than any of the other actresses, Cornish wore a black silk blouse, flowing black trousers, and heels. She has flawless skin and maybe the most perfectly pert nose in the business. The adorably serious Browning carried less of an accent and wore a gray sweater tucked into a belted micro-pleated dark skirt and flats. I wanted to have an afternoon glass of red wine with them, they seemed so relaxed and in on their own joke. When

People

opened with "Carla Gugino said you and Jena Malone got along like real sisters. Did people forgot that you weren't related?" Cornish replied, "I still forget." Asked if they were injured on the set, Browning answered, "I didn't injure myself during filming at all but during the training period, I was doing a dead lift that was a little bit too heavy and I pulled my groin, which was pretty hideous. What was worse was having to go to the physio and have them massage it. It was so weird, also having an ultrasound for 20 minutes was very, very awkward." As far as injuries go, Cornish says she "had a pretty good one and it's caught on film which is pretty awesome." She was in the WWI trenches shooting a solo action sequence where a guy comes at her with a gun mounted with a steel bayonet, and she ducks so he stabs the guy behind her. Except, during one take, "something about the timing was slightly off and as I went down," Cornish says. "I felt this hit to the side of the head and I heard this ‘ting' sound and it knocked me to the ground and I was like, ‘Whoa, what just happened?' But I could kind of put it together: the steel bayonet hit me on the side of the head. I was coming to and there was a hush of silence on the set . . . The crazy thing was, I had this metal hair clip on the side of my head with a hair piece and the steel bayonet hit the hair clip--that was the "ting" sound. You could see that the hair piece was smashed up--if that wasn't there, I would have had to go to the hospital, I would have had to have stitches. I got saved by a metal hair clip." And I will forever love Cornish for saying this when talking about their physical training: "We weren't there to try and lose weight, we were there to become as strong as we possibly could." Now, that sounds empowered, not

like

anything. Snyder, the filmmaker/director behind

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and

, came into the room talking loudly, and has a frenetic energy even when sitting. It's like his mind searches for the most complicated answer, seemingly disappointed when he gives a simple response, and, oddly enough to a room full of journalists with tape recorders, he often sets off an answer with the command,

Listen

. His wife Deborah is a calming presence in the room and looks like she just got her hair done, but in a healthy, mostly naturally blond, extra-conditioned way. She produces his films through their production company Cruel and Unusual Films and with his dark Marc Ruffalo-scruff, they may be the best looking team behind the camera in Los Angeles. When asked about the PG-13 rating, Znyder goes off. "Early on it was a pretty R-rated thing in my head," he says. "But I got the the point where I was, you know what? We should probably make this movie PG-13 and everyone was shocked that I said it at first but I said it because, listen guys, if it's not PG-13, knowing myself, this movie's going to be really rough--I don't know what it's going to show. The whole story would have just been sex and violence and pretty overpowering--everyone would have been, what the fuck?" Plenty of people are

What the fuck?

anyway. Online lady buzz doesn't seem to know what to do with

Sucker Punch

: Is it just another action flick exploiting women by dressing them for combat in costumes that look like sexy Halloween versions of fight gear? And that's an opinion

before

seeing the movie. After, well, here's Snyder's take: "Everything in the movie is about a show within a show within a show," he says. "Someone asked me, Why did you dress the girls like that in the provocative costumes? Well, think about it for a second. I didn't dress the girls in those costumes, the audience does and when I say the audience, I mean the audience that comes to the movie dressed them in those costumes and just like the men who visit a brothel dress those girls in the costumes that they're dressed in when they go to the show to see them however you want to see them. "But my hope is that they would take those things back just like my girls hopefully get confidence and strength through each other," he continues. "That those become power icons. They start out as cliches of feminine sexuality made physical by western culture and by the way eastern culture--there's always that--that part of it was really specific whether it was a French maid or nurse or Joan of Arc to a less extent--which also has resonance somewhere else in the story--or a school girl. All of those things being really specific and then hopefully the way we were able to use them and modify them and turn them into combat icons to fight back against the actual cliche that they represent. In the end the girls are empowered by their own sexuality and not exploited by it. But that's where they come from. The germ is: What do you want to see? Be careful what you want to see." So, it's our fault: the young women costumed in fetishized gear fighting men in power. And that's what Snyder calls a "rant."

With special thanks to Alasdair Wilkins.

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