Gina Carano has come a long way since going undefeated in the now-bankrupt EliteXC MMA league. The daughter of Glenn Carano, the Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback from 1977-1983, Gina grew up in an athletic family and excelled in sports. After compiling a 12-1-1 record in Muay Thai kickboxing, Carano’s athletic abilities and good looks led her to a starring role as “Crush” in NBC’s revival of “American Gladiators” and a part in the movie, Blood and Bones.
After appearing as Natasha in Electronic Arts’ Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, she continued her unlikely Hollywood career. She caught the eye of director Steven Soderbergh and is currently starring in Relativity Media’s Haywire alongside actors like Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, and Michael Douglas (check out our Haywire review here). The former fighter and new Hollywood star talks about her first movie, and her gaming background in this exclusive interview.
How does it feel to be Gina Carano these days?
I’m very open to wherever I’m supposed to go and be. I’m thankful. I’m happy with everything I’ve been able to do and anything I do moving forward I’ll be just as thankful.
What attracted you to fighting?
Just like video game people naturally gravitate toward something because that’s the way they think, I’ve naturally always been physical. I’ve never really been good at talking or speaking in front of people. I never wanted to be the leader.
So you’ve always liked sports?
I was good at being physical. Even when I was playing basketball I was the team captain because I was good. I’ve always been a physical little girl. A tomboy. Aggressive. I’m not confrontational, though. I got scholarships to play basketball and volleyball but I couldn’t go because my sister got caught up in drugs at home. I got caught up in the wrong scene and I started to train to fight. Fighting saved me. A bad situation turned into a good situation.
I liked the experience. It was a lot of Hollywood 101 learning the acting and everything else. But it was incredible and amazing and I had the time of my life.
What type of training did you do for this role?
I spent two months training with a former Israeli Special Forces soldier named Aaron Cohen. We just spent all this time in a warehouse learning about uzis and M4s and all types of weapons. I got a lot more comfortable with guns. That was a lot of fun. And then we spoke about the mentality of what he’s been through and how to act in certain types of situations.
Did your MMA background help you with the stunts in the movie?
Yeah. I did 98-percent of my stunts. There was one fall that I couldn’t take for insurance purposes, and I was like, “Man, I want to do that.” And then when I saw my stunt girl do it, I was like, “Never mind, that was awesome.” It was kind of cool to see her shine doing what she does.
What was your favorite part of filming Haywire?
There’s this huge battle between me and Michael Fassbender. Pretty much, I’m learning that I’m getting betrayed and he attacks me. And then we go through the whole hotel just wrecking everything. Couches get turned over, faces get slammed into stuff. He slammed me so hard into this flat screen TV that I think we moved the wall. It was a really incredible fight scene. That was really special.
What was it like being in EA’s Command & Conquer videogame?
It’s amazing, man. It’s a whole different world for me. I’m getting opened up to the videogame world. The last video game I played was Nintendo, so that was cool.
What did you play on Nintendo?
Mario Bros. and then Super Mario Bros. I got Mario Bros. down. You have to stay big in the eighth world and then run straight through the dragon. I’m old school with the video games. This is a whole new life with today’s games.
So you’re used to the cartridges?
Those Nintendo cartridges never worked properly. You had to blow into it a few times, then stick it down into the machine and push the button a few times. I definitely need to upgrade. I have the old NES. That’s where I’m at. I have a lot to learn.
What I really liked was that running pad for Nintendo for Track & Field. I loved playing that. I used to get grounded all the time and play Nintendo. Training for a fight is pretty much like being grounded.
How did working on a game compare to television or film work?
It was just cool because you get to play. I couldn’t wait until I got to play the game. I really wanted to get into this world, I just never had anyone introduce this to me. The best introduction is to be put in a video game.
Have you played any of the music games?
I have played Guitar Hero and that’s a lot of fun. I want to get the Rock Band instruments and play that.
Red Alert 3 is a little more complex than Rock Band, right?
Oh yeah. I have to start slow. But I like that. It keeps your mind busy off of other drama and stuff. You know? That’s why I fight.
What’s the reaction been from your guy friends when they heard you were going to be in a videogame?
They’re like that’s crazy. I had Wolf from American Gladiators call me up and say, “You’re in a video game? That’s so cool.”
Are games popular amongst the MMA fighters you know?
Oh yeah. People are constantly playing games. I think it keeps your mind busy. It allows you to check out instead of thinking about your fights.
What are your thoughts on MMA video games like THQ’s UFC Undisputed 3 [which hit stores on February 14]?
UFC doesn’t really like female fighters. Maybe I’ll have to team up with someone else and we’ll have our own little fighting game. They need to have a Wii fighting game. They need to have something you put on your feet so you can kick and punch.
So you’re all for the healthy games like Wii and Wii Fit?
I think playing video games are healthy for your mind. I know a study was done recently and playing games keeps different parts of your brain active. Video game players are the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life. They’re so intense and focused. They see strategies in real life that they take from the video games. I like it. I’m an intense person, too.
Had you heard of the Command & Conquer games before getting the role of Natasha?
I didn’t know anything about Command & Conquer. I learned that they have really loyal fans. I realize that about this whole video game thing that these fans and community, they really are smart and loyal to video games. There’s this whole gang war between the different videogames like Nintendo and Sony and Microsoft.
Games are a $50 billion industry today, they’re bigger than Hollywood…
Are games bigger than porn?
I don’t know about that.
I don’t know either. I just know porn is big and so are comic books.
Do you think your video game work might lead to more fans of female MMA fighting?
People who play videogames and people who watch MMA kind of go hand-in-hand, but there’s definitely room for growth.