One thing is clear from Buzzine's sit-down with Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, and Antonio Banderas: when Steven Soderbergh asks you to be in his film, you say "yes." With a resume including such cinematic gems as Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Traffic, and Contagion, Soderbergh has won the awe and respect of his peers in the industry. With his latest film, Haywire, he follows a double-crossed spy as she struggles to survive and get back at those who betrayed her. McGregor, Tatum, and Banderas discuss the grueling fight scenes, working with mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano, and what a rare joy it is to be in a film with a strong female lead.
Izumi Hasegawa: How were you gentlemen informed about the movie and Carano's role in it? How were you sold on the movie?
Ewan McGregor: The script was very, very strong. It was a really good piece of writing. It had good strong elements from, obviously, fight movies, which I am not familiar with particularly. There was a spy element: what it is like to be an undercover spy -- James Bond. And at the center of it is this incredible strong female lead, which is unusual in a film like this, I think. So it was very intriguing, and for me personally, the opportunity to work with Steven was very strong. He's a filmmaker who, I think, is on all of our lists, in terms of people you really want to work with.
Channing Tatum: Yeah, that was definitely. I got the call and I didn't even need to know what the role was. I was like, "yes." Soderbergh is, by far, one of my favorite directors of all time, and then I got to talk to him. I got to read the script. I had meet Gina earlier that year at a Strikeforce fight. One of my buddies is a Strikeforce fighter. She is just a lovely girl. I followed MMA for a long time and had been a fan of hers. I saw her first fight. She's the first sanctioned MMA fight, if I'm correct, of that, in Nevada. So that was a pretty monumental occasion, to see that ushered in. So I just followed her on Fight Girls -- the reality show. After that, I didn't really need to know anything else. I knew, for the first time, there was going to be a real fighter...maybe even a male or female -- in action movies. I don't know, maybe in some Japanese or Chinese movies where you have some action stars that could actually step in the ring and could hold their own, but in America, she's probably the first one.
Antonio Banderas: In my particular case, Steven Soderbergh is one of those guys you say "yes" to sometimes without reading the script. I had the opportunity -- he called me twice in my career, but I couldn't actually work with him. One was for Che and the other one was Traffic. I was signed at that particular time with other movies, but I knew. I had talked to him very early when I came to Los Angeles. He just presented Sex, Lies, and Videotapes. I loved that movie. We were talking about Almodóvar, because he's a fan of Pedro. So at that time, he said to me, "I would like to have the opportunity to work together some day." But many years -- almost twenty years happened in the middle. He sent me the script. It was very confusing to me, to tell you the truth, but it was an immediate positive answer to work with him. I don't regret it for a second. It was great.
IH: How about your fight scene in the diner?
CT: We kind of did it really quickly. I wanted stories to tell my buddies. I've said it before and I want to say it again... My wife hates when I say it. Find a girl that you think can whip my butt, and I'll go to her movie. And then they did. And I wanted to be in the movie. Yes, it's for real. She can really do this stuff. There's no faking it. She only fakes it because she has to. It was fun. I've done a lot of action movies and fight scenes, but she's one of the best dancer-athletes that I've gotten to move with. And that goes to different martial artists, to football players, basketball players... I mean, she's one to the best athletes I've gotten to move with.
AB: I was saved by the bell. You can actually imagine what she is going to do with me. If there is a sequel to that, I may need a wheelchair.
IH: Did you ever fear for your life going toe-to-toe with Gina?
EM: No, not at all. We were in very safe hands with Gina because she's so precise. I really never felt there was ever an issue or worry to get hurt. I didn't feel like that. The only time I did get hurt was when I accidentally punched Gina in the head. I had three punches. One, two, and the third punch had to go right over Gina's head and I messed it up. I punched her solidly right in the side of her head, and she came straight up to me and said, "Are you okay?" And I was trying to be very butch, "Yeah, I'm fine," but I had broken three fingers, and Gina didn't feel a thing. We were in very safe hands. The only scary thing is Gina's fitness is just unbelievable. Because I watched her do some of the fight scenes in New Mexico with stunt men, and they would do a take, and at the end of the take, Steven would say "cut," and the stuntmen were, like, destroyed. They would be like [heavy breathing noise], sweating, and Gina would be like, "All right, ready for another take?" We were doing a fight in sand. My fitness is not very great. My worry was more about being able to keep going through the day. It was a long day.
IH: Was there any worry about this being her first lead? Did you help her, give her any acting tips?
EM: No, there wasn't any worry about it, not at all. We did our first scene together in Spain -- Barcelona, which was then reshot. We had a very long scene. It was the scene that takes place in Gina's apartment in San Diego, when I go ask her to go to Ireland. It was going to be placed after the job was finished in Barcelona, then I go to Barcelona to meet her. We had this long walk down the staircase, all one shot, 'til we walk over to this hand rail which reveals all of Barcelona below. It was a lot of dialogue and there was no cut, so we had to get it right from start to finish, and she just nailed it over and over again. It was never a worry.
IH: Did you have to overcome the idea of hitting a woman?
CT: Yes, very much so for me. I grew up in the south, and you don't hit women. You don't even cuss at them, yell at them, or anything, even though people do down there. She had to call me the P-word, basically, to make me hit her. I had to smash a ketchup bottle on her face, and it was so alarming to see a beautiful girl sitting across from me, and we had to do it to see if it was going to break and how hard I was going to have to do it, and I was going to do it, and I couldn't physically do it. And then she had to make fun of me and challenge of my manhood to do it. I finally did it, and I realized I did a huge mistake because I did it way too hard, and her face came back like that. Her conditioning is probably better than mine. She can run longer. I'm going to have to play this smart. But yeah it was pretty different. You see everywhere two men fighting. You see it in the bars. You see it on TV. You see it in movies. You see it everywhere. You very rarely see a man and a woman fight, and even more rare a women beating the hell out of some men. And it was kind of a pleasure.
EM: I think my fight is very different. I'm fighting for my life. So, as Channing is instigating it, I didn't have the same because I'm defending. My Kenneth would not really, in reality, have lasted that long. So I didn't feel like that. I did note that it was a very different experience than the fights I've had with other guys, because what's missing is the bullshit masculine. There's always an element of that when you're pretending to fight with another stunt guy or another actor. That was missing, and what was left was this great care for each other and working together with that removed. And that was lovely. I thought it was great.
CT: I had an ego with it.
EM: But it is different, don't you think? Because you're in there and throw the coffee, and lay into her in a violent way. And my fight was kind of more about 'get me out of here.' In fact, to the point where he turns and runs and tries to climb an unclimb-able cliff. Poor old Kenneth.
IH: Can you talk about how your relationship with Soderbergh evolved working on this film and the upcoming one?
CT: I've read so much on him and how so many actors learn, and how he runs his sets is so unconventional, and he's a sort of smooth and very confident filmmaker. I got to learn a lot about freedom and taking it on your own, because he hires the people he wants to hire and he expects you to bring something that he's not expecting. And he trusts that your judgments are correct, and from that it, really liberated me. We were sitting over a beer, and I told him that I was a stripper for eight months when I was 19 or 18, and he said that would be a great movie. And I was like, "I want to make a movie out of it." And he's like, "Yeah, you should write it." And I'm like, "Yeah, Steven Soderbergh, I'll go write that." And then cut to three, four months later, I read an interview he said that he would direct it if it ever did become a movie. Then I called him up and I was like, "How much bullshit is in this article?" He was like, "As serious as bone's spur. We should sit down." And we sat down at Carney's over a hot dog, ironically enough, and we decided to do it. My business partner is a writer, and he's like, "Your buddy should write it with you, and we should both finance it. You should act in it, I'll direct it, and we'll do it in the next two months." My buddy wrote it in one month, and we just finished reshoot. We're in post now, and it will be out June 26th, I think. Hopefully we'll keep it going. I'm trying not to let him go painting any time soon. I'm trying to keep him going.
IH: How was it like revisiting that experience?
CT: Weird. It was really weird. It was as comfortable as I remembered it. I think I was 19 and a little dumb and crazy -- a lot crazier than I am now. Going back to the town that I did it in and walking the streets -- Ybor city is this historical place in Tampa that all the clubs are at. Being in the same nightclubs that I was probably really intoxicated was a really interesting revisiting. Walking the same weird little allies and doing it sober this time was fun.
IH: Banderas, did you have any contribution to the Spanish flavor this movie has?
AB: Yes, I think I have something to do with the fact that they called me, because one of the characters is from Spain.
IH: Did you contribute to the music? Because it's reminiscent of Spain...
AB: Really? Because I'm a fan of the music of the movie, but actually what I think Steven was looking for and what the musician provided for him was a kind of jazzy feeling. I think the music is extraordinary. It brings me, actually, a feeling that is not so much Spanish, but it brings me the feeling of those types of movies made in the '70s. That was exactly what I felt the first time I saw the movie. It struck me enormously. That feeling is something I don't know how to describe, but Steven knew exactly how to reflect it on the screen. I don't remember thinking, while seeing the movie, there is a Spanish feeling to it at all. One of the characters is from there accidently, that's all. What really shocked me about Steven -- and that happens in Barcelona -- the first scene that I shot in the movie was how fast he shoots, and the non-use of lighting. For example, we were shooting in a square plaza in España -- it was unbelievable how fast we were moving, and at the same time, he didn't do any type of coverage sometimes. We'd just shoot the scene, moving on. Being a director myself -- still a rookie, but a director -- I shoot everything. I shoot ash trays, anything. As much material as I can so I can look later in the editing room. This guy doesn't shoot anything. It was just moving like, "We got it, moving on. Let's go to the airport." The same afternoon, we shot at the airport -- bom, bom, bom, moving on. Only a director with tremendous confidence and self-assurance can do that.
IH: How was it working with Michael Douglas?
AB: I know Michael from a long time ago because of my relationship with Catherine (Zeta-Jones) in Zorro. I love the guy. We talked about movies many times. It's pretty easy because I have no lines to say in the scenes I have with him and Ewan. I would just sit down there listening and taking it all in. It was relatively easy. It's great to be with an actor like him and the rest of the cast. Before, you were talking about how it was to fight with her, and I didn't have to fight with her. I have done a lot of movies where I had to fight a number of guys fast -- big guys, little guys, anything. I would have been very confident with her really, because she's very precise, and fortunately, you don't only see that in her fighting in the movie. What really shocked me when I saw it was how good she is -- how wonderful she is as an actress. She's beautiful. Her performance is easygoing. There is a sense of alert focus all the time -- that front of a spy on her is demanded. She does that beautifully. I think you follow the story through her unbelievably well. What surprised us all was not that she could fight. We knew that. But her ability as an actress, I think. If she doesn't want to fight anymore, she may have a career as an actress. I really mean it. My wife is very curious to know her better, because she said to me when the movie finished, "She's totally real," and I totally agree with that.
IH: What did you guys learn from her that you weren't expecting?
CT: I knew what she was going to bring in terms of athleticism, but I was truly shocked at her ability to really... I wish I could say I was as clear with my intention in acting as she was. That was her first time. No offense, but these guys are legends. They are legends to me, from watching them growing up. Michael Douglas -- she went toe-to-toe with him. I would have been running down my leg. Such a sort of calm confidence, and at the same time unawareness of self, and that is really fresh as an actress, in my opinion. We live so much in our heads. I think we can get lost up there -- actors -- because you always have to be looking in at yourself. That was brilliant.
EM: I agree with all of that. I just never felt that I was working with somebody that was doing their first job. I knew that going in, and then it never crossed my mind really. I felt there was a complete ease, working together. So it was seamless really. It never crossed my mind.
AB: I guess there was a thought that I didn't want her to think I was that old. I had this beard. So the last day that I was shooting in New Mexico, I shaved in front of her, and I showed I'm young still.
EM: You don't have to worry about that. She fought with me in sand for two days, so she knows what old is.
IH: Where did the beard come from?
EM: The beard was magnificent, by the way.
AB: It was an accident. I did a workshop in New York for Zorba -- a project I had in mind and may happen. I didn't have anything to do and I wanted to do the workshop with a beard because I just pictured the character of Zorba with a big beard. I was going to shave the next day, but I had an interview with Steven for the movie. He wanted to see me here in Los Angeles, and he said, "I like the beard." I said, "No, please. I haven't shaved in two months." "No, no the beard is fine. It's a different you." So I was trapped with my beard for another three to four months. My wife was not very happy about it. The interesting thing is I finished the movie, I wrapped in New Mexico, and I went to Spain and was doing the movie with Pedro Almodóvar, and I think it was the last week I was working with him. Steven called me and he said, "I just put together the movie. Your character is very enigmatic and very shadowy. I like him, but we have to close him. It's my fault. I'm just going to write a couple of scenes for him that is going to explain the whole entire thing. Actually, you became the mastermind of the whole entire operation, and you're going to have a scene with Gina." And I said, "Steven, I am still working with Pedro and I will be free in a week, and I don't have the beard." And he said, "We'll build it for you." So I came a year after we finished the movie, and we did those new scenes, which is actually the end of the movie. With the beard, we did a couple of scenes underground with the French actor, and then shaved for the last moment with her.
EM: I love that last scene with the 'stache. It's so kooky. It's such a great look. It's brilliant.
IH: Do you feel different without the beard afterward?
AB: Yes, those scenes are ... like a mask. When you a have beard, you act differently. It's almost like working with different languages. I've done movies in Italy, for example, and you start doing things with the hands. All these kinds of things are different. You act differently with a beard. I don't know how to explain it. I felt older. I can actually hide behind my beard, in a way. It's interesting for my character because he's the guy that nobody knows what he's really doing -- not until the end. I think it was a smart decision on Steven Soderbergh's part. This is the guy that nobody is paying attention to; he never got beat up by the girl, but he is the one who is cooking everything in the background. Yes, you act differently with a beard.
IH: Who was the most competitive on the set of Haywire? And what about on Magic Mike?
CT: This set, I don't think we were very competitive. I knew what would happen if there was any competition. It was clear. I wasn't getting into that. On Magic Mike, I don't know how to answer that. There's a healthy competition. It's really really naked to walk out in front of a group of girls naked. You get real reactions from them. So when you walk out and take it all off, you want to get a good reaction from them. It's really hard to be sexy when you're naked, as a guy. Girls can just walk and be hot, and guys, you don't really want to move a lot. You want to keep it cool. It was a very eye-opening experience because I had done it before for real. It was weird getting back on the horse. And some of these guys would come into the rehearsals, and I'd be like, "Today is the day. Take those clothes off, brother." They'd be like, "What?" "Oh yeah, it's going to happen sooner or later, so you have to get used to moving naked." It was so much fun. We had a barrel of laughs.
IH: How do you choose such a variety of movies and roles to be in?
EM: There are a lot of factors, I suppose, but the most important thing is the script. The story. That has to come above and beyond any other factor when I decide to make a film, because I have to be connected to it. When you're reading a great novel and you don't want the book to end, I want that feeling when I read the script. And I want to see myself in the character that I am reading for, by the time I get to the end of the script. If those things happen and you feel a connection, the other factors come in. Who's directing it? But if you don't have a feeling reading it for the first time, from experience, it won't come later. So it comes from that. And because that's the way I choose films, they are all different with different people. That's what I love about it. You get this opportunity to dip into different people's lives, and each film's set has a different atmosphere and different heart. So they are all different, and I love that about it.
Relativity Media's 'Haywire' is released on January 20, 2012.