September 7, 2009

Soderbergh Casts Female Mixed Martial Artist

Steven Soderbergh is one of the most interesting filmmakers on the scene today. He's constantly working, often alternating between big-budget glossy commercial films (like Erin Brockovich or the Ocean's 11 series) and low budget fare like Bubble or The Girlfriend Experience that get a small release and stay of the radar of the average film-goer. Soderbergh seems to do a good job of balancing his different sensibilities and making the movies he wants to make without compromising; which, in the film industry, is incredibly rare.
One of the things his small budget films allow him to do is make very interesting choices that a studio would never allow if millions and millions of dollars were at stake. That's why Soderbergh can do things like make a two part 'Che' Guevara film in Spanish, or cast porn star Sasha Grey in the lead role for The Girlfriend Experience.
Soderbergh, who recently had a film fall apart and was looking for his new project was rumored to be working on a rock n' roll musical version of Cleopatra that would star Catherine Zeta-Jones in the title role, be shot in 3-D, and was described by Soderbergh as "being like an Elvis musical." It sounded so damn crazy that I was fully on board with this movie, and I'm not exactly a musical fan. That, however, seems to still be on hold (I suspect in todays economy it would be quite difficult to raise money for a movie like that) so Soderbergh, who's an incredible workaholic, has moved on to a new movie. And, much like Girlfriend with Sasha Grey, the movie will again see a neophyte actress in the lead role. Gina Carano will star in Knockout, a film that producer Ryan Kavanaugh has described as "a mainstream action film with universal appeal for a reasonable budget." Think female James Bond meets La Femme Nikita. I'm a big fan of Soderbergh (Out of Sight is one of my favorite films) and I'm really intrigued by what he can get out Carano.
She's an intriguing possibility as an actress, especially for a spy thriller. I first became aware of her when I saw her on the show Off The Record and I was taken by her beauty. When this woman smiles; it's all over. She's simply a gorgeous, gorgeous woman. I was shocked to discover that she's also known as "the face of women's mixed martial arts." Yes, this delightful creature is also a highly skilled fighter. (She just suffered her first professional defeat last month, giving her a record of 7-1.) Despite it's title, the movie has nothing to do with boxing. This will be a spy-thriller with Carano in the lead role as a woman from the "wrong side of the tracks given a second chance to use her skills for constructive purposes," according to Variety. Soderbergh has a solid track record of coaxing surprisingly nuanced, assured performances out of the actresses he works with. Julia Roberts, who's never been mistaken for a talented actress, bagged an Oscar for Erin Brockovich and Jennifer Lopez has never done anything nearly as good as Out of Sight. There are no worries that Carano can deliver the physical requirements of such a role, and I'm sure the fight choreography won't be an issue. But her acting experience is limited at best. She appeared in a documentary called Ring Girls, and was also part of the American Gladiators revival of a few summers back, but beyond that her only actual "acting" is an appearance in the upcoming film Blood and Bone, a low budget flick about the underground fighting world starring a karate expert. While she is very raw as an actress, she is also unquestionably very charming in all of the interview appearances I've seen her do, so I'm very interested to see what Soderbergh can draw out of her. Knockout is slated to shoot in January in the States as well as some on-location stuff in Ireland and Turkey.

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