Transforming A Real-Life Fighter
To prepare for the role of Mallory Kane, Gina Carano underwent intensive
training, starting with an in-depth special ops tutorial with the film's
technical advisor and real-life security expert, Aaron Cohen. Cohen, who spent
three years in Israel's special operations undercover unit, is the founder of
IMS Security, a consulting firm that specializes in providing tactical
counter-terrorist training. He helped the filmmakers and cast understand the
realities of undercover operations.
"I felt that training with Aaron Cohen would provide Gina with a solid
foundation of confidence," says Soderbergh. "If she felt that the physical
demands were doable, that would go a long way toward making her feel comfortable
with the performance. I chose Aaron because I wanted someone who was familiar
with that world as it is today and not somebody who did it 10 or 20 years ago.
He became part of the brain trust for this film, vetting virtually everything we
Cohen's participation in the film was crucial from the get-go, as he sat in
on script meetings between Soderbergh, Jacobs and Dobbs. From small story points
to wardrobe decisions, Cohen provided the filmmakers with checks and balances
every step of the way. "I could ask how a conversation would go if you were
trying to convey a piece of information but can't come out and say it," says the
director. "He was on the set all the time and I would email him at all hours of
the day or night. His input was invaluable, down to details like where you might
hide your gun."
According to Cohen, the film captures the true nature of special ops.
"Everything from the dialogue to the nature of the operations is authentic. In
one case, an operation is botched and that is real. There are a lot of things
that can go wrong in the world of special operations and they do."
Under Cohen's direction, a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Los
Angeles was transformed into a staging ground for special operations training.
Three dozen portable walls reconfigured the wide-open space to replicate the
film's diverse settings. "He put me through two months of boot camp in that
warehouse," Carano says. "He had me doing sprints, entering and exiting
make-believe apartments—everything Mallory does in the film."
For 30 hours a week, Carano was immersed in special operations training.
"Aaron's goal was to prepare me both mentally and physically for this movie,"
she says. "I read his book, but nothing could have prepared me for the boot
camp. He taught me everything from the basics of guns to his life experiences.
One of the things he impressed on me was that as a special operative, you're
commissioned to take on the jobs that the government doesn't want to have its
fingerprints on. If you're caught or imprisoned, you're on your own. The process
was extreme and amazing. I come from fighting in a cage, which is very
organized. He helped me develop the mindset I needed for Mallory, which is
cutthroat to the extreme. It's life or death."
Even with her years of mixed martial arts training, Carano was pushed to the
edge during her preparation for Haywire. "Gina has a warrior mentality," Cohen
says. "We were really tough on her because we knew we could be. I wanted her to
go beyond her comfort zone. It was important to immerse her in the mindset of a
Special Forces operative. As a fighter, she's working alone. In special
operations, missions are only successfully accomplished with teamwork."
To help develop that sense of camaraderie, Jacobs arranged for castmates
Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Julian Alcaraz and Max Arciniega to join
Carano's training for limited periods of time. "I felt it was important to bring
everybody together so they understood the amount of cooperation involved in
order to be successful," says the producer. "I wanted the training to be as real
as the story consulting."
Channing Tatum spent four grueling days of training with Cohen. "The day I
arrived at the warehouse, I had no idea what I was getting into," he says. "I
don't even think Aaron said hi to me and for the next four days and I didn't
really say anything. I just did exactly as I was told.
"We learned all the tactical movements," the actor continues. "He showed us
how to take a room and look as if we'd done it for years and years. He just beat
it into us."
Tatum's previous fight training gave him an advantage, according to Cohen.
"He has great hand-eye coordination, tremendous balance and is very strong. He
also had had some excellent training on some of the other films he's appeared
in. I helped him clean up his pistol work for the hostage rescue scene. We
worked with him and Gina on some of the things that can go wrong in an operation
that haven't been seen before on film. Weapons do malfunction in the middle of a
shootout, they jam or are empty or they weren't oiled properly. You have to be
able to not only fire the weapon, but manipulate it through all types of
Cohen's tutoring paid off in Barcelona when Tatum's weapon malfunctioned
during a take. He cleared it and used it without anyone being the wiser. "When
that malfunction occurred," recalls Cohen, "Channing looked at me, gave me a
thumbs up and we moved on to the next shot."
Carano's impressive mixed martial arts experience with its emphasis on
hand-to-hand combat did not prepare her for the wide range of weaponry used in
the film but Cohen did. "I spent a lot of time developing Gina's primary weapon
skills," he says. "We trained her in various forms of sub-machine guns and
assault rifles, using real weapons that had been converted into blank-firing
weapons. She also worked with pistols, including the Glock 179mm, Sig Sauer 9mm,
the Uzi and micro-Uzi, as well as a Commando assault rifle.
"The training was comprehensive and very physical," he adds. "Her background
gave her a huge advantage in terms of the motor skills needed for handling
weapons. She was able to move very quickly and effectively while carrying out
Along with the special ops training, Carano worked closely with the film's
fight choreographer, J.J. Perry and stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell. Ordinarily
the stunt coordinator's job is to teach an actor how to engage in a knockdown
drag-out fight without getting hurt. But for Haywire, it was more important for
the coordinator to teach the star how to not hurt someone else during the fight
Her natural athleticism came in handy, says Rondell. "You can teach an athlete
to do anything. She came in with a heavy fighting background and she also has a
unique discipline. I approached everything I taught her working off her
disciplines as a fighter. We had to teach her not to actually hit someone. We
had to reprogram her to pull her punches slightly and to react realistically to
being movie punched. She actually sat a few people down initially. But in the
end, she was as good as any stunt person in the fight scenes."
During her training at Los Angeles' Fight Gym 8711, Carano learned to admire
the stunt people she saw working around her. "They are amazing athletes," she
says. "All I could do was jump in. I already knew how to punch and kick, but
stunt fighting is a completely different art. Since they knew my style is Muay
Tai and boxing and Jiu-Jitsu, they incorporated all of that into the fighting
scenes. I had my input and they were very receptive to it, which made for some
very beautiful fight sequences."
The audience first experiences Mallory's physical prowess in a shocking fight
between her and Aaron, played by Channing Tatum. Although they are on the same
side in the Barcelona affair, they also find t
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