Actress Carla Gugino and her Elektra Luxx brethren showed their true, indomitable colors when their latest film, a sequel to last year's Women in Trouble, suffered an unforeseeable snafu at their SXSW world premiere. (Festival staffers added an additional screening the next evening, and the cast showed up for another Q&A.) But like her filmic counterpart Elektra Luxx – who finds herself at the center of another seriocomic screwball adventure in the second part of the intended Women in Trouble trilogy – Gugino is not one to let life's accidents rain on her parade.
A day after Gugino and co-stars Malin Akerman, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Emma Bell joined their writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez on stage to appease the audience with a spirited impromptu Q&A at the Elektra Luxx premiere, Cinematical caught up with the ebullient actress to talk about Elektra Luxx, her eclectic career choices, and her not-so-secret love for the geek contingent who've worshipped her in films like Sin City and Watchmen. For Gugino, films like Luxx not only allow her to work with friends under a filmmaker's strong vision, they also give her the chance to counteract Hollywood's unfortunate penchant for the "c" word -- "chick flick" – with strong female characters who defy easy classification. While an official release date for Elektra Luxx is yet to be announced, Gugino fans can start salivating for next year's Sucker Punch, in which she reunites with Watchmen director Zack Snyder for what she calls a "big girl power movie."
Elektra Luxx, like Women in Trouble before it, is obviously a passion project for you and Sebastian and all the actors you've pulled into collaboration with you. What's the impetus for making films like this?
Carla Gugino: As we were sitting with a thousand people the other night, while we were watching the movie, and everyone seemed so present and so with it, I was thinking that a lot of people ask if this is a chick flick. Unfortunately, "chick flick" has become a term to describe most movies that I don't even like. They're these movies that, yes, have women in them but they really don't reflect who women are, and there's something kind of silly or shallow or gossipy about them. There's a certain kind of nature to many of them that I just think, if it can be a great movie that has great women in it, it should just be considered a great movie! Or an interesting film. In the '50s it was women like Bette Davis who brought people into theaters and that's shifted lately, I think mostly because they write the big movies for men. And anytime you do get a great kick-ass woman, it's cool.
Good roles for women in Hollywood seem to be rather scarce, especially considering the glut of those horrible romantic comedies. How has your perspective on your career choices changed over the years?
Carla Gugino: I think when I first started acting there were different people who I thought, I want that person's career or that person's career. And as time has gone on, it's become really clear to me what is important to me; getting the best roles, the roles that I feel are challenging and scary and that I haven't done yet. Whether it be a light comedy or an intense drama, as long as it's domain that I haven't gotten into yet, or that there's something in there I can explore. Someone once wisely said, "If you know exactly how to play the role, you should let somebody else do it." And I think there is something to be said for that. That's why theater has become such a big part of my life as well. For me, I will always go for the role – and for the person whose vision the piece is. Because what I've also learned from the television that I've done is that in some instances you end up directing yourself, which happens a lot in long-running television shows because directors come in and out but you're there the whole time. And if you end up directing yourself you can be good, but you can't be great. In order to be great you kind of have to jump off that cliff and trust that you're in someone else's hands. So with something like this, the whole reason we've done Women in Trouble and Elektra Luxx is that we trust Sebastian and we trust that he wants our characters to be as full and complex as they can be, and therefore he has a really strong sense of what he wants, but he's also collaborative. And that, I guess, is the combination I'm always looking for – to have someone who is your fearless leader whose vision you're serving so you don't have a bunch of cooks in the kitchen, which does happen on a lot of big movies.
There's definitely that sense of a family vibe with productions like Elektra Luxx and Women in Trouble. I can see how that would make a film set more intimate, but what are the challenges of making a film with people you're so close with?
Carla Gugino: It's funny, I think probably if we were to get around this table and improvise it would be hard to not be ourselves. But these characters are so clearly defined and none of us are playing ourselves, though certainly Elektra Luxx has some elements of me. In this case, at least, there's a level of trust because we do know each other so well that it's actually super freeing. And it makes something like coming to SXSW so much more fun because we're down here with our friends. The actresses in my life are so supportive of each other, and we all celebrate each others triumphs separately and together, so there's no room for divas in this kind of movie. Everybody, men and women, are salt of the earth people who just love to act.
Sebastian wrote the characters, but how much input did you or any of the cast get as far as helping shape your characters, especially since by now some of you have lived with these characters for multiple films?
Carla Gugino: I don't know if it's just the actor's job not to know it, but – this is a surreal tangent, but it's very indicative of your question – I did this Wayne Wang movie called The Center of the World, and I had tested for the role that Molly Parker was cast in. He went with Molly for that role, which I think was absolutely the right decision and she's amazing in it, but the role that I played didn't exist in the original script. So he called me and said, "You were amazing, but this is who I feel was right for the part... but Paul Auster and I have written a role with you in mind." And I read it, and she's a prostitute who literally cannot perform in the way that she normally does and is beaten for it, and I thought, "How did this remind him of me??" [Laughs] At the end of the day, maybe it was a certain kind of expression of sexuality that he saw, or a certain kind of vulnerability, or who knows? I just thought, okay, I can't ever ask how I in any way influenced this character, but I can say it scares the shit out of me so I have to do it. And in that way, I don't know that there's anything about me, profession-wise, that's similar to Elektra, but I think that what Sebastian wanted in this particular role was that he wanted to see a depth in an archetype that you might otherwise see as a shallow human being.
That ability to play on perceived ideas of every character in Elektra Luxx is one of the great things about Sebastian's story.
Carla Gugino: For sure. You take the mask away and all of us just want to be loved, more than anything – to be seen for who we are and still loved. And in a way, you have judged them as certain kinds of people and all of a sudden you go, right, they're so much more like me than I thought! Malin [Akerman] and I met doing Watchmen together and she's super funny; there's this great thing, because Malin speaks so many different languages, that when you're doing press with her she's kind of reeling to find the right words because she's filtering [different languages]. And there's a great quality in Trixie that I think Malin herself influenced, this kind of innocence and wonder that she has a human being. And then there's Emmanuelle [Chriqui], who has such a different kind of quality than Bambi does. Emmanuelle is a pretty laid back girl. She's got this kind of, "Hey babe, how are you doing today?" way that makes you feel immediately relaxed, but Bambi is definitely the more together, uptight one in the relationship.
Speaking of interesting characterizations, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a great part as a porn blogger that kind of captures the blogger mentality perfectly. How did Sebastian know exactly how to capture that?
Carla Gugino: It's really funny! He's got this uncanny ability to be deceptively perceptive, and you're like, wow – that's a little close to home! But he wrote the scene for Joe as Bert Rodriguez as sort of the addendum scene to Women in Trouble, and we had so much fun shooting it that immediately thereafter Sebastian said, I've got to write more Bert. Actually, Joe and Sebastian were thinking of doing webisodes with the character of Bert, which may still end up happening. Some of those monologues that he came up with for Bert wound up in Elektra Luxx. And the online community is a world that Joe has grown up with, certainly with HitRecord.Org.
When Sebastian got up on stage at the first SXSW screening and just riffed about camera specs and such, I got the inkling that he might have a bit of a nerdy side.
Carla Gugino: Totally. He's said the character he most relates to is Holly Rocket because she's not really dumb, but she's not on the wavelength of everybody else. That's the thing about Sebastian; he's amazing in front of groups and he's one of the most brilliant people that I know, but he's a very shy person. He's not a party person, he's a writer who's obsessed with music and movies. He could be playing music and watching movies all day long for his entire life and that would make him happy. So you definitely got to see inside Sebastian Gutierrez a little bit more. And it was so amazing, and that's what I love about Austin – there were over a thousand people in that theater and literally 90 percent of them stayed until the bitter end when we knew the projector was not going to work. That was incredibly meaningful to all of us, and made me feel like we really are all just a pack of nerds. People always ask me at Comic-Con, "What's it like to be here with all the geeks?" Well, I'm a geek! To me, if you're passionate about one thing, then I love you.
What can you tell us about Sucker Punch? It seems to have some things in common with Elektra Luxx... namely, awesome women.
Carla Gugino: Sucker Punch is a big girl power movie. It's got a bunch of amazing young women: Emily Browning, who plays Baby Doll, Abby Cornish and Jena Malone, and Maggie Cheung and Vanessa Hudgens – they're amazing in it. I felt like I was the big sister to the brood. Zack has such a phenomenal imagination, and for me it was like being with family. I think it will be like no movie anyone's ever seen.
And your much whispered-about musical scene?
Carla Gugino: There is a musical scene, which I can't say anything more about. [Laughs] But there's that element to it and there are unbelievable fight sequences – though I don't fight, as a matter of fact. I said to Zack after Watchmen, "I want to fight!" But I get to do all sort of other cool stuff. Again, it's a movie where women can be sexy and funny and smart and complex, and confused, and triumphant – all the things that we are. But we don't have to be one or the other. I think we are in the post-feminist stage where women absolutely should be in their power, but that doesn't necessarily mean subjugating other things that people have found in the past... I think dealing with your sexuality the way each individual woman wants to deal with it -- that is being in your power. As everything, times change and we should be evolving and becoming more and more of who we are, and not less and less.