Sucker Punch - Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Emily Browning, Scott Glenn, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung
Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Babydoll (Emily Browning), Wise Man (Scott Glenn), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) © 2011 Warner Bros

Zack Snyder’s epic action fantasy Sucker Punch takes the audience into the vivid imagination of a young girl whose dream world provides the ultimate escape from her darker reality.

Babydoll (Emily Browning) has been placed in a mental institution in the 1960s, with three days before she is to have a lobotomy. She manages to enlist the help of four other girls in the asylum, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) to band together and escape. Led by Babydoll, through her fantasies, the girls engage in fighting everything from samurais to serpents.

I spoke with Emily Browning and Abbie Cornish yesterday about their roles in Zack Snyder’s surreal action adventure.

Can you tell us about your characters?

Sucker Punch - Emily Browning
Babydoll (Emily Browning) © 2011 Warner Bros

Emily: The words ‘baby doll’ make you immediately think of something really fragile, but she’s not at all. That’s what was so cool to me about this character – she’s actually pretty tough, with an unexpected stoicism.

I think the people in her fantasies represent her experiences, the oppression she has had to put up with throughout her life. She has this almost simplistic view of the good guys and the bad guys, the bad guys being men like her stepfather and, later, some of the monsters in her fantasies.

Abbie: Sweet Pea is a mother figure who looks out for Rocket, her wilder and unpredictable baby sister. Sweet Pea has good instincts and she heeds them. She understands how discipline works in their world and what she had to do to get through her everyday life.

I think she really believes that if they just put their hands down and work hard and do what they’re told to do, that one day they’ll walk out of there. The idea of trying to escape, the consequences of it, scares her more than it scares Rocket.

When you auditioned for the roles, was the physical element something that you had to prove to Zack that you could do?

Sucker Punch - Abbie Cornish
Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) © 2011 Warner Bros

Abbie: Interestingly enough, we didn’t have to prove the physical part. I think Zack just had enough faith in the team that he employed to aid in that process, Damon Caro, the stunt choreographer, Tim Rigby, the wire’s guy, Logan Hood and Dave Young who trained us, who are Navy Seals. They taught us how to use the guns. Zack has such great instincts and I think he does expert casting in a way. So that wasn’t actually a prerequisite. I think he wanted to find the girls.

Emily: That’s what was so cool about the fact that we had three months to train. It meant that Zack could cast from a far wider pool of people. He didn’t just have to go, ‘Maybe this girl could do action.’ I don’t think anyone would have assumed that I could do action before this film, but as Abbie said, he has so much faith in his team. I think they did a great job in turning us into little warriors.

Have you ever done anything this hard before?

Sucker Punch - Emily Browning
Babydoll (Emily Browning) © 2011 Warner Bros

Emily: I don’t know if hard is necessarily the word, I think it was definitely a challenge but I kind of embrace the challenges, as I think all of the girls did. I’ve probably never done a role this challenging, but I’ve also never had this much fun working on a film before.

Being able to train physically, you can look at it as hard work or you can look at it as the fact that you’re getting paid to workout and get into the best shape ever. I think it was difficult for sure, but I think that kind of made it the most rewarding work that I’ve ever done.

Did you girls bond together through the training?

Abbie: Yeah, we bonded really fast. I think as actors whenever you get thrown in the deep end together the friendship occurs quite suddenly, because you find yourself in these circumstances that –

Emily: you cling to each other.

Sucker Punch - Abbie Cornish
Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) © 2011 Warner Bros

Abbie: Yeah, because all you have is each other. There’s moments where you laugh about it, moments where you share stories, moments where you – whatever it is. So it was incredible. Through those three months we trained hard, we were almost like stunt women, not actors for awhile there.

Emily, you do go into these dances and that’s when you have your fantasies, but in the film we don’t see you dance. You start to move and then you go into the fantasy, so why was that? Do you dance and it was cut from the film?

Emily: No. You were never going to see Babydoll dance. I think it’s really important that you don’t, because I think that’s best left to people’s imaginations. Her dance is meant to be something that’s so magical that it puts you into a trance, and it takes you into a different world. Nothing could live up to that, I think that if you ever actually saw that dance it would take away a lot of the magic and the mystery, so I think it’s better left to the imagination.

What’s the strongest memory each of you take away from this film?

Abbie: I could generalize and say the training or the friendships with the girls, but for me my memories are much more specific, much more detailed. It could be as simple as the smile on Zack’s face the first time we walked on the set, the glimmer in Damon Caro’s eyes as all their choreography pieces were coming together. The sound of Jena’s laugh. I could go on forever.

Emily: I feel the same as Abbie, there was so many beautiful things that I remember from making this film. One specific moment for me though was the first scene that we filmed was us walking into the trenches in slow-motion.

We were all in our costumes for the first time, we were all so excited to be there, and I remember explosions going off behind us, and just feeling so cool with all these girls by my side. And then walking to the end of the trench, and Zack was there and he was just beaming. He was clearly so happy with what we’d just gotten ourselves into.

That was a really, really cool moment.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.