Sucker Punch - Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish and Vanessa Hudgens
Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) © 2011 Warner Bros

In Zack Synder’s adventure fantasy Sucker Punch, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chang play patients in a mental institution in the 1960s.

When a new inmate arrives, Babydoll (Emily Browning), she encourages the other girls, including Rocket’s older sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) to try to escape with her, but the audiences sees their fights for freedom through Babydoll’s vivid imagination as amazing fantasy sequences.

Jena, Vanessa and Jamie spoke with us on Sunday about their new movie and what it feels like to be kickass warriors.

Can you tell us a little about the characters you play in this?

Amber (Jamie Chung) © 2011 Warner Bros

Jena: Rocket is sort of the archetype of the younger sibling, someone who is cared for and looked after, but doesn’t always appreciate it.

I felt Rocket was very free in the way that she could see the world and not always be as affected by it. But feeling free in her world isn’t necessarily a positive ting. There’s risk to having too much confidence, or a false sense of confidence, in her case.

Vanessa: Blondie is very sweet, if a little bit scared, and that fear can get the best of her. She has her ‘blonde’ moments every now and then, but when she jumps into the action scenes, she’s a total badass.

Jamie: Amber is the kind of girl who wants to fit in, to be accepted, so she’s a people-pleaser and a little submissive. The idea of freedom, of actually escaping, riles her up and helps her find her courage.

That newfound courage translates into Babydoll’s fantasy worlds where she’s the captain of her vessel.

What was the training period like for this?

Rocket (Jena Malone) © 2011 Warner Bros

Jena: Waking up early in the morning, doing four-to-five hours of martial arts, another two hours of strength training and then an hour or more of guns, plus fittings for corsets, another strange form of torture. That was our insane asylum.

That process really contributed to how we thought about our characters, living together and sweating together, seeing what our bodies could do when we really pushed ourselves as far as we could go. It really helped us hone in on who we had to be on camera.

Vanessa: The great thing about all the training was that it gave us a new self-confidence, taking us to places we’d never been to before, both physically and mentally. You have a fire in your eyes. You tell yourself you can do anything

With the CGI, the musical elements and the action, is this the hardest thing you guys have ever done at this point?

Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) © 2011 Warner Bros

Jamie: Definitely the most challenging for sure.

Jena: Probably also the most rewarding. I’ve never, in my life, had someone look at me and be like, ‘Well, you look like you could take on an army of men.’ Zack Snyder would imbue that sort of belief in us.

We started believing it and we started seeing the results of it in the gym and the stunt work and the gun work and how far we were able to succeed ourselves. I remember I set ‘bests’ and then I would just beat them. I was beating my own personal bests every day.  

I’ve never felt so rewarded and supported and inspired on a film before.

Jamie: I felt like the most challenging wasn’t so much being tough or showing strength, it was being graceful. All the dance sequences, all the dance rehearsals, to move like a ballerina or to be graceful or do the Tango, it was such a different element for me.

Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) © 2011 Warner Bros

Vanessa: I think it was every actor’s dream to be able to do some more dramatic things, to be able to transform your body and really use it as an art. I had to be in the best shape of my life.

Zack gave us the opportunity to really rehearse and to drill these things into our head; our fight choreography so that, when we filmed it, it was second nature and we could just be present in that moment and go for it full force.

Was there anything on set for the fantasy sequences or was it just green screen?

Jena: Oh no. It’s was 80 percent real live sets. All the stuntmen wore prosthetics and a lot of things we were fighting and working with were real people. Rick Carter, the production designer, is an incredible master at what he does. There were so many layers.

It was whole worlds but I would say probably 80 percent live, built sets and 20 percent green screen.

Jamie: And all the things that we didn’t have, like the dragon or the castle or what you were flying through, they had visual boards.

You could walk through the art department, which we did, and we took a look at samples of fabrics they would use in the theater. There were so many tangible things that we could work with.

Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung), Rocket (Jena Malone), Babydoll (Emily Browning) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) © 2011 Warner Bros

Jena: They would make little pre-visualizations with the computer graphics to see what the dragon looked like and how the pieces would look together so we knew that if we were filming a certain part of this fight sequence and something happened before, we could watch it.

It was such detail-oriented work that there was never a point where I felt lost.

If you are honest, who kicked ass best with their weapon?

Jena: We all did really good. I feel like Abbie was probably the best in the beginning because she got behind that shotgun and went straight forward and fell in love with it.

I was a little more intimidate to jump behind it and be like, ‘This is my best friend,’ but I think even the guys who were in charge of the artillery, the guns, were like ‘You girls are the best that we’ve ever worked with,’ because we were so respectful with them.

Judy Sloane

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