Jena Malone Talks to Buzznet about Sucker Punch, Getting in Shape, and Girl Power

Jena Malone is easily one of the most diverse and interesting young actresses working in Hollywood today. Malone has been acting professionally since the age of 7 (she was even nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award at the age of 12 for her performance in Bastard Out of Carolina, no big deal) but it was her 2001 turn as Gretchen Ross in the cult favorite film Donnie Darko that made her an indie darling. Since then, she’s starred in films that are most likely well-watched members of your DVD collection, including The Secret Lives of Altar Boys, Saved and Into The Wild. Malone is also a talented musician; in 2007 she released a single for the project Jena and Her Bloodstains that was all spacey lo-fi electronica and sparse vocals, and more recently she’s put out an EP of songs under the moniker The Shoe, her collaboration with musician Lem Jay Ignatio (stay tuned for our interview with Malone about The Shoe next week). The talented actress took a step outside of her indie film world to star in the much anticipated girl power action movie Sucker Punch,out in theaters everywhere today. She plays Rocket, a damaged young girl/bad-ass sexy nurse, depending on what world you catch her in. We got the chance to chat with the star about the film and her role:

BUZZNET: How did you get involved with this project?

JENA MALONE: I heard about it, and I auditioned when I was in New York, but then I heard the project wasn’t going to go much further. Then I heard that another actress had already been cast in the part. But Zack saw my tape and really loved it, and asked me to come in and read the script. After I read for Zack in the room, he basically offered me the part right there, which was pretty exciting!

BN: So you initially auditioned as Rocket?

JM: Actually all the girls, we only auditioned as Sweet Pea, then in the second round of auditions each person would get more of a custom reading, to find a character that would them more.

BN: Tell me a little bit about Rocket. Did you relate to her character-wise?

JM: I relate to her love of adventure, and her willingness to throw her self out there. I mean she’s one of those characters who is willing to sacrifice everything for their goal of freedom. And she’s the first one on board, and willing to put everything behind it, and I love that feisty nature. I tend to have a bit of that attitiude in my own life. You know, as an artist, it’s really important to be self-motivating, and particularity not to be too judgmental, because being able to throw your all into something you’ve never done before without too much criticism or thought, it can be an exhilarating thing, and it can lead you to a new place as an artist.

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BN: How did you relate to each version of Rocket? The real version of Rocket in the mental institution, Rocket the dancer and Baby Doll’s kick-ass version of Rocket?

JM: Well because this film operates in different forms of reality, I didn’t really approach her as different characters. I approached her as one character. The reality of the situation is that her name is Rocket and she lives in a mental institution. Then there is a sub-reality, which is Baby Doll’s imagination, where she’s this character that is from the mental institution brought into The Brothel, and it brought out her best traits, and characteristics and doubts as well. The fight sequences, also called the dance sequences, are like the ultimate version of Rocket. We all have these sub-personas inside of us. If a cop pulls me over, there is another side of Jena that pops out! It was really fun, so many different metaphors to play with, and things to layer. We could go as far as we wanted because there was so many layers of reality, and luckily we had Zack Snyder to help us streamline everything because it’s all in his brain and we had an open invitation to his mind.

BN: This film seems to bring up ideas of the super ego, ego and the id. Was this something that occurred to you when you where playing Rocket?

JM: That’s interesting that you say that. There are many aspects of Daoist, Buddhist, and spiritual ideas behind this idea of being able to explore the mind’s power of rising above any situation, through one’s own will power and the mind’s imagination. You are able to transport yourself out of any negative or oppressive environment to create a positive reality for yourself. It also shows how thin reality actually is. I think I started out thinking about those things, but once we started, I was just trying to play the truth, so it was hard to step back and think about these heavy things. A lot of research goes on before the film ever happens and again when we start talking about the film, but too much description in mind when you are creating a fact or truth can be an burden. Too much in your brain and you start tripping over too many things-you have to clear yourself a bit, in order to act and perform.

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BN: Working with many women at one time can be challenging but it can also be an amazing experience in friendship. Judging by your group interviews, you and the rest of the cast seem to be close. Did you have a great experience with these girls on set?

JM: It was incredible! I feel most people don’t give women the benefit of the doubt. I feel like these serotypes really operate in high school constructs, with very childish women. I feel that when women get together in a room, they instantly become each other’s supporters and caretakers. It’s very innate in women. Lucky, I was with a a group of girls who where grounded, professional, awesome, smart, and funny. All of them I respected. I think what really helped initiate the bonding between us with the intense physical training we where doing together. You’ve gone through such physical extremes together, you are literally sweating shoulder by shoulder, and it’s them who are bringing you up every day when I didn’t wanna go any further. I had my girls to be like “you can do it Jena!” I’d say after a month of filming I was ready to take a bullet for any one of those girls, and it only got better and better, and still is! It’s pretty rad that I have such a strong group of women in Los Angeles that I constantly can pull from, help, and go to for guidance, you know because it can be such a crazy world.

BN: Wow, this seems to be a very physical movie. Did you ever work out or exercise heavy before this movie?

JM: I’ve never been to the gym before in my life. Never. The first day I went in for training was the first day I set foot in a gym-besides using a friends pool. Never, ever did I do any sports except for like kick ball in the second grade. You know the first day of it was the worst day of my life. The first three weeks were really hard and completely debilitating and almost dehumanizing, to realize I cant push my body weight three times? I can’t do three pull ups? It seems like such a simple thing, and I can’t even do it. Then you see this reward system, with how hard you work, and meeting these challenges head on. By the end of it, I became almost addicted to it. Because it’s such an amazing release. Emotionally I was the most balanced I’ve ever been in my entire life. I felt so healthy, and I was taking such good care of myself. I had less ups and downs. I think it really streamlines your life. Exercising is way more than this kind of “diet fad” thing, it has this immense spiritual underlining. It’s about getting to know and understand your own body.

BN: The costumes in Sucker Punch are amazing. Tell me a bit about them.

JM: A lot has been said about the clothes. The majority of the men asked if we felt we were being “manipulated or exploited ” where all the women would say “Awesome, girl power!” Every time you start talking about a woman’s sexuality, people assume we are getting exploited. For me, that’s usually whats happening in an action film. You can either be a badass sexy chick or damsel in distress. These women in Sucker Punch are full-fledged characters. Not only do they operate in this crazy oppressive world, but they are also allowed to explore their minds, and they are sexy, strong and vulnerable. That was what was exciting about the costumes, to really bring that out. The clothing in the asylum were just sacks, they made your shoulders slump, you felt the burden of this uniform. Then we got into the brothel world, where there was more control. The waistline comes in, there are beads, and sparkle. Then there are fighting costumes. Rocket got to explore the icon of the Nurse. I thought they where incredible, I loved going to work everyday.

BN: The soundtrack for the movie features some amazing cover songs. Which is your favorite track?

JM: I really like Emily’s cover of “Sweet Dreams”. Just because I knew she wasn’t a singer going in, and she was able to find her voice. It really made sense for her character, and the way she sang it, it’s haunting and beautiful.

BN: What are some of your upcoming film projects?

JM: There is this film called “The Wait” that I am really proud of, a really beautiful filmmaker M. Blash wrote and directed it. It’s with myself and Chloë Sevigny and Luke Grimes. I did that after Sucker Punch. I feel like Sucker Punch opened up this whole other world of physicality of acting that I have never explored before. It was nice to put that to test in a different form. The Wait might go to Cannes this year. I’ve also been collaborating with Bradley Rust Gray on a project, he asked me to do a little part in his film Jack and Diane. I met Bradley’s wife, and did a small part in her film Ellen with Paul Dano. Aside from that I’ve kind of been taking some time off.


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