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Carla Gugino Reveals All On Her New Film, Her Eclectic Career, And More - Exclusive Interview

In the new film "Gunpowder Milkshake," Karen Gillan and Lena Headey play Sam and Scarlet, mother-daughter assassins employed by a vast criminal organization called the Firm. When a job goes south and Sam must protect an 8-year-old girl caught in a crime war, she and Scarlet turn to the Librarians, three ex-assassins who provide weapons for the Firm from the façade of a library. The formidable trio — Madeline (Carla Gugino), Anna May (Angela Bassett), and Florence (Michelle Yeoh) — join the battle alongside Sam and Scarlet to save an innocent child and make a long-overdue stand against the Firm.

If Carla Gugino looks familiar, that's because you've seen her in, well, just about everything. Starting out on TV in the late 1980s, Gugino made her film debut at 16 in 1989's "Troop Beverly Hills." Her career took off in 1999 with a starring role on the final season of "Chicago Hope" and then a lead role in 2001's "Spy Kids," the first in the popular series of films from director Robert Rodriguez.

Other film credits include graphic novel adaptations like "Sin City" and "Watchmen," family fare such as "Mr. Popper's Penguins" and "Race to Witch Mountain," disaster epics like "San Andreas," the Stephen King adaptation "Gerald's Game," and plenty of indie fare. She also starred for "Gerald's Game" director Mike Flanagan in "The Haunting of Hill House" on Netflix, while her other TV work includes playing agent Amanda Daniels on "Entourage" and Kathy Scruggs on "Manhunt: Deadly Games." As she told Looper, "I appreciate not being known for one role and being able to disappear into different roles."

In other words, Gugino can do it all, and in "Gunpowder Milkshake," she deploys her considerable action chops in tandem with four other incredible actresses — the first topic of our exclusive interview.

Gunpowder Milkshake has a powerhouse lineup of actresses

There's five terrific actors headlining "Gunpowder Milkshake," and none of you have worked with any of the other four until now.

No, which is super crazy because for many of us, we've been doing this for so long — I started when I was 13. So it is rare that I go to a set and haven't worked with one of my fellow actors, at least. What is very cool about this particular group is I think we were all admirers of each other's work before coming on board. And yet we were all sort of marveling, like, wait a minute, we've never been on a set together. How could this be?

I guess maybe it's a testament to the fact that there were very rarely movies with five main female roles. I love acting with guys, but very often it's sort of one or two women and five guys or whatever. So absolutely that was a very, very special thing. I think we all registered kind of how cool it was on day one.

Had you known what the rest of the lineup would be when you signed onto the film? Was that a factor in wanting to do it?

For sure. It was very helpful. Lena and Karen were on board. I think Angela, Michelle, and I were all coming on board around the same time. So yeah, there's no doubt that it was — as we know, everything is in its interpretation. So once I started picturing these women playing these roles, it was sort of like, absolutely, let's go do this.

Is there an actor, male or female, that is on your bucket list to work with, that you haven't had a chance to work with yet?

Oh boy, there are. I would say for sure, I would love to work with Mads Mikkelsen, and Brad Pitt. We've almost crossed paths, and then we ultimately haven't worked together. So those are two people I would say I would love. I actually have many more I could list, but yeah.

Why Gunpowder Milkshake isn't your average action thriller

This is not a straight crime thriller. It's kind of enhanced reality. So if viewers look at Netflix and they see this in the action thriller category, how do you think it's different from what else is there?

Well, for sure, it is an alternate reality, absolutely. I'm always interested in auteur-driven pieces and in many different genres. But certainly this, Navot [Papushado, director] had a very strong idea of what he wanted it to look like and feel like, and it was always meant to be larger than life. But I think what was also key, and I think he chose the right people for it, was that it was imperative that the performances be grounded in a certain kind of humanity and simplicity, so that the world around it can be that big.

I really think that — particularly after this last year and a half — there's something about cinema that is like a magic trick. You fall into a world for a couple of hours and forget about your life and fall into these characters that have been invented in front of you, especially if it's also really visually stimulating like this movie is. So to me, there is an escapist quality to this movie, for sure. There's also an element that I love of family — and not just family that you're born with, but family that you build and the fact that you are by far stronger as a team. I think, again, that's very resonant to me after this year and a half. I'm such a people person ... there's a magic element that comes from being together.

Carla prefers working with directors who have their own vision

When you work with a director like Navot or Zack Snyder or Mike Flanagan, does it feel different? That term "visionary director" is overused to some degree, but do you think it does apply to filmmakers like these?

Well, for sure. I think so many influences for me cinema-wise are European and auteur-driven, and a lot of movies in the '60s and '70s. So for me, definitely having one person who has the vision that we're all serving, I think there's something really helpful about that. It doesn't mean that someone can't write a gorgeous script and someone can't come and direct that script. That can be a beautiful part of the collaboration. But there's no doubt with Mike Flanagan, Sebastian Gutierrez, Zack Snyder, Robert Rodriguez, these are all people who have a very strong sense of what they want, and they are the ones who are carrying that vision all the way through.

So it does feel different. Whether I love a movie or not, I would rather see a movie that's one person's vision then sort of an amalgamation of a bunch of notes and a bunch of things, that's trying to appeal to everybody. I just don't think art is about that. Entertainment can be about that. But if I'm choosing, my inclination will always be like somebody who wants to tell a story that comes from inside of them.

Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett and Michelle Yeoh play very unusual librarians

Angela, you and Michelle play three women collectively known as the Librarians. How much were you given to work with in terms of a backstory? Your character seems to be the one who enjoys the traditional librarian idea the most.

Well, I'm glad you picked up on that. Navot had a wonderful template for these characters in the script. And then I did start talking to him about it, because I just felt like there's a relatively limited amount of time to establish character in this kind of movie. So it was important to me that you understood the difference between these women and how they have lived together and functioned together for so long.

Angela's character has this sort of fiery quality, while Michelle's character, Florence, has a sort of Zen warrior vibe to her. What was important for me about Madeline was that I felt like she had been raised in an orphanage by nuns, and therefore she did have a sense of propriety about her. She had also a reverence for kids. I think that's why sort of ushering children in safely is something very important to her. She also has a true love for books and the library and history and literature and language.

So my sense, and Navot sort of jumped on board with me on this — because it wasn't explicit in the script — was the idea that she had perhaps given up violence for some time. She wasn't going to go about living that way anymore. Then once there is a child, again, in the library that needs to be protected, she will stop at nothing.

Two-thirds of the way through the movie, there's a pretty spectacular fight scene. Anyone get hurt for real doing the scene?

No. In that particular sequence, I did virtually all my own [fighting]. I think maybe every shot might actually be me — maybe there's one shot that isn't. But no, we have great stunt coordinators, Lauren and Sebastian, who both did "Lucy," amongst a bunch of other great films. The irony is I had an entire fight sequence with an axe and I didn't harm myself. Then on the last thing I was filming, on a day off, I fell and broke my wrist really badly. But there were no injuries. I think Angela actually had a bit of a weird ankle thing, and there were two days where I literally could not lift my right arm, but we recovered quickly.

Why Sucker Punch was ahead of its time

10 years ago, you did another movie that was female-centric and also a heightened action thriller, called "Sucker Punch." Looking back now, do you think that film was misunderstood in some ways?

I do think there was an element of it being ahead of its time, for sure. But I also think that, frankly, the movie was always a very strange movie, which I love and continue to love about it. But I also think that at that moment, and again, maybe because it was a different moment, the studio tried to fit it into a particular slot. There's a really cool sequence that was used in part in the end titles, but is actually an amazing sequence of the movie, where [Oscar Isaac and I] sing "Love Is the Drug." It's just a very evocative sequence. And several other things that were cut from the movie in order to kind of make it more of a straight up action movie, but it really wasn't ever that.

There may end up being a director's cut of it at some point. If you start taking those pieces out, then the movie doesn't make as much sense or isn't as cohesive. So I think part of it was this very dreamlike state that needed to be felt in order for us to realize what Baby Doll, Emily Browning's character, was going through and where the story was coming from.

I loved playing this dual character of this psychiatrist and this madam, so I had a blast doing the movie. But yeah, I think again, I will always go with a filmmaker who is creating something that's unique. And I think when you try to sift those things out and make it more generic, it's a little trickier to figure out what story is being told.

This is what Carla Gugino likes about her career

When you meet fans now, do you meet different people who relate to you from different films? Are there kids who know you from the "Spy Kids" movies, or do you meet Stephen King fans who love what you did with "Gerald's Game"?

For sure. It's true, though. I think I've had such an eclectic — I think anybody who knows me from big family movies, like "Night at the Museum," or "Spy Kids," or "Mr. Popper's Penguins," or anything like that, thinks that's what I do. Then of course, people who are more graphic novel-oriented are into "Watchmen," or "Sin City," or perhaps "Sucker Punch." Then there's the Stephen King fans. Then there's also the people who went to university and still love "The Son-In-Law." Then there's literally ... yesterday someone was like, "Troop Beverly Hills." I said, "Yes, I was 16. I'm glad you're going back to my childhood movies." Then there's the "Entourage" fans.

It's strange. I can usually tell, when someone's coming up, what they might recognize me from. I would say that it's many things. A lot of people saw "San Andreas." So I think one of my greatest wishes from the beginning of my career, and I still feel this way, is that I appreciate not being known for one role and being able to disappear into different roles. I think it also took a long time for that to be recognized as a body of work. Because I think so often, certainly at the beginning of my career, people wanted me to pick one lane and stick in it. That seems like the antithesis of being an actor to me.

So it continues to be a lot of different things. Also, I live in New York City and I do theater. So there are a lot of people just on the street here who happened to have seen plays that I've done, which is kind of a cool thing, because every night is a different experience. So if you share that moment in theater with someone, that's also really special.

"Gunpowder Milkshake" premieres Wednesday July 14 via Netflix.