But first, audiences will have a chance to see the director's latest visually stunning movie when Sucker Punch is released in theaters on March 25th. This will be Zack Snyder's first completely original film and he has described it as "Alice in Wonderland with machine guns, dragons, B-25 bombers and brothels." That sounds pretty good to us! The film is set in the '1950s and tells the story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who is trying to hide from the pain caused by her evil stepfather. She ends up in a mental institution in Vermont, where she begins to imagine an alternate reality. In order to deal with the situation, she enters the hyper-real world of her imagination, and the lines between reality and dream begin to blur. Eventually friends, who are inmates from the institution, join Baby Doll on her journey. They want to escape from the imaginary world but in order to do that must steal five objects in five days, before Baby Doll is lobotomized in the real world.
Last December, we had an opportunity to travel to Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the set of Sucker Punch while they were filming. We were given a chance to walk through the production offices, costume and prop shops, as well as visit the cutting room, see some footage and even visit the set and watch Zack Snyder direct a scene. In addition to speaking with the director himself, and his wife and producing partner Deborah Snyder, we also had a chance to speak with some of the stars of the film including Carla Gugino (Watchmen), Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical 3: Senior Year), Jena Malone (The Messenger), Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) and Jamie Chung (Dragonball Evolution).
Upon arrival to the Vancouver based set of the film we were greeted by Zack Snyder's wife and producing partner Deborah Snyder, who gave us a brief tour of the massive set. The Vancouver sound stages, where the film was shot, are in the same buildings that housed Watchmen, and much of the same Vancouver based crew returned to work on Snyder's newest project. We began our tour in the main production office walking down a hallway that was covered with production art from the film. The artwork was amazing and included some incredible production designs such as a medieval castle, fire breathing dragons, I, Robot-type androids, The Lord of the Rings-style Orcs, round table-era knights, and World War I zombie soldiers. Deborah Snyder explained that for the dragon sequence the armor that the knights wear is the actual armor that was used for the classic film Excalibur. Her husband went online and found the person who owned the armor, bought it from him, and then modified it for the new film. Next we had an opportunity to tour the brothel set including the hallway, a few of the bedrooms and the dance stage.
Deborah described the film in further detail in her own words. "Baby Doll played by Emily Browning has been abused by her stepfather and on this one horrible night accidentally kills her sister. In order to keep her quiet he takes her to a mental institution to have her lobotomized so she can't testify about what has been going on. It takes place in kind of an alternate 1967, which was the last time when lobotomies were really around. Basically she goes there but there is not a doctor on staff. Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), who is the head orderly and kind of a shady character, tells the father that he has someone coming in five days who can do the procedure. Baby Doll overhears this and retreats into her imagination because she is in such a fragile state. She imagines a Moulin Rouge! style brothel and that she is a virgin that has been taken there and in five days the High Roller (Jon Hamm) is coming to deflower her," Snyder explained.
"It's kind of like The Wizard of Oz in that we are book-ended with the institution in the beginning and end but basically the film takes place in the brothel and our characters play duel roles," Deborah Snyder continued. "So what happens is that Baby Doll decides that she has to escape so she enlists the help of the girls. It just so happens that when Baby Doll dances it is the most beautiful dance that you have ever seen. So her plan is to distract the men with her dance and the girls can steal the five objects that they need to escape. They need a knife, a map, a key, fire and one other thing that will be a reveal at the end." Deborah explained that when Baby Doll dances we go into her head and see the girls slaying a dragon to get the fire, which is a lighter in the real world. "We're playing with going back and forth between these worlds," she finished.
"Then in the alternate world, Madam Gorski is a dominatrix choreographer slash Madam of a brothel," the actress continued. "I just like to put those sentences together and make you think, what could that be? But it's true. In both of them I think the truth is that she really does care about these girls. I think it's definitely a tough love situation. When Zack Snyder and I were trying to figure it out, there was a moment where he had considered her being German and then we considered maybe she was going to be American. But the way it had been written, there was this great-heightened dialogue and it just felt to me like English was her second language. I also felt, it was really important to figure out where she was coming from and Eastern European philosophy seemed important, which is that she's not soft and she's really hard on the girls. But it is absolutely to protect them and she believes in them. Basically, in both worlds if you connect to who you are you are much more powerful than you think you could ever be. So I would say that's the through-line for this character."
Carla Gugino first worked with Zack Snyder on the comic book adapted film Watchmen and is no stranger to his unique style of filmmaking. The actress discussed first speaking to Snyder about Sucker Punch while shooting Watchmen. "We had talked about Sucker Punch, not in regards to me but that he'd been working on it for a while when we were doing Watchmen. Then when we were doing the European press junket for Watchmen he said, there's a role that I think you'd be really awesome in. Will you check it out? At the junket he told me a little bit about the character and the plot, and then I read it and went from there."
Carla Gugino went on to discuss the differences between working with Snyder on this film as opposed to their last collaboration. "I think what's cool on this one is just that we have a real shorthand. We kind of know each other more and how we work. It's just a continuation. I would really love to work with him for the rest of my life. It's a unique combination and I've found it only in the directors that really have a sense of their own vision and are strong directors. He knows exactly what he wants and he's also incredibly collaborative and open to what we want to try," explained Gugino. "Usually it's the defensive directors that are not very good, so in this particular case it's really amazing because he's like, try anything. But you also feel like you have a fearless leader, which is important. Especially with a movie like this because I feel like, tonally, there's so much to wrap your head around in terms of the fantastical elements, the heightened elements and then also certain emotion being played really for real. The movie's just incredibly visceral. That's what I would say most about what I've seen and what we've shot so far is that it's not intellectual, it takes you on a much more visceral ride and an emotional one, while being of course visually astounding."
The actress also spoke about the differences between playing her character in Watchmen and her role in this film. "What's also been really challenging about this as opposed to Watchmen is that with Watchmen there was always a bible for us to refer to. Do you know what I mean? Creatively it was always like, well is she this or is she more that? Then it was like ... let's just check it out. Or would she do this or would she do that? Or do you think this scene should start here? Whatever, it was always that. So in this one there was a lot that was suggested on the page that we really just discovered. For example: in the relationship with Oscar Isaac and my character, Blue and Gorski. There were huge amounts that we all found while shooting and so it was more fly by the seat of our pants in that regard, which is both really exciting and also scary," Carla Gugino said.
"But this has been interesting because it has been much more intensive," Carla continued. "She's Polish, so there's a whole accent that changes who she is, you know? Then there's the singing, which is just phenomenal. There's been a huge amount of recording done for that, then all of the dance rehearsals and working with the trainers. Working all these looks for this character and then the dual characters because I'm playing two parts. So this has been ... definitely it has taken a lot more work for me behind the scenes than I've had on a movie in a while and I've had the luxury of time to do that research too. So it has been different and also I've been so lucky to have the resources to do that."
Finally, Carla Gugino shared with us her excitement for the film and her hopes that audiences will be excited too. "Well, I have to say, I love Warner Bros. so much for making this movie because it isn't a typical big studio movie in any regard in that way. I think it is in the sense that it will be super entertaining and sexy, and that the action will be unbelievable. I think that it has an emotional core that people don't really expect. I think it's going to be an amazing movie. I guess for me, having done this for so long, that any time I read anything that has a specific vision, I want to do it," explained Gugino. "I had said to Zack when we were doing Watchmen, and people were saying, 'from the visionary director Zack Snyder.' I said to him, very few people can actually put that up there and not have it be lip service but actually have it be real. He really is. So I guess to have one person's vision, to have that support and not have all those cooks in the kitchen is really great. I was just jumping up and down when I read it and I was so excited. As an actor, I guess the only thing we can be a part of really is to just make it the best movie possible and then hope that people want to see something that's not like everything else, which I think they do. I know do."
The actress continued to discuss her character's role in the film. "It's kind of like Blondie in the brothel is a follower, she sticks by Sweet Pea's (Abbie Cornish) character and kind of looks up to her to know that she can get by if she sticks around the strongest girl. So there's that, and in the action world she takes the initiative, she's extremely fearless, and is very strong. I mean my fighting style is based off of Muay Thai. It's a powerful, force-driven fighting skill, and it's a lot of fun. I get to do a tomahawk sequence, which is great because it's extremely personal and intimate, it's a very close-range fight, and I get to do that," Vanessa Hudgens said with excitement. "In the burlesque show, I get to do a belly dance, and that's interesting because I feel all of the characters in this are an extension of Baby Doll, kind of a piece of who she is. Sweet Pea is kind of her strength and I feel like Blondie is her fear of everything, and ultimately at the end kind of breaks down and messes things up ... let's just say. So she's kind of two-faced in a sense, which is why I do the belly dance. There's so much in each thing that we got to play with. It's been so much fun."
The actress also spoke to us about what it was like for her on her first day on the set of Sucker Punch. "I showed up on the first day not knowing what to expect at all. I landed and got in the car in normal clothes. I was like, should I be in workout gear? They said the girls have been working out every single day and shooting guns. I was like, maybe I'll go put a pair of tennis shoes on," the actress explained. "So I go up and all of the girls, Abbie (Cornish), Jena (Malone) and Emily (Browning), were standing on the mats stretching. Jena's body was already ripped by this point and her back was so chiseled. I was intimidated. I got thrown into the process of about three hours of martial arts, resting for a little bit, and then doing an hour and a half of physical weight training. We did that for a few weeks and pushed ourselves to another level and created this amazing girl gang. We just pushed ourselves as hard as we could."
Since Vanessa Hudgens comes from a musical theater background we asked her if her co-stars were intimidated by her doing the dance numbers. "No. No, we were all so supportive. It was the best week ever! It was a week of just the performances, and every single night the girls would come to set and cheer the other girls on, watch a show, bring our dinner and eat. It would be a show and dinner and it was incredible. We were all so supportive of each other. Without these girls I wouldn't have been able to get through all of this," she said. "I think I only rehearsed my dance about six times, so I definitely had butterflies," Hudgens continued. "It was very different because I'm used to performing and whatnot, but this time we had a male audience, so that in of itself kind of pushed me off the edge. But you just kind of have to put on your performer face and plow right through it."
Since this film has so many aspects to it including visual effects, huge sets, exotic costumes, dancing, drama, and fighting, we asked Vanessa Hudgens how Zack Snyder has handled juggling all those elements. "Zack's been incredible. He's been there with us every step of the way, and one thing I'm extremely thankful for is how real he tries to make everything. In a sequence where something bad happens, I'll say, a gunshot goes off in the scene. Normally I feel like somebody would just say, (bam), and then it would happen. Behind the set we actually had a gun go off and a light flash at the same time, and it just gets you in a place where everything is so realistic. It gives you that extra push to go to a place where it's very real, she explained. "He's so amazing; he's just such a sweet guy, and he's so visual. It dumbfounds me, the things that he's thought of. I read the script and I said, Zack wrote this? He's too nice of a guy! Where does it come from?" Finally, we asked Hudgens which of the alternate realities her character is involved in. "I'm in World War I and I'm in Orc World as well, but in Orc World I get stuck on the B-25 and I end up shooting a lot of guns," the actress teased.
Next we were joined by actresses Jena Malone, and Abbie Cornish who play Rocket and Sweet Pea, respectively. Jena Malone is best known for her roles in films like Donnie Darko and The Messenger, while Cornish is mostly recognized for her work in the film Bright Star. We began by asking the actresses to describe their characters to us. "It's a hard question to answer and it's also really hard to answer while you're still in the process of making the film," explained Abbie Cornish. "Because I think that most of the time when you are doing press the film is out so you've seen the product. You know what people are watching and you can answer questions about your character in reference to the finished film. I find it really hard to talk about my character while I'm still making it." "It's like, describe what a burger is," answered Malone. "You're like, really? I can tell you there is bread, there is lettuce, there is meat, some tomato and I can tell you the ingredients but until you taste it, I'm not going to be able to tell you what a burger is at all! I feel like I could say, my name is Rocket; I'm a girl in a mental institution that is part of an escape plan."
We also spoke to the two actresses about their extensive dance scenes in the film. Abbie Cornish explained that all of the dance scenes were shot over the course of one week. "It was an amazing week. We were all here everyday even though we didn't have to be, just to be there for each other. It was the most beautiful thing to see," she said. "I was the last one up so for me I got to see Jena go through the whole process and then Vanessa and Jamie. It really was the most beautiful thing, to see these girls I love so much work so hard towards something and then that day rehearsed it up to the point where it was technically ready and then get transformed head to toe." "It's a spectacle, a huge space with back-up dancers, the most beautiful sets and the most beautiful lighting," added Jena Malone. "I mean I'll never get to do that again. I'm not going to go and do a Broadway dance theater piece. It would probably be something with song or spoken word and it was just crazy to be a character in dance."
Finally, the actresses talked about working with Zack Snyder and how his process differs from other directors that they have worked with. "I think he's mastered the art of collaboration," said Jena Malone. "I think a lot of people pretend to know what collaborating is but really they are just telling you what to do. He really makes you feel like you are a part of it. He makes you feel like nothing is set in stone and that you're still finding it together. Like there is no voice that will go unheard and that there is always time for questions. There is always time to sit down and talk about something too. There is no small voice. You truly feel that way and that is amazing on a movie set because there are two hundred voices. Most of the time it just becomes one giant mouth that speaks for everyone but Zack's just not like that." "What he is doing here with this film is a big job. It is really complicated with so much involved and he's always happy, light and energetic," said Abbie Cornish. "That trickles down into the way that everyone else feels as well. If anything it's excitement and a little bit of nerves rather than the next day of shooting being really daunting. It's just a different energy about everything. It's a different process."
After we were done talking with Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone, we had a chance to sit down and speak with Jamie Chung. The reality star turned actress is best known for her roles in Dragonball Evolution and Sorority Row. In Sucker Punch, Chung plays Amber, one of Baby Doll's companions in the movie. The actress began by discussing her first reaction to reading the massive script. "I mean, when I first auditioned for a character, they wouldn't let us read the script. It was only when you were closer to being picked would they release the script and you had to go to the casting office to read it in one of their rooms. They wouldn't let you walk out with one, and I was really close to getting the part, but I didn't get it, so I was moping around for two months. I felt like my boyfriend broke up with me, I was devastated and at the time, Zack Snyder's Watchmen movie came out and I didn't have the heart to go watch it because I was so devastated. Then they called me and they were like, well you know some scheduling conflicts happened. Would you come in and read for a different character? I was like, absolutely! But I'm not going to get emotionally evolved... can I read the script? So I went in and I read the script and I was about twenty-five pages in and my first reaction was, this is insane!"
"The first ten pages is a description of the vision of how it's set-up and what you're looking at. There's no story yet so you don't know where it's going," Jamie Chung continued. "You just see this beautiful picture as you're reading the first ten pages. So the casting director walked in and she asked if I liked the script. I said, I'm enchanted and I'm already taking in the story. She was like, okay great because you got the part. I was like, wait I don't have to audition or anything? They said, no, Zack already knows you can do it," Chung explained. "The back-story to that was that Zack found out I was available for the movie, he said, let's hire her. They said, I was coming in to read the script because they thought Zack wanted me to audition. He's like, no she's great, just hire her."
Jamie Chung talked about her character and her role as a pilot in the movie. "In the brothel world and in the insane asylum, when she's first introduced to the other girls, she really is the kind of girl that wants to accept everyone. She wants everyone to get along. She looks out for each and every one of them, and her loyalty is with all of these girls, and in the action world that's what a pilot does. The pilot makes sure that everything is safe for the girls. That the girls are okay, that's her number one concern. You're looking out for the girls, so it really translates well into the different worlds." The actress went on to discuss preparing for the film's dance numbers. "Well of course it makes sense to have me as a French maid doing the tango. I don't have a dancing background but you know, martial arts is a form of a dance. You're learning the moves, you're making it work but the tango is very strong and dancing is difficult. Being on stage in front of a live audience was the most terrifying thing, and singing, I'm like the only Korean in Los Angeles who hates karaoke. I run away from it."
Finally, the actress discussed working with Zack Snyder and how helpful he was on the set. "He's definitely the go-to man. This is his baby, his vision, and it's very clear what he wants. He has every frame thought out and he personally draws them out, which is incredible. I've never worked with a director that when they're running out of time and they need another cameraman, he actually picked up a camera and shot," explained Jamie Chung. "You see him shooting all of the stunt stuff prior to make sure that it works. He's so hands-on and he's so patient with actors, and really sensitive and aware of what kind of environment we need to give our best performance. I love the man!"
After that it was finally time for us to meet with "the man" himself, Zack Snyder. We walked onto the set where the director was shooting a scene featuring all five of the girls jumping from a helicopter on to a mat. In fact, it was actually only half of a helicopter against a green screen with several large fans blowing wind on to the set. We began by asking Snyder the most obvious question, why did he decide to call the film Sucker Punch. "It's called Sucker Punch because you know to me the movie is ... the story sort of like has some pop culture implications and I didn't want to like try and go with that. Sucker Punch kind of summed up how I felt about it when I was working on it," the director answered.
Zack Snyder, who has wanted to make this film for a very long time, discussed with us the origins of the project. "I had been working on this other story a long time ago and there was a character in it, this Baby Doll character, and she kind of went on these sort of fantasies. She was only like a small side of the story, but it's those characters that you're like, oh that's cool. Then we just kept talking about her and sort of seeing how it evolved and then this story kind of happened," explained Snyder. "It happened over quite a little period of time, but the actual structure of what it is, is locked in. We had been talking about it, knowing what it was, for quite a while and I've just been busy with all these other things that I never really got around to it." We followed up by asking the director if it was important for him to make this film because it is an original project of his own, rather than an adaptation like he is known for. "I think that it's a big deal. I've gotten a little bit exhausted by ... I love adapting things and I love making those pictures real, but I felt like I was ready to just not have anyone to sort of criticize me. As far as whether the canon was correctly represented ... other than myself."
We continued by asking Zack Snyder if this process has been liberating for him as a director. "It has, it has. It allows us every day to just go, this would be even better. It's a movie so it evolves in that way. But I do have my influences, I think they are pretty glaringly obvious, but on the other hand I take the movie very seriously, it's sort of like the struggle. So for me all the sort of iconology that the movie embodied and then the struggle that the girls go through, even though it's built on pop culture sort of imagery, I take it really seriously as far as what they're sort of emotional struggles are and what they really go through. It's a kind of nice movie. The girls have trained so hard and they've done such a great job. It's good fun too. They're all crazy individuals, every single one of them. They took these characters that I wrote and they turned them into a real thing and they really took it all the way. The movie's pretty hardcore," finished Snyder.
Next, the director discussed with us the over-all tone of the film and the through-line of the story. "Yeah, it's really interesting. I think that to me the tone it has to do with, I mean it kind of has a slightly dark film whether it's in the insane asylum or the brothel or these adventures, everything is dangerous and everyone is emotionally trying to find their way. I think those adventures are all metaphors for sort of what's happening emotionally when the event is happening. We're always at a point in the film where these transitions are happening to these characters emotionally and then during the event you kind of get some of that," explained Zack.
"I think that the other fun thing about the way that the girls work out is that they're not just individuals," Snyder continued. "But it's weird because the group dynamic is also sort of affected by what happens through the way the movie is kind of constructed. So if they steal the mask, it's not a super complicated affair in their world, but in the fantasy world, it is super-complicated and dangerous. It's life or death and they're fighting these exotic World War I steam punk Nazis. They're not Nazis of course because it's World War I, they're Huns, but that struggle is directly related to it. They're just trying to figure out whether this will work. They kind of don't trust each other and don't really work that well together yet. It's all of those things kind of manifesting, but that in the end they're able to persevere and to pull it off. Then that brings them closer together for the next one and the next one."
We then asked Zack Snyder just how difficult it was to create set pieces for the film that have both an emotional and conceptual undercurrent. Did he think of the metaphor first and then create the set piece around it? "Yeah, that's kind of how we did it. We were like, okay I want to steal a map and I want to steal fire, I want to steal a super dangerous device. In their world it's a knife, but here it's a crazy bomb," he explained. "So that's kind of how those things started, and then we would say, okay the map is kind of a labyrinthine sort of an object. So we thought everybody was going to be a fan of trench warfare and that kind of imagery. I was like, oh it would be cool to do it in World War I because trenches are cool and crazy." We followed up by asking Zack Snyder if that is the part of the film that excites him, having the opportunity to make several different films in one. "Yeah, I mean I also got to say there's that part of it of course which is super exciting, but also the drama of working with the girls. The drama of Baby's story really in the end is what became the thing that made me go, okay I got to make it because it's cool. I want to see it. I want to see this worked out. That became the thing, then of course, the studio ... they were a little bit like, it's not based on anything and its super strange," joked Snyder.
While Watchmen was celebrated by comic book fans and critics alike, it did not do quite as well at the box office as the studio had hoped for, despite earning $185 million and only costing $135 million to make. So we asked Zack Snyder if the studio was at all hesitant to green light Sucker Punch after the release of Watchmen. "Nah, I mean, their biggest thing was about whether they felt like it was too obscure, too strange. So I go, no I get that. I understand why. I cut together a little trailer (of Sucker Punch) to show them what it could be like and everyone's like, oh there's an adventure in it. I'm like, yeah there's a lot of adventures," shouted Snyder. "It kind of changed a little bit, but I think like any film, especially when it's an idea that no one's ever seen, it's a big deal to get other people to finally say, yeah okay. So, five girls go on crazy adventures, and they're really in a brothel, but they're really in an insane asylum. Let's put this on the schedule. It is a bit of a struggle but on the other hand, it is original, it's action-based, the girls are amazing and the setting is sexy. So on the other hand ... it's kind of easy," joked Snyder.
Finally, we left the set and were escorted by Zack Snyder to his cutting room where we had an opportunity to watch a few scenes from the film. Before the footage began we asked Snyder if as a male writer/director he had any concerns about making a female empowerment film starring five young actresses. "I don't think there was a version that the girls would've let me do that they didn't feel was appropriate. It's all about power, so anytime you are dealing with power, and men and women, you are on the edge with everybody. So this movie is all about being on the edge in that way. Like when is a person strong and when is a person weak? That's what it's all about, you know? When to take advantage of that, and when people take advantage of it, when do you have to dig deep down inside yourself," Zack answered.
"Let's show some stuff and then we will get to the action," said Zack Snyder. "This is the lead into the Samurai scene. This is called Baby's first dance but it just gives you an idea of the tone of the piece, the girls and things like that," he explained. The scene gave us our first glimpse of Emily Browning as Baby Doll and Carla Gugino as Madam Gorski singing and dancing. "Anyway, so that goes into the Samurai scene. It actually goes closer, closer, closer and then a flake falls on Baby Doll's eyelash and you see that she's in a snowy courtyard and she fights all these giant Samurai. So in this next bit, they've gone to get the map and they are just entering the trenches," explained Zack Snyder. "They've made it across no-man's-land. They just jumped down into the German trenches and they start fighting these guys." This footage looked really cool and featured all five girls at their badass best. Vanessa Hudgens especially looks awesome shooting guns and throwing axes. "That's a little bit of them making their way. Right after this they get to the Colonel's bunker, they actually get separated and Baby has to fight the Colonel by herself and then the guy gets away," explained Snyder.
Zack finished showing us footage from the film by teasing us with eleven seconds of Vanessa Hudgens performing a belly dance, which needless to say looked great. In closing, this is what Zack Snyder had to say about his experimental new film. "So anyway, that's a little tease. The movie, I think, is action-y and it's funny. So much of the movie really is the drama between these girls and their situation. It's a weird mix between those. I mean, the story that they are facing is so compelling and I feel like everyone has done such an amazing job just creating this drama with this other world that lives inside of it. It's really been fun to work on and the girls and all the actors have done just an amazing job not flinching at all. Just going a hundred percent after it, it's been really fun," he said. "Just think how excited you will be when you see our full presentation ... even the World War I stuff, with bi-planes and everything on fire. Our backgrounds are so stupid it's awesome. Like when Baby shoots down the giant Zeppelin with a machine gun, this huge thing, like the Hindenburg. It will have it's own look that's unique to it. The whole thing, the look of it, is starting to come together," finished Zack Snyder.