LOS ANGELES—There’s Teresa Palmer’s indomitable alien warrior in I Am Number Four. And Isla Fisher’s tough-talkin’, Wild West chameleon in Rango. Now add Emily Browning to the growing list of young Australian female actors kicking ass in Hollywood with their resilient, resourceful heroines.
In a Beverly Hills hotel room, Browning tells the Georgia Straight that she was “blown away” when she found out that Sucker Punch was going to be an action flick, not only directed by Zack Snyder, of 300 and Watchmen renown, but also boasting all-female leads without any bitchiness.
“It’s something I’ve never seen before: strong female characters,” she says. “There’s none of the false kind of cattiness that Hollywood sort of believes is innate to all females. I can’t stand that girl-hate culture. I think it’s so unnecessary and so outdated. So I love the fact that these girls love each other and they protect each other and they sacrifice themselves for each other.”
To portray her character, Babydoll—a psychiatric-hospital patient who tries to escape with four other girls and winds up battling gargantuan samurai, zombie soldiers, faceless robots, and one big mother of a dragon in her multilayered fantasy world—she underwent proportionately “insane” training.
Browning, who garnered acclaim as Violet in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, tells the Straight that the role called for martial-arts, weapons, and strength training—including some sessions with U.S. navy SEALs—six hours a day, five days a week, for three months, one in L.A. and two in Vancouver, where the film was shot. (Browning previously starred in another B.C.–shot production, also about a psychiatric patient, the 2009 horror flick The Uninvited.)
Watch the trailer for Sucker Punch.
She also faced an arsenal of weapons to master, and she found herself firing a 1911 Colt .45 handgun with her left hand while wielding a tailor-made samurai sword with her right.
All that training resulted in an “intense” camaraderie with her costars. “We kinda became warriors by the end. And it also built a really strong bond between all the girls, which I think was really important for the film.”
She adds that the on-screen chemistry between her, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, and fellow Aussie Abbie Cornish was the real deal. “I think it’s clear in the film how much we love each other. I couldn’t act that, to be honest with you,” she says.
Snyder’s approach also helped. “Zack made everybody feel as though we were all completely in it together, which was something that made it more comfortable for me, because it made it feel more like making a film back home for me.”
She explains that unlike in Hollywood, there’s more of a democratic sensibility to filmmaking down under, to where she’ll be heading to make the “very, very dark” indie film Sleeping Beauty, loosely inspired by the fairy tale.
“When you make films in Australia, there’s a lot less of a hierarchy between cast and crew,” she says. “Every single person is on the same page, and everybody’s there to work together. And as an actor, whether you’re the lead actor or just a small part, your job is as important as DOP or the grip, or the person doing catering”¦.It promotes a good, kind of healthy, respectful attitude, not having that hierarchy, and not being placed above everybody else as an actor.”
Her grounded attitude will undoubtedly serve her well as her star continues to rise. But just as useful to her will be the girl power she not only took away from this film but also inherited. Her mother, a former personal trainer and a classic pick for a female role model, was physically and mentally inspirational to her. “She was just this tough, wonderful woman that always taught me that gender should never be a boundary,” she says. “Obviously, in our society it is sometimes. But it shouldn’t be, and we should fight for equality for women. And that, for me, made me feel very powerful as a woman.”