Luc Besson’s new sci-fi thriller, Lockout, is a fun and exciting ride set in the not too distant future. Maggie Grace plays first daughter Emilie Warnock who is leading a humanitarian mission to MS One, an experimental prison in space. When a violent intergalactic mutiny unexpectedly sets loose 500 of Earth’s most dangerous psychotic criminals, President Warnock sends in the falsely convicted Agent Snow (Guy Pearce) to rescue her in exchange for his freedom. Living up to his irreverent reputation, Snow pushes all of Emilie’s buttons, but Emilie proves she can give as good as she gets and together they make a formidable team.
At the press day for Lockout, we sat down with Grace at a roundtable interview to talk about what attracted her to the role of Emilie. She told us why she loves her action films served up with humor and how she enjoyed taking on the physically demanding role that involved sophisticated action scenes and a combination of stunts, combats and wire-work. She discussed her training with stunt coordinator Patrick Cauderlier, her fun relationship on set with Pearce and their collaboration on the film’s Casablanca-inspired final scene, and why running in spacesuits presented some unusual challenges. Grace also talked about her upcoming projects: Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2, Taken 2 and Decoding Annie Parker, plus why she’d like to do a romantic comedy.
Question: This is a very physical role – very macho, very testosterone-fueled. How was this experience for you? What did you have to do to prepare yourself for that amount of physicality?
MAGGIE GRACE: Well, Guy and I both arrived in Serbia a little bit early to get some wire work in and a little bit of combat training. It’s always nice to prepare for extra just in case something comes up. But the wire work was my favorite. I sent a video home to my parents the first day. Patrick Cauderlier is our incredible stuntman. He choreographed everything and taught us on the wires and he was kind enough to edit together a little video of me beating up the big Serbian stuntmen. So it was fun. It was a very physical experience.
Did your mom immediately want to get on a plane and fly to Serbia?
GRACE: She was like (mimics her mom) “Where are you? What are you doing?” Actually she did come to Serbia to visit. We were there for Thanksgiving. I brought my family out. Of course, the first day on set, I forgot they were there, and we were shooting – I think it’s in the trailer — this gag where I end up in a compromising position with my head in his lap. That was the day my mom visited the set! I noticed the producer, Leila (Smith), was looking a little peaked.
Did you know that was an homage to Romancing the Stone?
GRACE: Someone said something about that. I’m still catching up on the 80s.
And was it hard when you had to slap him?
GRACE: No, that was easy.
What was that relationship like on the set with Guy?
GRACE: Oh it was great. He’s wildly intelligent and has that Aussie sense of humor. I adored him. I wish we were doing the roundtables together, but we’d probably get into big trouble.
Is he as sarcastic in real life as he is in the movie?
GRACE: Yes and more so. In real life, he can actually say four letter words. We are limited with those in the movie. But we still made use of the ones we had quite well.
Did he improvise on set a lot? Did he throw you off at all?
GRACE: You know we were moving so fast. We didn’t improvise a whole lot. When we first sat down, we worked together to iron out some details before we started principal photography. I loved working with him. I’m a big fan of his.
What attracted you to the part of Emilie?
GRACE: Immediately it was the humor. That’s how I like my action movies served up. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you are looking for a message oriented film, this would probably not be it. It’s unabashed and unapologetically a fun ride. It’s a sci-fi adventure, but it’s littered with these sharp one liners and this kind of throwback archetype of a male lead who’s quite sarcastic and has some edge. You don’t know whether to smack him or kiss him or what to do.
Are those the kinds of movies you got into Hollywood to do?
GRACE: I think as far as the action genre goes, I like when it has a sense of humor. (whispers) I’m a Jane Austen/Jane Eyre kind of girl.
Well, you were in The Jane Austen Book Club.
GRACE: That was a fun film for me.
Do you feel like your role in Taken led to this? I know you are the passive victim in that film, but now you’ve been upped to action co-star. Both are Luc Besson produced films.
GRACE: Yeah. I think Luc has a way with the action genre. He has a sixth sense for it. Luckily, I’m quite happy this character is a bit more empowered than Kim. She’s a little bit older, but, you know, still isn’t prepared for the situation at all. But she’s a very capable young woman so that was fun.
Was Luc a big presence on set?
GRACE: He had four films shooting at once during the time we were in Serbia. So he’d fly in. He’s really, really involved in writing and getting everyone else set. He’s also very respectful of creative latitude for his directors. If you trust someone, you trust them. He was definitely a presence but he was also finishing The Lady at the same time – flying back and forth between Thailand and Serbia is a tall order. I don’t know how he does it. He’s amazing.
How were Stephen (Saint-Leger) and James (Mather) as directors of the film? I know they divvied up the workload. What kind of set did they have? Was there a lot of latitude? Was it tight because of the stunts and rapier dialogue?
GRACE: Yeah, it was a tight schedule. We didn’t have a lot of takes on anything. There were certain shots we only had one take on. I remember the trapdoor sequence – we had one shot at it and we really hoped it worked. So that nervousness on Guy and my face is very real. We were nervous that it might not work and nervous that we hadn’t rehearsed it.
How did you feel when you character changed throughout the course of the film?
GRACE: It was fun. I think dating back to Viola in Twelfth Night, for some reason girls have to pretend to be boys. I don’t know what that says.
Did the wig smell? Because it looked like it did.
GRACE: It was greasy. By the end of the two months, you pretty much want to burn the clothes you’ve been wearing.
What was the most difficult stunt sequence?
GRACE: It was definitely those really heavy spacesuits. We were so excited, because during all the fittings, they were really kick-ass spacesuits. They weren’t like astronaut spacesuits but more like action figure. They were heavy, yellow and had these built out chests. It’s incredible. When we were doing the fittings, we were goofing around. (mimics Robocop) “You have five seconds to comply!” Messing around. We had so much fun, and then we realized there were stunts expected while wearing these suits and they hadn’t tested the mobility. So it was like, “Okay, you and Guy are gonna run from here to here and then you’re going to leap off the side. It’s gonna be great. And we’re gonna cut to the CG stuff.” So Guy and I start running and we’re like two tin cans, lurching back and forth in a really unathletic way. I’m not the most gazelle-like of runners to begin with. I’m told there’s a YouTube clip called “Maggie Grace Running.” I didn’t look it up, for the record, an ex-boyfriend was kind enough to point it out. So I’m working on my running and that suit didn’t exactly help. Guy was no better off. The suits were so heavy and unwieldy, they had to CG in our legs.
What was the all male cast and crew like?
GRACE: It was funny. No other Americans and thank God we had a really amazing producer, Leila Smith, that would bring the feminine energy to set everyday. Obviously, there are other women on the crew, but yeah, it was pretty much a male dominated atmosphere.
Talking about the female energy, we’re seeing a real shift in female roles lately. We’ve got Katniss Everdeen and two different Snow Whites that are more heroine than hapless victim. What do you attribute this change, this shift, of the female dynamic in films to?
GRACE: I still think we’re finding our balance and how we communicate gender roles in the media and that you can still be feminine and kick some butt.
Are you looking for other types of action roles? What peaks your interest in films? Is it anything specific or is it the character or the director?
GRACE: There’s certainly directors I’m dying to work with. After all this action, I’d love to do a romantic comedy one of these days.
Would you be the girl who has the perfect plan all figured out and then learns her lesson? Meets the guy she hates at first?
GRACE: We have a meet-cute and there’s a misunderstanding. He says, “It’s a misunderstanding! You lied to me!” That scene? No, I think, something like two genuinely flawed people that are perfectly flawed for one another. Like a When Harry Met Sally. That’s my favorite.
Your character actually grows and gains confidence in herself. Do you feel like since Lost, you have had that same path yourself?
GRACE: Yes, I have regressive moments but I hope so. That’s kind of what your twenties are for.
Going along with that, at the very end of the movie, there’s a Casablanca moment where you guys are walking off into the sunset. Do you feel like you’re ready for a sequel or another movie where you can step up and be the partner this time?
GRACE: That would be great. We got to improve that bit heading toward the horizon. The line I believe the film ends on was my creation. The tone of it is this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He says, “You know, I actually don’t think this is going to work.” And I say, “Well, that depends.” “On what?” “On how good you are in bed.” “Ah, I give it about ten minutes.” We had a great time that day figuring out how the movie should end. I love that that’s what they chose.
As first daughter, Emilie has chosen this reform of the prison population – taking better care of them and so forth. Have you found your cause or causes that you support?
GRACE: Absolutely. Global Grain USA is a group I’ve been working with lately and I’m a big fan of theirs. I saw this Dave Eggers TED talk on 826 awhile back and I think that’s so great for people in our industry. It’s the intersection of creativity and we can really give the gift we have to give.
What did you personally take away from the experience of filming Lockout and/or learn about yourself?
GRACE: It is kind of a funny experience. I’m used to being away from home for a few months at a time. It’s different when you’re with an international crew – English isn’t anyone’s first language, except Guy. It does get kind of lonely. You lose the humor in daily interactions sometimes. It’s such a great group of people and people I’ve worked with before. It’s this little theater troupe. It’s great working with Europa. It’s a small community. I would say it’s interesting to learn the difference between loneliness and solitude. After a few months in Serbia, working in the dark, six to eight weeks, you start to find that difference.
What are you working on next?
GRACE: I have Twilight and Taken 2, which we just finished a few weeks ago. I’m excited about those. And a little indie called Decoding Annie Parker. I’m excited to be shooting in LA soon. It will be a nice change.
Is you character a little more proactive in Taken 2?
GRACE: Yes. She doesn’t suddenly become La Femme Nikita. That would be unreasonable. She’s still a young woman. She’s drawn into taking a more active role because her parents are abducted and she has to help free them.
Did Lockout test your athletic ability?
GRACE: Especially the wire stuff. More combat. There’s a couple action sequences that didn’t make the final cut. We had so much action. (Says in a goofy announcer voice) That’s how much action we had. We couldn’t even use it all.
Lockout opens in theaters on April 13th. For all our coverage on the film, click here.