Ronda Rousey knows what audiences expect from her. In The Expendables 3 and Furious 7, Rousey’s done what she’s known for: namely – punching and kicking people in the face, yet Mile 22 represents a departure from this ‘same old-same old.’ In fact, Rousey hardly has any hand-to-hand fight scenes in the upcoming action film. Instead, she’s given the opportunity to do something yet unproven: act. Rousey herself admits that her career up to this point (in the WWE) has been predicated on never showing any semblance of emotion. With Mile 22, she gets to correct this perception, showcasing different facets of her talents: not just tough and hard-nosed, but emotional and empathetic.
In Mile 22, Rousey co-stars as Sam Stone, the tactical expert for an elite top-secret intelligence team (led by Mark Wahlberg). When the crew is tasked with transporting a police officer (Iko Uwais) twenty-two miles out of hostile territory, all hell breaks loose as various factions attempt to stop and kill the officer.
In the following on-set interview with Ronda Rousey, she discusses her transition to acting, how her character, Sam Stone, changed from initial drafts through production, and the potential for a Mile 22 franchise. For the full interview, read on below.
Who’s your character?
Rousey: I play Sam Snow. She’s the tactical shooting badass of the team. She’s a lot more skilled at tactical gun stuff and not so much hand-to-hand fighting, like I would be known for. It’s cool to not be leaning on my strengths so much.
How much backstory do you get to know about Sam in the movie?
Rousey: This movie is really interesting in that it doesn’t spell everything out for you. It’s not an origin story or anything like that. You’re thrown into the middle of it and you get to know the characters as you go along. So it’s not like you get an introduction and then the movie starts. The movie starts and then you start to really figure out who these people are depending on how they react to different situations.
Do we get a sense of Sam’s history with the team – in terms of how long they’ve been working together?
Rousey: Sometimes they refer to their past, but they don’t really get into it too much. They’re not the sentimental or reminiscing kind. They’re very much in the present. I really believe that when people see this movie, they will want to see more, they will want to know what makes them all tic. Hopefully this is a franchise waiting to happen.
Was this a role you fought for or did Peter Berg come to you with the part?
Rousey: It’s funny, I didn’t know how movie’s got made until this movie. It’s an interesting story how this all happened. I didn’t think we’d be here at all today to be honest. I think Pete [Berg] was doing some sort of martial arts movie, where he was helping somebody out and he wanted to make a real modern martial arts film. So he was going to produce something with me and Iko Uwais. It started with a whole different script. It didn’t really work out. Then the script started from scratch for Mile 22. It originally was me & Iko and I had to help him move twenty-two miles. It was kind of like The Raid, where they had to fight through one big building. We had to fight from one mile to the last. Then Mark [Wahlberg] became interested in the role of Silva, which was originally my mentor who betrayed me and we had a big showdown. But once a big star like Mark signed on, Pete decided he wanted to direct and he rewrote the whole thing. It’s a completely different movie then it was when we originally put it together. The only similarity now is the title. So Pete rewrote the entire script so [it wouldn’t be] pigeonholed as a martial arts movie, so [it would be] commercially viable for any audience.
But I didn’t hear anything about the movie for years. So I thought Mile 22 was never going to happen. Two or three years ago, I gave up on it and then a few months [earlier], I got a call that Mile 22 was happening. So I read the script and I thought it was awesome and I love Sam Snow. It was really interesting to see what it started on the page and how different it is when we got here to film. Pete pretty much rips up the script, as soon as you walk in. His directing style is so perfect for me, in that I feel like I’m actually talking and not remembering things. He’s really good at keeping you in the moment and playing to everybody’s strengths. Pete told me a movie gets written three times: when it’s written, when it’s shot and when it’s edited. So this is my first time getting to see a movie get made from the very beginning. It’s become a great learning experience.
How did your character change from that initial script to what you’re shooting now?
Rousey: Alice [Lauren Cohan] and Sam Snow used to be one character and they split her into two. So I have the tougher side of the character and Lauren has the much more emotional, softer side. It actually made more sense for them to be two people. I mean– I could not have done Alice any better than Lauren. She’s absolutely amazing. I think Pete was right in taking our strengths and putting us into the right character.
How similar is this film to The Raid?
Rousey: It’s similar, but also very different. In The Raid, you almost get battle fatigue. It’s so long and constant, whereas this movie has more bursts of action with lulls in between. It gives the audience time to rest a bit. I love The Raid. It’s my favorite modern martial arts movie, but you’re a little tired after you watch it. I had to sit down for ten minutes and chill out, whereas anybody walking out of this movie is going to walk out energized. It’s just a fun ride.
What distinguishes Mile 22 from other action films?
Rousey: It has all the real cool action beats and all those fun visual things, but it also has a lot more heart and depth. It goes into the grey area of what’s right and wrong. It’s a lot more complicated than a lot of these popcorn-crunching action movies. It has that in it, but it also will leave you thinking about who should you really be rooting for in the end.
What are the biggest acting challenges for you?
Rousey: My whole life I’ve always been taught to never show pain at all. It could affect the referees, so for someone who’s always had to suppress it, it was a challenge for me to actually go out and show pain. Whether people like it or not, it was very therapeutic for me to actually be able to express myself in a way that I’ve never been allowed to.
What’s Pete Berg’s method of directing?
Rousey: Everyone has their different styles, but for me he’s the best director I’ve ever worked with. And I’m not hating on anybody else. I’m just saying– he’s been an actor before, so he understands what we need. He helps me through every scene and gives me the freedom to say things in my own words. But if he wants something in an exact phrase, he can shout it at me. So he gives me a lot of detail and direction. Instead of ‘That wasn’t so good, let’s do it again’, he’ll give me the exact details of what he wants. As someone who’s been coached all their life, that’s what I need — I need coaching and direction. Tell me what you want and I’ll do it, but it’s hard to guess. Pete takes all the guesswork out of it. He’s really been a great mentor and guide throughout this whole process.
Is there an intensity to Peter Berg as a director?
Rousey: He’s passionate, but my definition of intense may be different than other people. He’s just completely in the moment and really excited about what we’re all doing. That excitement is contagious. He also has a way, when people are nervous or wound up, of making everybody laugh and just loosening us up. Sometimes, just to break us out of the way of saying something, he’ll be like, ‘Say it like you’re Canadian, say it like you’re a pirate, say it like you’re a goat, say it like you’re trapped under a rock.’ He breaks you out of your own habits and brings the best out of you.