Best known for her prowess in the ring, Olympic medalist, UFC and WWE star, Ronda Rousey, has been making a name for herself in Hollywood of late. Following her film debut in The Expendables in 2014, she has since made her mark in Furious 7 and enjoyed a winning turn in the Entourage movie. With Mile 22, the new film director Peter Berg starring Mark Wahlberg, Rousey now enjoys her most challenging role yet. “I think with Ronda you kind of expect her in an action movie to just be ‘doing Ronda’ and beating the crap out of everybody,” says Wahlberg of his co-star. “But I think her dramatic performance here is one of the great surprises in the movie.”
In Mile 22 (which is also one of our must-watch movies of September), Rousey stars as the no-nonsense Sam Snow, part of an elite paramilitary unit headed by Wahlberg’s Jimmy Silva, charged with transporting foreign intelligence asset Li Noor (The Raid’s Iko Uwais), from the relative safety of a US Embassy in Southeast Asia to an airfield for extraction – a distance of 22 miles from the city centre. Their mission, of course, proves hardly a walk in the park. With Noor holding the key to encrypted information needed to prevent an imminent terrorist attack in exchange for safe transport to the US, Silva’s team must fight their way, mile by mile, through a dangerous urban landscape as local forces close in, determined to prevent his escape.
Rousey met with the press in Los Angeles, where she discussed the making of the film and her burgeoning acting career, as Mile 22 readied for its US premiere.
How did your involvement in Mile 22 come about?
“I was actually part of this film since the day Pete (director, Peter Berg) thought of it. For me it’s the first time I’ve ever been part of a film right from its conception through to its release. At the time he was helping someone do a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon type movie and he was just like, ‘I want to do a fight film too!’ He was thinking he wanted to do something like The Raid, as he was a big fan of Iko Uwais. ‘We’re going to make a version of The Raid with you and Iko!’ At that time, the script was called, ‘The Assault’, or something like that, and it was completely unrelated to Mile 22… Eventually, with Mark in the mix, they completely rewrote the script and made it into the big budget film that it is today. I think the only original thing that stayed was that [Lauren Cohan’s character, Alice] had a daughter named ‘India’.”
You’re also not doing any fighting in the film.
“No, not at all. And that’s completely intentional. Pete really believed in me in the way that I’ve been trying to get other people to – you know, that there’s more to me than just a fighter. Pete really had confidence in me. And he ultimately wanted me specifically in a role that wasn’t just some invincible badass that fights. He wanted something more from me, and for people to actually see that I’m growing as an actor. That I can hold my own in a film like this. That there’s more to me than just a tough chick.”
Was there a part of you, though, that wanted to throw down?
“I really wanted to because of Iko. His fighting style is just so amazing, unique and different from mine, that I really believe that the two of us collaborating… we really could create something. I think personally we could revolutionise the whole martial arts film genre if we ever got that opportunity. But I think that’s also what people would expect in this film.”
Has it been difficult to convince Hollywood that there’s more to you than just fighting?
“I think that’s how the world typically sees me. I think people in general don’t think that you can be good at more than one thing… It’s almost a point of resentment to some people. But I don’t think it’s anything personal. I think it’s just unexpected for anyone to ever be able to be just as good at two things. ‘You’re already a good painter. You can’t be a good singer. You’re already a good athlete. You’ can’t be a good artist.’ I enjoy having opportunities to prove people wrong. And I believe that if I work really hard at anything, I can become really, really good at it.”
Is there anyone who’s career you look up to?
“Mark Wahlberg is a great example.”
What was it like working with him?
“Amazing. You know, I’m very fortunate that I’ve been surrounded by the best, by people like Mark, from the very beginning.”
Is it difficult being in the public eye as you find your way in Hollywood?
“There are pluses and minuses to be being in my shoes. Everybody sees me get to go through the process of ‘sucking’ to ‘not sucking so much’, to being ‘okay’, to getting a little bit better (laughs)… But I also get a lot more opportunities that other people wouldn’t get for a very long time. I’m learning in a very unorthodox way. Someone who’s been studying acting and taking classes for years would have had to be doing this so much longer to get the amount of time that I’ve had on set now. It takes a lot of time and work for most people to even get to this point. I’m very lucky that I’ve been around the calibre of people that I’ve been around since day one, when I was first cast on The Expendables.”
What was the shoot like for Mile 22?
“Working for Pete was different than anything I’ve ever experienced before. We couldn’t really go in memorising lines or choreography: “This is what this gun fight is going to be, let’s learn this sequence.” Working with those guys, it was more like ‘We don’t know what Pete is going to do, so we’re just going to teach you the basic concepts, so you can be ready for whatever he throws at you.’ It took a lot more time and dedication than just learning specific scenes. But I think it was just so much more interesting filming this way. We actually got to walk away with a skill instead of a memorised page.”
Does what you’ve learned in sports apply to what you’re doing now in movies?
“One advantage that I got from being an athlete is the work ethic that it taught me. There are a lot of people who are extremely talented as actors, but don’t have the work ethic that you need to be successful… You know, just because it’s not athletic, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take that same amount of discipline and work ethic. I see a lot of people that are much more talented than me, that don’t have that same work ethic, and are not enjoying as much success.”
What was it like seeing the finished film for the first time? Is it what you were expecting?
“No, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all (laughs)… It was much darker and faster paced than it read on the page. And I’m glad that they went in that direction. I mean, I was just completely drawn into it… I was like: ‘Woah, that’s not what I was expecting at all- but that was awesome!’”
Mile 22 opens nationwide on 7 September 2018.