Ronda Rousey signed on to star in Mile 22 over three years ago. The former MMA champion and current WWE star was going to star alongside Iko Uwais (The Raid) in a version of the story that was more of a straight-up martial arts movie, which director Peter Berg was only going to produce. After spending a while in development, though, Mile 22 went from a two-hander to an ensemble pic that’s directed by Berg and led by Mark Wahlberg, playing team leader Jimmy Silva.

Since she first signed on to the movie, Rousey has acted in movies like Furious 7 and The Expendables 3, but she has a much more substantial role in Berg’s movie compared to her previous work. If you’ve seen Rousey fight before, you know she has a presence and intensity just waiting to be unleashed on the big screen with the right role. Hopefully, that role is Sam Snow. Read on for our full Ronda Rousey Mile 22 interview from the film’s set.

[Note: This interview was conducted in a press conference format with other assembled journalists.]

What’s your character?

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.

Do we get a sense of Sam’s history with the team, in terms of how long they’ve been working together [as a team]?

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 tick. 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?

It’s funny, I didn’t know how movies 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 and 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 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 [ago], 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 as 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? 

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?

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?

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 makes you think a lot more than just a ‘let’s save the day’. 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?

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?

Everyone has their different styles, but for me he’s the best director I’ve ever worked with. 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?

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.

What’s working with Mark Wahlberg like?

He brings out the best in everybody and when he’s there, you know you have to bring out your ‘A-Game’ because it’s Mark Wahlberg. You better not waste his time, picking around. Whereas Pete gets everybody loose and having fun, Mark has a way of making everybody focused. He’s awesome to have around…he keeps me in that mode of not goofing around too much, and staying in character, and keeping my mind on the task at hand.

Did you have to get really good with firearms?

Yeah, a week and a half before we started shooting, when we were in Atlanta, we trained. They had this abandoned hotel, where we got to have real guns. They were teaching us different ways to clear a room or a hallway or cover fire for each other. Little things that people who have been in the military would notice. We want to represent them well. We want them to be able to watch a movie like this and be proud of how it looks, instead of rolling their eyes. I really enjoy that the most because I’m actually walking away with not just a good performance but also a new skill.

Did you know how to handle guns at all beforehand?

I had done some [gun work] for The Expendables, but not as extensively as I have for [Mile 22]. I had a whole week of just training. That was our whole focus. We really immersed ourselves in it. It paid off because the first thing we did was a very tactical gun scene. We did that for several days and I would’ve probably looked like a total doofus if I hadn’t done that training.

Are you shooting chronologically?

This is probably the most chronological movie I’ve ever been a part of, and it actually makes it really easy, because you don’t have to take yourself out of it and figure out where in the story you are now. It’s mostly been from beginning to end. I didn’t even know that was possible to do. It’s extremely helpful and wardrobe probably appreciates it too.

***

Mile 22 opens on August 3, 2018.

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