With many action films, productions can typically find one compelling performer to carry the narrative and physical requirements of the entire experience, allowing the rest of the supporting roles to be filled with below-the-line performers who add extra elements to the already competent production. In the case of Netflix's Gunpowder Milkshake from director Navot Papushado, the entire main ensemble brings with them not only their own strengths that would let them carry the weight of such an adventure independently, but also deliver unique perspectives that complement one another and heighten every scene. Carla Gugino, for example, has starred in all manner of compelling films, though is only one cog of the overall narrative. Gunpowder Milkshake is now streaming on Netflix.
In the film, Sam (Karen Gillan) was only 12 years old when her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey), an elite assassin, was forced to abandon her. Sam was raised by The Firm, the ruthless crime syndicate her mother worked for. Now, 15 years later, Sam has followed in her mother’s footsteps and grown into a fierce hit-woman. She uses her “talents” to clean up The Firm’s most dangerous messes. She’s as efficient as she is loyal. But when a high-risk job goes wrong, Sam must choose between serving The Firm and protecting the life of an innocent 8-year-old girl -- Emily (Chloe Coleman). With a target on her back, Sam has only one chance to survive: Reunite with her mother and her lethal associates, The Librarians (Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, and Gugino). These three generations of women must now learn to trust each other, stand up to The Firm and their army of henchmen, and raise hell against those who could take everything from them.
ComicBook.com caught up with Gugino to talk the film, the potential future of the franchise, and other beloved projects she's been involved in.
ComicBook.com: This movie is so ambitious, it's so stylized, the tone is so unique. It's a little bit of comedy and satire, but it's an authentic action film. At what point in the project did you say, "Okay, I have to be involved with this,"? Was it from early on, as soon as you read the script, was it your co-stars, the director, the discussions? When did you say, "I have to get involved in this movie,"?
Carla Gugino: It's funny, because it was cumulative, but basically I saw the title and I was like, "I think I want to be a part of this." And then I had a really great Zoom with Navot, our illustrious co-writer, director when he was in Tel Aviv and I was in New York and we started talking about ... He's so influenced by Quentin [Tarantino] and also by Robert Rodriguez, who I've worked with a lot, and so there was a certain aesthetic that I knew was going to be a part of the movie. And obviously, it's very unique to him. It is his own stamp, but influenced by great filmmakers, as most great filmmakers are influenced by their predecessors. And so then I was really intrigued. We just had a great connection and I wanted to really just help him realize his movie. I really wanted to just help him bring his vision to the screen.
At that time, Lena and Karen were attached and so I was super excited about that. And then Angela and Michelle and I were coming on all around the same time and I just thought, "I can't imagine a greater group of people." So it just felt immediately like this is something I want to jump into right away. We also shot it in Berlin, which was super cool. There's something that's wonderful when everybody's away from home, because you don't have all the responsibilities of just like taking your dog out or dealing with kids or various people's life stuff.
It's like a summer camp.
It is, it is. So that aspect was really fun too.
As far as collaborating was concerned, what's so cool is the film hints at this larger mythos, but only really gives you exactly what you need for this story. So was there a lot of collaboration with Navot to develop your character or was it mostly keeping things ambiguous or letting him tell you what your history was?
He really asked me to contribute there because there was obviously a limited amount of screen time to try to convey relationships and history and things that were imperative for the story. But, like you said, it's a jam-packed, action-packed movie, so there's not a lot of like, "Let us tell you where we came from." So as we were talking about it, I said, "Well, let me explore with you what I think maybe Madeleine might've come from." So we talked about the fact that she was probably raised in an orphanage and I felt like that was both her connection to kids, that was who she bonded with very early in her life, and also her sense of propriety came from that. And that, therefore, she would also have this innate love of literature and the library and perhaps that she had actually sworn off violence and it's not until a child comes into the library that she will stop at nothing...
So those were all things, for me, that were important to convey, because I also felt like we're doing a story where you have librarians, we also have to have a character that represents how magical libraries are and that larger-than-life feeling. And, for sure, our set designer and production designer were so amazing and that library is all on a stage and when you walked into that set, you were just blown away. So there were definitely things that emerged from that or that conversation or things I felt like Madeleine would say, like, "Not only do you need books with guns in them, but also one to read." Those kinds of things.
As far as crafting your character and putting your own unique spin on her, is there a certain trait about Madeleine or maybe even a scene that you pulled off that you're especially proud of that you managed to work in there?
Well, I think it was just about trying to convey a clear person that you could understand and that you could, for a lot of reasons, it's really important that you fall in love with Madeleine. So it was about how we could find those moments that are really endearing about her. One thing I find endearing about her that I wanted to convey, and I'm glad it came across in the movie, is this thing where, when Sam, Karen Gillan's character comes in, she does not want to be interrupted in the middle of her sentence while she's reading. And, to me, that says everything about Madeleine.
There are scenes where there's high-intensity action, but then there's also scenes just of you bouncing dialogue off of Michelle Yeoh and Angela Bassett. Did you have a particular favorite scene to shoot in the film?
There's a lot of good, dry humor. I think, gosh, we really just had a blast. I will say, I mean, working with all of the women was extraordinary. I also, for me, there was an interesting thing that came about with the tomahawk fight sequence because, he and I were able to ... First of all, it's so wonderful, the actors across the board were just exceptional. So that one was interesting because it's the one sequence action-wise where it really slows down. It's like right after the huge Janice Joplin explosion, and so there's this, it almost was more like a conversation than a fight. That was really interesting, to play a fight like a conversation and with every blow you're saying something. So that was actually a really fun one to play.
I know it's early, but from my reaction and colleagues who have seen it, we love it and we can't get enough of it and we hope there's 10 more of these films. So has there been any rumbling of maybe seeing more Madeleine in any spinoff or prequel?
There's been lots of ... People have certainly talked about, is there a prequel, is there a sequel, is there a librarian's offshoot? Is there this or that? So the nice thing is, I don't know, I think it will be determined very much by how it's received, but, for sure, it is the tip of the iceberg in terms of exploring these characters and there's so many places to go with it. And we all love each other so it would be really fun to do some variation and get to keep going with these characters.
Well, if I have a say in things, this is merely the beginning and I am a real big-leaguer when it comes to franchise, action cinema.
I feel that about you. I do.
Thank you. I don't like to brag, so I'm glad you picked up on it. You're no stranger to these big, spectacle, superhero-y thing, with Watchmen, you did Sin City, which is a little bit more of a different comic book adaptation. Have you done your work in that realm and now you're looking more towards the Gunpowder Milkshake, original properties or do you think there's still an opportunity in the future, is there still another superhero movie for Carla at some point?
Absolutely there is. I feel like, to me, it's all about the characters and the people I'm collaborating with. If that were to come about in a superhero movie, I would love to, it's been a while. It's been a while since I've done that, so I would be totally in for that. I do also love original material. I think, clearly, we're in a world where we're rebooting so many things that I do feel refreshed when there's a new story. There's absolutely no question about that. I did a show called "Jett" that just actually came on to HBO Max, where I play a thief and it's a very Elmore Leonard-influenced crime show, and it's also got Giancarlo Esposito and Jodie Turner-Smith and a bunch of great people in it. But that was also one where it feels very iconic, but it's totally original. So I think when you can do that, it's great. But yeah, in the same way that Shakespeare has been done many times, if we can keep reinventing and making things great, then it's worth doing them.
Since Gunpowder Milkshake comes out on Netflix, you've worked with Netflix, with Mike Flanagan for two seasons of The Haunting and Gerald's Game. I know Mike has said Season 3 of The Haunting seems doubtful, are you at all like tugging his sleeve, like, "Hey, come on, let's do another one,"? Or is it like, "Oh no, that's fine. I'll just keep being in everything you do and it doesn't have to be a Haunting series,"?
Well, yes, I'm not attached to what it is, but we do really, really love to collaborate together. So I think, yeah, I'm excited about what we get to delve into next, whether it be another Haunting or something else. I think it's always so hard, as an audience, and I relate, because I'm an audience for things that I'm not in, and it's hard because you love -- you get invested and you love these things. But I think the thing that we also should remember, in terms of supporting and being excited is, for an artist, if you look at like [Bob] Dylan or anyone, you look at any great artists, they're always going to have to go like, "Okay, now I'm done with that chapter because I want to remain great and keep getting better." You know what I mean? So whether he is done or not done, I don't know, but I think no matter what, if there wasn't a third one, it would be because he thinks whatever is next is better. And if he can make that one great, then that'll be the thing.
Gunpowder Milkshake is out now on Netflix.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.