In a summer filled with testosterone-fuelled films like Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and Green Lantern, it’s about time girls had some fun.
And they certainly do in Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, one of the highly hyped movies of the year.
Up-and-coming actresses Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung and former Disney starlet Vanessa Hudgens take centre stage and handle the weapons of destruction in the new film by the director of 300, Watchmen and the forthcoming Superman: Man Of Steel.
Set in 1950s Vermont, the epic action fantasy tells the story of Babydoll (Browning), who is determined to escape from the mental asylum where she was sent by her abusive stepfather, with fellow inmates Rocket (Malone), Sweet Pea (Cornish), Blondie (Hudgens) and Amber (Chung).
The girls’ escape strategies see them turning to their vivid imaginations, where they engage in deadly battles with giant samurai warriors, fire-breathing dragons and monstrous orcs, as the lines blur between their dark realities and fantasy.
Cornish admits she was immediately drawn to her character.
“When I initially read the script, Sweet Pea spoke to me the most. She’s a mother figure who looks out for Rocket, her wilder and unpredictable baby sister,” she says.
While the 28-year-old didn’t mind doling out the pain in those fight scenes, portraying the ballsy heroine packed a punch into Cornish.
“That character was an experience for me. Playing someone that tough was hard work,” she says. “There were times when I got home on a Friday night and I’d feel hyper-sensitive. I’d be really drained – all I wanted to do was get into my PJs and snuggle up.”
She hopes her efforts will lead to a shift in Hollywood though, with more women getting to kick butt on the big screen.
“There hasn’t been a film like this. Hopefully in the future, it’ll be normal for girls to do an action film. Women can be just as strong and interesting in these roles as males.”
It’s certainly a change from Cornish’s past characters, including Bradley Cooper’s long-suffering girlfriend in Limitless and Fanny Brawne in Bright Star, which won her several awards. But then the actress isn’t one to shy away from challenges. She had a three-month intensive boot camp to get into shape for Sweet Pea.
Cornish’s experiences of growing up on a farm in Australia came in handy too, and she relished getting to grips with the weapons.
“I’m the best shot, obviously!” she jokes. “My brother taught me how to shoot a slug gun. We used to put bottles and old tin cans on the fence at the farm and shoot them off. He taught me how to use a bow and arrow, and a crossbow too.”
It’s no surprise the fearsome fivesome struck up a close bond on set: “All of us girls became best friends and shooting the film was like shooting with a second family – it was really special in that way.”
The actress admits to feeling unsettled on the last day of filming though.
“It was a big deal, us breaking up. I started to feel disgruntled and uncomfortable,” she remembers.
Thankfully, there wasn’t time to stay upset for long. Once Cornish had finished Sucker Punch, she began filming WE, directed by the Queen of Pop, Madonna.
“The first time I met her was on Skype – I was in Australia and she was in New York,” recalls the actress, who’s a long-time fan of Madge’s music.
“I mixed up the time difference, so I was a day early. But seeing her on the computer was surreal. I was presented with the human incarnation of this woman that we know as Madonna – it was incredible!”
In the film co-written by Madonna and Alex Keshishian, Cornish – who describes the superstar singer as “amazing” – plays unhappily married New Yorker Wally Winthrop, whose story parallels the romance between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
“I still haven’t seen a finished product of the film yet but there’s so much within that movie.
‘‘And I believe we’re going to Venice [Film Festival] with it.”