Gina Carano would have never imagined her life as it is today when she stepped into her boyfriend's Muay Thai gym nearly 10 years ago. "I grew up in Las Vegas, which is a big fighting community, but never did so myself," Carano says. "I entered the gym to try it out and one of the guys there said, 'Oh baby, you need to lose weight. You're fat!" She took that as a challenge, lost 30 pounds and went on to become one of the nation's best female mixed martial arts stars (her record, combining MMA and kickboxing: 19-2-1). Talk about fierce!
She caught the eye of more than just fighting fans. Director Steven Soderbergh saw her spar—perhaps he even watched her as "Crush" on the latest incarnation of American Gladiators—and knew that she would be the ideal leading lady for his new action film Haywire, available on DVD now. "We had a four-hour lunch and I walked away with the job," Carano says. Training from then on to be a freelance covert operative was intense: "For eight weeks leading up to filming, I spent three hours doing boot camp with Aaron Cohen [who has worked in counterterrorism], practiced stunts for three hours and trained in the gym for another two each day," she explains.
Sharing the screen with big names including Channing Tatum ("hilarious," according to Carano), Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender could have been intimidating for a new actress, but Carano took it in stride. "It was such a fun experience," Carano adds. "I'm not like my character at all—she doesn't smile and I'm such a goofball. It was really healthy to explore the more serious side of me, but I was smiling off camera because I was having a blast!"
So what's next for the active actress? Carano is in negotiations to star in Fast and Furious 6. If everything falls into place, "I'll be that girl on set just happy to be there. At this point in my career, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose," she says.