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Gina Carano could have kept on punching.
The MMA stand out last fought in 2009 when she was still in her late 20s. She had something else in mind for her career — using her skills on the big screen. Carano had already appeared in the first sanctioned female fight in Las Vegas, among career milestones, but she had a hunch Hollywood could use a performer like her.
She was right.
She successfully pivoted from the Octagon to movies and TV work, ending up on streaming TV’s biggest showcase, Disney’s “The Mandalorian.”
Let’s look back at the steps she took along the way.
“Blood and Bone” (2009)
This direct-to-video MMA saga gave Carano her feature film debut. She was far from the star, though. She played Vendetta, an MMF fighter, but one whose part is so small the expansive Wikipedia plot description fails to name check her role.
The star here is Michael Jai White, cast as an ex-con who transforms into an MMA warrior at the behest of an old friend.
Imagine dreaming of a film career and fielding a call from director Steven Soderbergh of “Traffic” and “Oceans Eleven” fame. Carano’s next big screen movie made that scenario a reality. She’s front and center as Mallory Kane, a former Marine on the run after a government agency betrayed her.
Soderbergh saw Carano during one of her matches, a rare loss, and envisioned her anchoring a major action movie. She did just that, sharing the screen with heavy hitters like Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Ewan McGregor.
The film earned a robust 80 percent “fresh” rating at RottenTomatoes.com, and she nabbed a nomination for Best Actress in an Action Film from the Critics Choice Association.
“Fast and Furious 6”
Carano seemed a natural for this adrenaline-fueled franchise. Indeed, she fit right in as Dwayne Johnson’s on-screen partner, Riley Hicks. The role wasn’t carried over to subsequent “Furious” films, but the experience solidified her action movie chops.
She had two fight scenes with franchise mainstay Michelle Rodriguez, including one conducted in a subway tunnel.
The scenes required extensive rehearsals, but Carano praised both Rodriquez’s energy and how both emerged from the scenes without a sizable scratch.
“Nobody was hurt; I really pride myself on that. I don’t think I’ve ever hurt anybody unless I intended to,” she cracked.
“In the Blood” (2014)
Carano’s next step found her playing Ava, a newlywed whose new beau suffered a serious accident. It’s just one of many obstacles placed in Ava’s way, giving Carano an excuse to flex her fighting chops.
The film featured several veteran character actors, including Luis Guzman, Danny Trejo and Treat Williams.
Carano steps back for a supporting role in a movie teeming with heavy hitters. Robert De Niro, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kate Bosworth star in a tale of a casino employee who risks everything to pay for his sick daughter’s operation. Carano co-stars as a cop chasing the film’s robbers, eventually realizing they aren’t as one-dimensionally crooked as expected.
Carano plays a CIA agent who once dated Bruce Willis’ character, giving the actress a chance to share the screen with the iconic actor. The latter’s on-screen son (Kellan Lutz) also joined the family business and must rescue his daddy after he’s kidnapped during an operation.
Carano shared how she approached her action sequences during the promotional push for the film.
“I think the trick in coming into these action movies is respecting the craft that a stunt director has worked their entire life on. Sometimes on smaller films you don’t get a decent amount of prep, sometimes not any, you show up and there is a surprise fight scene one night and you just kind of roll with it. Not ideal but it helps to be athletic on most jobs I’ve had.”
No, Carano didn’t fight the bad guys alongside Ryan Reynolds’ wisecracking anti-hero. She’s part of the villainous team Deadpool must vanquish between R-rated quips and sexual slapstick.
She played Angel Dust, a villain who squared off against the steely Colossus character, one of several X-heroes featured in the film. Her character is based on one created by Geoff Johns and Shawn Martinbrough for 2002’s Morlocks limited series.
The film version is radically different, though, with Angel Dust’s powers stemming from an experiment, rather than mutant heritage.
Once again, Carano’s fighting background served her well in this superhero smash.
“Kickboxer: Vengeance” (2016)
Carano joins a long-running franchise which dates back to the ‘80s. This time, series star Jean-Claude Van Damme is the mentor to a new fighter seeking to avenge his brothers’ death at the hands of a brutal Muay Thai champ, played by “Guardians of the Galaxy” star Dave Bautista.
This time, Carano isn’t playing a cop, federal agent or law enforcement type. She’s a sketchy fight promoter caught up in the story’s mayhem. In real life, Carano studied Muay Thai fighting as part of her athletic training, racking up a 12-1-1 record in the combat sport.
“Scorched Earth” (2018)
It was only a matter of time before the actress got a post-apocalyptic story to call her own. Here, she’s leaning into Hollywood’s progressive messaging while hitting her action movie beats.
Carano plays a bounty hunter named Attica Gage who tracks down “eco-criminals” after global warming turned the globe into a wasteland. Drive a gas guzzler and face Attica’s wrath.
The character was written for a male actor, but Carano convinced the producers to change their mind.
At this stage in her career, Carano felt savvy enough to speak out if a fight scene wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
“With all of the shots and angles, you’ve got to make sure that these shots are selling, and you want the stunt coordinator that you’re working with to be vocal enough so that they’re being heard. I’m definitely not shy when it comes to that, because that’s the part that I’m most confident with.”
“Daughter of the Wolf” (2019)
The MMA alum gets another star vehicle as Clair, a former military specialist trying to reconnect with her estranged son. Just when the two make some emotional headway, he’s kidnapped by a scenery-snacking Richard Dreyfuss.
Now, Momma Bear Clair must come to the rescue, making an unlikely ally along the way.
Variety praised Carano’s screen presence and maternal spirit, saying “Wolf” avoided recent screen tropes. The film “doesn’t rely on lazy screenwriting shorthand, nor does it pander to feminism with a simple gender-swap in its female-centered feature. These filmmakers are eager to explore the delicate facets of a forceful, fully-formed woman, and they do so with imagery that’s both stunning and subtle.”
“Madness in the Method” (2019)
Jason Mewes of Jay and Silent Bob fame attempts to deconstruct his screen persona in this meta-fictional tale. The cameo-laced film smacks Hollywood around for good measure, while offering Carano the unlikely role as Mewes’ girlfriend. The film wasn’t a hit, but it gave Carano the chance to move beyond her physical presence.
“The Mandolarian” (2019-2020)
“Star Wars” was on cultural life support when Jon Favreau dropped this series on the neophyte Disney+ channel. We know what happened next, but for two seasons Carano delivered blunt force heroism as Cara Dune, a warrior from Alderaan who helped our masked hero out on more than one occasion.
She held her own against veteran actors like Carl Weathers and Ming-Na Wen, earning plenty of fans in the process. Her co-stars sang her praises, including Pedro Pascal who shared an image of their characters hugging on Instagram along with the word, “Friendship” #ThisIsTheWay.
“I love love love you, girlfriend!!!” Wen wrote late last year on social media following one of the many attempts liberals made to fire her from the show.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.