Maggie Grace knows a thing or two about resiliency. Dating back to 2008, the 28-year-old actress has spent her recent years providing some much-needed estrogen, as well as filling the prerequisite “damsel in distress” roles, in a slew of otherwise macho action flicks.
First came Taken, the surprise box office juggernaut that began Liam Neeson’s bizarre, yet badass, transition into a full-blown action star and also found Grace playing the plot’s catalyst: the kidnapped daughter of Neeson’s ferocious daddy. Then, two years later, the Ohio-born Grace shared screen time with action heavyweights Tom Cruise (Knight and Day) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Faster). Come this October, she and Neeson will raise heart rates once again in the anticipated sequel Taken 2.
But first, Grace has to survive the perils of outer space. In the new sci-fi/action flick Lockout (opening nationwide in theaters today), the one-time Lost star plays the humanitarian daughter of the President of the United States; checking to make sure that the highly dangerous prisoners aren’t being mistreated, she hops aboard a spaceship and visits M.S. One, an intergalactic prison where the detestable inmates are locked in pods and placed under “stasis,” or a deep, uninterruptable sleep.
Naturally, her visit goes haywire, leaving the First Daughter in harm’s way as the prisoners riot and take all non-criminals hostage. Guy Pearce, making the most of his endless action movie one-liners, hams it up as an arrogant, reluctant hero sent to M.S. One to fetch Grace’s character, and that’s when Lockout’s knowingly silly and harmlessly absurdist fun really kicks into motion.
Complex spoke with Grace to discuss the film’s surprisingly funny vibe, how she nearly sent Pearce to the emergency room, and why constantly playing characters in peril has made it hard for her to sleep at night.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
What struck me most about Lockout is how funny it is. The commercials don’t really sell it as such, but it’s basically action movie one-liners galore.
[Laughs.] Yeah, that was the reason why I couldn’t wait to do it. I had the script emailed to me when I was on vacation in Istanbul, which, oddly enough, is also where we ended up shooting Taken 2. When I finished reading the script, I found myself laughing hysterically, and then I went back and re-read a bunch of the one-liners over again just to laugh some more.
It has that retro feel, going back to when action movies didn’t take themselves so seriously. It’s really fun, and the one-liners abound. It’s unabashedly entertaining.
It does also have its escapist moments. There’s definitely this dystopian world, but I would say that the film has a dark playfulness. I really embraced all of that.
Are those funny, tongue-in-cheek action movies of old the kinds of films that you grew up watching?
Yeah, to some degree, but I didn’t go into Lockout with that much personal attachment, you know? The film just has this wry, wisecracking, reluctant hero at its center, and this great, combative, and sexual energy between him and my character. It definitely has that aesthetic to embrace, which gives it a throwback quality that I love.
I’d estimate that about 90% of Guy Pearce’s dialogue consists of sarcastic one-liners.
Yeah, it’s like, What’s going to be the catchphrase? There are so many choices.
Which is your personal favorite?
I don’t know. Well, I do have one that I particularly love. We were cracking up when we shot this scene where he’s handing her a giant space-gun and a little dehydrated apple pack, and he says, “Here’s a gun. And an apple. Don’t talk to strangers—shoot them.” [Laughs.] Shooting that scene was really funny, because we kept cracking up almost the entire time.
Was that rapport between you and Guy there immediately, or did you guys need time to hang out and develop it?
We were lucky to get there a little bit early and iron out the particulars about a few specific scenes. He’s obviously a wildly intelligent dude, and I’m a big fan of his work, ranging from Memento to The Proposition.
I remember when I saw The Proposition at the Tribeca Film Festival, I was almost physically ill. [Laughs.] It’s so intense, and he’s so good in it. He just disappears into his roles, so I think we’re really lucky to have him make a foray into the action genre. We need more heroes like him.
Plus, you two get to punch each other in the face, and that’s good clean fun. That must take a certain level of trust.
Yeah, and a certain level of trust that I unfortunately, accidentally broke. [Laughs.] I hit him, but he was really graceful about it. Luckily, I didn’t hit him very hard. There’s a kind of “honor amongst thieves” between actors, where you’re supposed to very carefully shoot those kinds of scenes and not make contact, and I somehow slipped, fell forward, and I hit him.
When the word “broke” just accidentally slipped out of your mouth, you had me thinking that you sent Guy Pearce to the hospital. That would’ve been quite a story to tell.
Oh, God, no. I’m flattered that you would think that I pack such a punch. [Laughs.]
Well, you have made a few intense action movies in recent years.
True, but I’m always more the “damsel in distress,” I’m afraid.
Yeah, but you could’ve picked up a few ass-kicking pointers from your action hero co-stars, no?
Probably not as much I should have, though. [Laughs.]
You’ll definitely have more opportunities in the future to do so. Since the huge, unexpected success of Taken, you’ve made quite a few action movies. Did you notice that people would send you more action scripts after that movie performed so well?
There have been more in that action arena, which is kind of great. They’re a lot of fun to make, and I’ve really enjoyed being welcomed into that genre. Plus, it’s amazing to get to shoot all over the world. I really love working with Europa [the company that produced both Taken and Lockout]; I just finished my third film with them, Taken 2.
The funny thing is that I was actually more of a Jane Austen/Jane Eyre kind of girl when I was growing up, especially when it came to films. So I still have some catching up to do with the action movie genre. I saw the big ones, and, of course, Star Wars—I think everyone’s childhood is, more or less, built on that foundation. But lately, I’ve been catching up to figure out what the homage moments in movies like Lockout are referencing exactly. [Laughs.]
The set design in Lockout is very detailed and evocative of some classic science fiction movies. How much of the prison’s setting was made using green screens, as opposed to actual in-the-moment sets?
Most of it was real, actually. We shot in Serbia, and while we were shooting on one stage, they’d kind of reconfigure and tweak the look of everything, so it would be almost unrecognizable each week. That way, we were able to create this maze of a space station.
With the green screen stuff, there’s a lot of trust of communicating with your directors on exactly what you’re reacting to. Obviously, when you’re shooting a scene that has thousands of rioting convicts going at it in outer space, it has to be largely CG. They had really great storyboards all over the set, though, which is always a great gift to receive as an actor—you always know exactly what you’re reacting to, and how everything looks.
It must be intense to constantly play the “damsel in distress." In Lockout, in particular, you’re dragged around by your hair and physically assaulted. Does that ever have any residual effects on you in real life?
Yeah, when you’re shooting those kinds of scenes for 12, 15 hours a day, there is definitely some residual stuff in your psyche. I’d actually have nightmares about being in a rig and getting dragged by my hair. [Laughs.] It’s always weird when you take your work home with you in that way. When you go to bed, playing the kinds of characters that I play, you’re not dreaming about bunnies and ice cream cones.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)