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Fans of old-school to-the-point action should head to their local cinemas this weekend for Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire. To prepare for the role of Mallory Kane, a free-lance, black ops specialist, pro-fighter Gina Carano underwent intensive training, starting with an in-depth special ops tutorial with the film’s technical advisor and real-life security expert, Aaron Cohen.
Cohen, who spent three years in Israel’s special operations undercover unit, is the founder of IMS Security, a consulting firm that specializes in providing tactical counter-terrorist training. He helped the filmmakers and cast understand the realities of undercover operations.
“I felt that training with Aaron Cohen would provide Gina with a solid foundation of confidence,” says director Steven Soderbergh. “If she felt that the physical demands were doable, that would go a long way toward making her feel comfortable with the performance. I chose Aaron because I wanted someone who was familiar with that world as it is today and not somebody who did it 10 or 20 years ago. He became part of the brain trust for this film, vetting virtually everything we did.”
Cohen’s participation in the film was crucial from the get-go, as he sat in on script meetings between Soderbergh and the movie’s producers. From small story points to wardrobe decisions, Cohen provided the filmmakers with checks and balances every step of the way.
“I could ask how a conversation would go if you were trying to convey a piece of information but can’t come out and say it,” says the director. “He was on the set all the time and I would email him at all hours of the day or night. His input was invaluable, down to details like where you might hide your gun.”
According to Cohen, the film captures the true nature of special ops. “Everything from the dialogue to the nature of the operations is authentic. In one case, an operation is botched and that is real. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in the world of special operations and they do.”
Under Cohen’s direction, a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Los Angeles was transformed into a staging ground for special operations training. Three dozen portable walls reconfigured the wide-open space to replicate the film’s diverse settings. “He put me through two months of boot camp in that warehouse,” Carano says. “He had me doing sprints, entering and exiting make-believe apartments—everything Mallory does in the film.”
For 30 hours a week, Carano was immersed in special operations training. “Aaron’s goal was to prepare me both mentally and physically for this movie,” she says. “I read his book, but nothing could have prepared me for the boot camp. He taught me everything from the basics of guns to his life experiences.
One of the things he impressed on me was that as a special operative, you’re commissioned to take on the jobs that the government doesn’t want to have its fingerprints on. If you’re caught or imprisoned, you’re on your own. The process was extreme and amazing. I come from fighting in a cage, which is very organized. He helped me develop the mindset I needed for Mallory, which is cutthroat to the extreme. It’s life or death.”
Even with her years of mixed martial arts training, Carano was pushed to the edge during her preparation for Haywire. “Gina has a warrior mentality,” Cohen says. “We were really tough on her because we knew we could be. I wanted her to go beyond her comfort zone. It was important to immerse her in the mindset of a Special Forces operative. As a fighter, she’s working alone. In special operations, missions are only successfully accomplished with teamwork.”
Carano’s impressive mixed martial arts experience with its emphasis on hand-to-hand combat did not prepare her for the wide range of weaponry used in the film—but Cohen did. “I spent a lot of time developing Gina’s primary weapon skills,” he says. “We trained her in various forms of sub-machine guns and assault rifles, using real weapons that had been converted into blank-firing weapons. She also worked with pistols, including the Glock 179mm, Sig Sauer 9mm, the Uzi and micro-Uzi, as well as a Commando assault rifle.
“The training was comprehensive and very physical,” he adds. “Her background gave her a huge advantage in terms of the motor skills needed for handling weapons. She was able to move very quickly and effectively while carrying out complex maneuvers.”
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