Gina Carano is ready for her career to make the jump to lightspeed and with an upcoming role in a galaxy far, far away, she just might get the chance.
It's been nearly a decade since the MMA fighter stepped away from the ring -- following her one and only career defeat -- and decided to pursue her acting career full-time. One of her first major offers, she recalled recently while sitting down with ET's Ash Crossan, came from a serious Hollywood name, director Steven Soderbergh, who cast her as the lead in his 2011 action-thriller Haywire.
"[Soderbergh] said, 'We would like to do a movie, a real-life action movie with [a real-life] fighter, and um, it's gonna happen really quick or it's not gonna happen at all.' And it happened," Carano said of the film, in which she played black ops operative Mallory Kane and performed her own stunts. "I haven't looked back since. I've just been, you know, paying my dues here in this business... To look back and say that I've been doing this now for 10 years... it just now feels like it's starting to click."
Accustomed to proving herself in the ring, Carano was ready for the skepticism that came with her decision to step in front of the camera as an actress, thanks to years of critiques as a female fighter in the male-dominated MMA world.
"So many people look at athletes in movies and they, you know, they're always like, 'Oh, it's so cringeworthy,'" she noted. "And I'm just like, give 'em a second. You know, you knew them as this athlete and so you kind of have to let them turn into an artist."
"I learned that earlier on with fighting, 'cause I had my first professional fight and I felt like, 'Oh my gosh, I did such a good job,'" she continued. "And I went home and I looked at the internet and looked at the forums, and all they could talk about was boobs and butt and, like, pretty face and 'She's not real' and all this stuff. And I was like, ugh, did anyone see the fight? Like there's-- I was punching. And I did well... I feel like what I have to prove is just something to myself. And I believe that its gonna come through. It just takes a little bit longer for some people."
For Carano, the process so far has been a decade's worth of hard work -- including roles in Deadpool and the Fast & Furious franchise -- which has brought her to some major career milestones this year, with a leading part in the action-thriller Daughter of the Wolf, as well as a main role in the upcoming Star Wars series,The Mandalorian.
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Gina Carano and Brendan Fehr on 'Daughter of the Wolf' (Exclusive)
"There's definitely a lot of pressure, I think, when you're the lead of a film," Carano said of Daughter of the Wolf, in which she plays Clair Hamilton, a military veteran on the hunt for the men who have kidnapped her son. "I think you have to set the bar high."
"You have to stay super positive, and your work ethic has to be high," she noted. "Everybody kind of feeds off that, so I think, you know, first and foremost, you wanna make sure everybody feels like they're a family unit, and we're gonna get to the end of this film, through all the ice and all the snow and all the blood and all the accidents and all the things that happen."
However, it was a moment on the Mandalorian set, with executive producer Jon Favreau -- whom Carano raves is a "wonderful man" who provided an experience like no other on the secretive Star Wars project -- that was a true eye-opener for the 37-year-old star.
"He looked at me before my big scene, one of my biggest introductory scenes in Mandalorian, and he was like, 'We're gonna change your trajectory right now,'" she recalled. "I think he's a very honest man, and he's seen the struggle, and he's seen what happens to careers and he's like, 'We're gonna change your path right now'... He's like, 'From here on out, you're gonna choose jobs that are complementing [you]. And you're gonna choose jobs that challenge you. And you're gonna believe in yourself. From this scene forward.'"
"I was welling up with tears," Carano continued, remembering the emotional moment. "And I went out and I crushed that scene. And it was like, a scene when I first read the script I was like, 'Oh gosh, this is more than I've ever been given -- how am I going to do this?' And then, with him, I really trained for it, and I really was present... He believed in me and it helped me believe in myself."
"I couldn't thank him enough, because I feel like my whole life since I shot that has been a different world," she added.
Though most of the details of her Mandalorian character, Cara Dune, a former Rebel Shock Trooper, are a close-kept secret, for now, Carano is already feeling the love from the Star Wars fandom, beginning with an appearance at Star Wars Celebration earlier this year.
"Literally, as soon as we walked out on stage, it was a rush of, like, this positive energy, which I was not expecting," she recalled. "And I feel like, you know, Twitter is one of the worst places to go, but I refuse to let people chase me away. And I refuse to be one of those negative voices... because a lot of us have been reserved and now we're like, no, come on, like, we're human beings, you know? We're just trying to do the best we can! So that was just positive energy, I love it."
As for what's next in her career, Carano is open to anything -- "Get me in a rom-com!" -- but has her hopes set on trying even more new things, like a twisted team-up film or a gritty biopic.
"All my favorite movies are like that, you know? Natural Born Killers, just, like, crazy psychotic love stories where, like, two people just can't have enough of each other and it's them against the world. That would be amazing," she said. "[Or] a genuine, like, real-life story of struggle. I think that I do really well in that space because I am honest. And so I think that I could really portray somebody's real-life story very honestly."
"It's gonna be really interesting, what happens next -- I'm not sure what it's gonna be," she added thoughtfully. "Like Jon Favreau told me, you know, we're going in a different direction now -- and I believe it. Who knows what's gonna happen?"
Daughter of the Wolf is in select theaters and on VOD now. The Mandalorian premieres Nov. 12 on Disney+.