Carla Gugino Talks Facing Fears, Finding Emotion in 'San Andreas'

There may be only one force of nature that can stop Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in his tracks, and her name is Carla Gugino.

Having made a name for herself with a diverse career that includes plenty of genre movies -- "Spy Kids," "Sin City," "Watchmen" and "Sucker Punch" among them -- she's also established her own subtle side-niche as the preferred on-screen leading lady for Johnson along his rise to becoming a global action hero. Their third and latest collaboration is "San Andreas," an epic-scale disaster film focusing on an estranged husband and wife who brave a devastating seismic event together to search for their missing daughter.

In a one-on-one chat with Spinoff Online, Gugino explains how she discovered the softer side of her frequent scene partner this time around, and her shock at how deeply an action movie could touch her. She also opens up about just how far she went to deliver an authentic stunt shot, and the very important thing she was missing the first time found herself in a real-life earthquake.

Spinoff Online: What was it about this movie made you say "Yes, this looks like a great time?"

Carla Gugino: I can speak really specifically to that, because I got the script, and I knew it was going to be action-packed and probably good and all those things, but what really surprised me as I was reading it was, there was a moment where this tear streamed down my face. I was really moved. I thought, "Wow, that's kind of weird. I'm moved in a big, huge, tentpole, action movie script."

I think what really hit me about this movie -- and now, having seen the movie -- is that it delivers on such a massive level in terms of the spectacle and the action. And that part of it is spectacular. Also, Dwayne and I have worked together before, and I love him. I have such trust for him. But it was interesting because, when I had my first meeting with Brad [Peyton], our director, it was a Skype meeting and I said, "Hey. I have to tell you -- this is really moving."

Dwayne's and my characters are married, but we're going through a separation. We had a real tragedy in the family -- she could never really recover from it, and he sort of shut down to my character. She finally has to move on to another relationship, and that's sort of where we find them at the beginning of the movie. And when the…um... hits the fan, so to speak, we end up having to go to San Francisco where our daughter is, to try to save her. And in the midst of that, they end up really getting to the nitty gritty of some of the real problems and healing their relationship.

What's so cool about it is, it's not sentimental. Having been, for example, in New York, in 9/11, I used to see the buildings out of my window. When that happened, aside from just the general horror of it, all the little things seemed inconsequential, and all you want to do is be with the people you love and there's no more room for anything other than the truth. It's a very primal reaction. So they made a construct in this movie that really works in that way, and that was a combination that you rarely see which is a movie of this magnitude with that kind of hurt. I know a lot of people who have seen it have been really like weeping. It's really emotional. So I loved that aspect about it.

Also, I love that it's a movie about a family under attack, but it's not attack of dinosaurs or aliens or a serial killer or something. It's Mother Nature. So they're not going to win -- we're never going to win against Mother Nature. All we can do is survive. And in this particular case, what's interesting and kind of poignant is seeing the skill set of these individuals in this family and how they come together, and how humankind is ultimately very generous. And that in the midst of a lot of tragedy, we will survive. Like, we will triumph and come together to help each other.

After working with Dwayne on "Faster" and "Race to Witch Mountain," what was the fun new discovery about him that you made while working together on this?

Well, the thing is, I love Dwayne -- and I really do -- as a human being, and we are dear friends. As you know, he's a great guy. On this movie, because of what has happened with our characters, he definitely had to go to places that he doesn't necessarily have the opportunity to go to in the roles that he's cast in. And he's, of course, kick-ass at the action, and he's human as he always is. And he's really funny when he needs to be, as he always is. But he really goes to some very vulnerable places in this movie, in a really beautiful way.

I think the fact that we got to do that together, there was something key in that we had this implicit trust. And we were kind of okay to -- you know, to get good stuff, you kind of have to make a fool of yourself on the way. And the thing that I love about him is he is one of the most humble confident people I know. He is completely confident in his skills, and yet absolutely humble in the process of how to get there. And to me, that's a great artist. And that's why Dwayne will do anything he wants to do in his life. It's a really beautiful combination.

Those moments of feeling like you have to make a fool of yourself probably come up a lot while shooting stunts and effects shots. Was there something especially weird you had to do on this one?

Yeah, totally. Well, let's put it this way: This is not, like, a glamorous movie for me, because my character is put through the wringer. Her name's Emma, and at one point we were calling it "San Emma-dreas," because she is just brutalized. I mean, I am covered, in mud, in dirt. It's crazy. There definitely were a lot of times where I looked in the mirror and was just like, "Maybe just don't look in the mirror." Because I really wanted it to be real.

I had a sequence where several floors drop out underneath me. Basically, you're on a bunch of wires, and someone's pulling you like a marionette. You have to be very trusting to literally just fall and hope that they catch you. And you have to hit the floor, because it has to be real. You can't hit the floor so hard that you break things, obviously, so they have to soften the blow a little bit. There were a few of those times that I thought, "I wonder if I should have said yes to doing this particular stunt."

And yet, I was so determined that I wanted it to be me, because I think it would be so much more effective in the movie, that I kind of felt like I used my acting skills to pretend I was a stuntwoman, since I really have never done that particular kind of stunt. And it was terrifying, and it was terrifying in the movie. So I would say, maybe more than making a fool of myself, it was one of the scariest moments of my life.

You're a longtime Los Angeleno. Do you have an earthquake story of our own?

Well, I have a funny earthquake story, which is: in '94, I was in the earthquake in Los Angeles. It was the first big one I had ever been in. I used to sleep with no clothes on. I had no clothes on, I was with my boyfriend, and we woke up -- I am trying to find any piece of clothing. I barely could. I'm about to run outside fully naked. And, basically -- let's just say that I've never slept that way again. It changed me for life! [Laughs]

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