If you've been hired as Adrianne Palicki's stunt double, be warned: You may be warming the bench for a while.
The actress has come into her own lately as the star of action-driven film and television projects, including her most recent bone-breaking turns as John Wick's gleefully malicious assassin Ms. Perkins and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s stick-wielding super-spy Bobbi "Mockingbird" Morse. She admits that, now that she's picked up her fair share of fighting skills and physical discipline, she's first in line to perform her own stunt work whenever she can.
In a candid conversation with SPINOFF, Palicki details her off-screen adventures going toe-to-toe with real-life martial arts master Keanu Reeves for John Wick, keeping secrets as Mockingbird, and loving her Wonder Woman outfit despite how much it interfered when nature called.
Spinoff Online: You've had a pretty fun little action-y run over the past couple of years, and this movie had to have been part of it. Tell me what got you excited when the opportunity to play this part in John Wick came around?
Adrianne Palicki: Well, it's funny: when they originally sent me the script to look at, the character was actually written as a man. And they said, "The intention is to not change anything about the character – just make it female." And I just thought the script was so amazing, and knowing that Keanu was going to be that [lead] character, I was so excited about it.
And it was a huge thing for them – like, a prerequisite in doing the film – that I was going to be wanting to do as much of my own action as possible – which, as I'm sure if you've seen, I love to do that stuff. So it was just kind of like this great perfect storm, and working with those directors, I mean, their repertoire and their resume's so massive, so I was just really excited to get to be a part of the film.
What in the training was the hardest thing you had to learn – and what was the coolest thing?
The hardest thing was just learning – just getting thrown into the trenches! Like, the minute I got there, they're like, "We have four months to train you to be a weapon, ultimately." So I've never been more sore in my life [laughs]. But the coolest thing is that now, I know how to throw a grown man over my shoulder, which is pretty awesome.
What do you love about that kind of training?
Well, it's just fun. At the end of the day, it's just honestly, kind of the best part of my job. I get to learn new techniques. As a woman too, it makes me feel very strong, and it's just fun to see all of these really strong female characters coming out more and more through television and film. So getting to be a part of that is just awesome for me.
How for real are your fighting skills? Could you really do some damage to somebody if you were called upon?
I definitely feel with all of the training that I've had, I really do feel strong enough to take care of myself in a situation, although I'm never in one. But I definitely feel very confident in that. Because you do get hurt. If you do your own stunts, you're going to get hurt. It's just inevitable. But it's kind of like war wounds. You're like, "I did that! I earned that!"
Did you have any close calls?
I mean, yeah! We all had little bit of war wounds here and there – the rolling and whatnot. I hurt my neck a little bit, but I'm fine now. I think of everything I've ever done, but thankfully, nothing too serious that I haven't been able to move forward. And you learn from it. You go, "OK – that's something I need to remember not to do next time."
Keanu has trained in martial arts and other disciplines for quite a while. What was it like to test your skills against his?
It was amazing. I mean, he's such a hard worker. The thing is, I had about four months of training before our big fight sequence. I learned the choreography for that specific fight probably three days before we shot it. He is in every scene, so he didn't have time to learn the choreography.
So I actually showed up and the scene before we shot, he was taking little breaks, as they were moving the cameras around and learning in like the hour before we shot it. It was just unbelievable to see somebody who's just that trained and that well-equipped to just pick it up so easily. And especially after like this damage that he'd done to his body in that film. That's him, you know what I mean? He's working his ass off. And I've never been so impressed with somebody's work ethic – and also being such a lovely human being as well.
Along with the physical elements, what I really liked the most was the way you played this character. Tell me about the mindset you decided on for her – I loved that malicious twinkle that Ms. Perkins always had in her eye.
Well, we landed on this backstory, it was this smaller character, but we wanted to really pack it in. And we had to paint a picture that maybe there was something between them at one point. They were both on the same team at one time, and they could have had a relationship in the past. There's love and catharsis. Also that level from her – that side, that jealousy. And also, I think for her the difference is she almost gets off on killing people. Like she gets off on pain. So there's a little bit of fun in that. Like, it's all sexual when she's doing that.
When you started down this action path, how did that change things for you, professionally and personally?
Well, I've always played strong female characters which I'm very thankful for, and what really did it for me was when I got the call to do Red Dawn, Dan Bradley, the director for that, also really wanted all the characters to be able to do as many of their own stunts as possible. And I've just always been very athletic since I was very young and just love the element of things, and there's a part of me that always like, "If I wasn't an actor, I'd be a stunt person." I'm just fascinated by it, and really, it excited me.
And then once I was there and doing all that stuff, like I really realized how much I loved it – and that I could do it. And then after that, it was then Wonder Woman, and then it was G.I. Joe, and then all of a sudden, I'm like, "I'm a female action star! That's what I'm doing now." And it's weird because you never really want to get pigeonholed in anything, but if I'm going to get pigeonholed in something, it's not a bad thing because I learned so much, and it's so strong. And I think it's also empowering for young girls out there to see strong women kicking ass on screen.
What's been especially fun about taking that expertise to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where you've got the superhero costume now. What's been the fun of the experience for you?
I'm going to tell you again: It's this action stuff. Doing fights, it's a different world. You do a movie, and it takes a week to do one action sequence. On the show we're doing, per day there's a fight, and it's like every episode, there's a new fight. So it's constant. I'm constantly learning new things and fighting and also other than jumping through windows, it's me. I'm getting my ass kicked, but that's the fun stuff. Plus on top of that, she's funny. She's strong, but she also gets to live in this world where she's a good person. And on top of everything else, it's just been fun to work with LA, with that group of people because every single person on that show is awesome.
Clark Gregg tells me that with Coulson and Mockingbird, we'll get to see more with the two of them together. Can you tease me about what's around the corner?
Well, there's a little secret that Mack and Bobbi are keeping from the team. It's going to come out soon, and it's going to really throw a big wrench into the S.H.I.E.L.D. community. But it's not bad, and you're going to see their relationship become very clear. And it's all I can tell you, because I can't tell you anything [laughs]. I feel like Marvel's going to come out and tackle me if I say anything.
You'll see the red laser sighting light show up on your forehead in a second.
What excites you about being able to work in that Marvel Universe, where you can go and perhaps co star with Jeremy Renner in a Hawkeye movie, or you might get your own TV show. What's the fun about working in this wild, never-before-done, expanded TV and film universe?
Well, it's that. But also, the thing about working in the comic book world is that anything's possible. Nothing's taboo. People can come back from the dead. It's just an endless world, and to be a part of that and to never really know what's around the corner, it's kind of exciting. We see these scripts, and we're like "Holy crap! I can't believe this is happening!" But it's exciting and it's fun. And yeah, it's just the element of surprise, even for us, the actors.
Is there anything in your research with that particular character that you looked at the comic books and got excited about? Like "I hope I get to do this?"
I mean, definitely when I was researching, I knew about Mockingbird before I really delved in. I was just excited to get to work with the eskrima sticks, which were, that was a first for me. Because I've learned how to use guns well, and my body, but to be able to use another weapon has been really exciting.
Of all the action projects you've done, what has been your favorite outfit, as far as comfort and ability to do what you need to do, and which has been the most challenging?
Well, this one is definitely my favorite because I can move in it. It's comfortable. It takes me seconds to go to the bathroom, which is – I know, it may be too much information –but the Wonder Woman costume – as awesome as it was, and it was probably my favorite thing ever, to get paid to wear a costume – we'd have to shut down production for like 30 minutes so I could go pee, because it took an army to get me in and out of that thing [laughs].
As fun as all the butt-kicking has been, are you also eager to go and do a role where you kiss a guy or go shopping or have a baby?
Yes, well, and in my off time! I have a movie, Dr. Cabbie coming out – a romantic comedy. Another movie, Baby, Baby, Baby, an independent that's coming out, that's also a romantic movie. So I'm just trying to switch it up not only for my craft, but also to try to maintain a level of not getting too pigeon-holed in one thing, specifically. And it is a relief. It's a relief, to be like, oh my God. I can just sit here and talk. It's nice.
Finally, who do we need to talk to get the John Wick prequel movie starring Ms. Perkins?
You need to talk to Chad [Stahelski] and David [Leitch] and Lionsgate, and you tell them that all those characters need to come back with a prequel. Like, how cool would it be to see them before?
She seems like she would have a backstory that would be fun to explore.
Absolutely. I'd love, love, love to play her again.
John Wick is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital HD. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns March 3 on ABC.