Will Gina Carono make it as a movie star?

ImageGina Carano is the 29 year-old daughter of a former backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and a cheerleader-pretty mom. And those two ends of the gene pool have been having a knock-down drag-out fight in her from the get go.

“Growing up, I was a big “Pride & Prejudice” fan,” she says. “But I kind of got into ‘True Romance’ and ‘Braveheart,’ too. You know, ACTION films.”

Pretty enough to model, she took up martial arts as well. And thanks to her skills in the ring and her drop-kick-dead good looks, she became a stand-out star in the world of professional mixed martial arts. Wait. Didn’t anybody tell her “You’re going to mess up that pretty face?”

“Was I ever warned? My dad did. LOTS of times. And I don’t think my mom ever gave a thought when she was writing that first check for me to take Muay Thai lessons that I would go and start competing.”

And compete she did, piling up wins and winning fans. But one of those fans was the filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (“Oceans Eleven,” “Contagion”). In Carano, he say a female action actor who could “kick the $#%* out of” any cast he could assemble around her. So he did, and with “Haywire,” which has Carano playing a secret agent fighting her way through legions of bad guys, Carano may be Hollywood’s next big thing.

“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful risk,” Carano says of the path she took to the world of film. “I took that risk and got a wonderful life and better opportunities.”

As a girl, she’d studied jazz, tap and ballet dancing, which makes ight choreography come easy to her. Soderbergh has been telling one and all that his hardest job was convincing co-stars like Michael Fassbender that they didn’t have to go easy on her just because she’s a woman.

“I can take a punch,” Carano, says, laughing. “I was blessed with a very good jaw. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been extremely physical, very active. And I might add, hard-headed. Literally. A hard melon.”

Not that Hollywood didn’t give her a moment of truth or two. Wehn the baggage you bring to the set is how tough you are, they don’t worry about scaring you.

“The Dublin rooftop chase was like nothing I’d ever done before,” she says of one “Haywire” set piece. “Scary. I kind of had a mental block on on one of those jumps. HUGE building we were on top of. I was like, ‘Where are the WIRES? Aren’t there safety wires? Is this even legal?'”

She laughs.

“I have a fear of heights. It’s cold. My body’s stif. I’m thinking to myself, ‘If I fall, it’s game over.’ Then I thought, ‘The only reason I got this job was because of my physicality. Suck it up. DO IT!'”

She did and the payoff is in the picture, which is earning decent reviews (“Causally thrilling…superior action fun” Box Offfice Magazine says). Although not officially retired, Carano knows her fighting days are numbered and she’s thrilled to have the chance to change careers. These days, she’s just happy she ignored her dad’s warnings about taking all those punches all those years in the ring.

“I’d rather live life than be afraid of what some punch might do to my looks.”

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