Carla Gugino Interview: San Andreas, The Rock, and More

San Andreas star Carla Gugino on working with The Rock, doing her own stunts and her best earthquake advice.

Actress Carla Gugino is a fan favorite, with an impressive track record that touches on nearly every genre, including superhero films (Watchmen), children’s adventures (Spy Kids), fantasy (Night at the Museum), crime (American Gangster) and horror (The Unborn). Her TV credits include Spin City, Threshold and the new M. Night Shyamalan-produced limited series Wayward Pines. But what she hasn’t done before is a disaster movie, a gap in her resume now filled by San Andreas. Gugino plays Emma, ex-wife of rescue worker Ray Gaines (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who must work together with her former husband to find and rescue their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) after the biggest earthquake in recorded history all but snaps California off the continental U.S.

While the visual effects and epic destruction take center stage in San Andreas, Gugino and Johnson manage to create a believable dynamic together (they previously appeared together in 2009’s Race to Witch Mountain) and even eke out a couple of emotional moments amidst all the carnage. But stand-out moments are nothing new for this actress, who we got a chance to speak with recently about making San Andreas, working with The Rock again and the one thing she’ll never do in California.

Den of Geek:  What drew you to doing this and getting shaken around for a couple of hours with The Rock?

Carla Gugino: I mean I’m so excited about this movie. I have to say I just saw the whole movie. It’s so good. I think the thing to me that makes this movie unique is that it is spectacular visually. And it is a thrilling, fully engaging ride in the most spectacular way. It delivers on all levels of what you want from a big summer Hollywood blockbuster, all those things.

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What really gets me in this movie and would make me want to go back to this movie is that it really is about a family under attack. It’s about a family under attack, but it’s not aliens. It’s not dinosaurs. It’s not serial killers. It’s Mother Nature. So they can’t win. So what they can do is survive. In the midst of this desperate need to survive and save their daughter, Dwayne Johnson’s character and my character, they ultimately have to use their skill sets in a way that they never ever have before. In the midst of that, they also really come much closer together as a family. They have a bit of a broken family because they’ve had a family tragedy that they never really dealt with.

I was in New York during 9/11 and I used to be able to see the buildings from my apartment. Aside from all of the horror of it, there was also that moment that next day where you were like, “Oh my god. Why do we sweat the small stuff? There’s no room for anything but the truth. And you want to be with the people you love and solve problems and get past things.”

I think that’s what organically happens in this movie between Dwayne Johnson’s character and my character in a way that I feel like is just very universal. It’s something that people will relate to. So I had a lot of people who have seen this movie say they really cried, which is something you don’t necessarily expect in a movie like this.

So, to me, I love the idea of genre not having to be made smaller because of a genre, but being able to be as full as possible within that genre. And this I really feel like is that.

What’s your character’s particular skill set?

This is what was really fun about her, because I’ve played a lot of cops and a lot of very adept criminals and people who were really sort of great with guns, or great with this, or great with that. I do a lot of stunts in this movie. But what I love is she is a real woman. She’s a smart woman. She’s capable. But she’s not trained at anything like that.

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So I think her skill set is actually tenacity. And I think when you are a mother and your child is in danger, that mother bear, nothing will stop them. That’s just done. So that’s certainly the galvanizing force in terms of what’s taking her there. But she’s also just a thinker. And she is ultimately scared of things that we are scared of, but she will push through any fear to get to her daughter.

Dwayne’s character has a more specific skill set, which is that he is actually a rescue worker. So he actually does know what he’s doing in that particular way. But she’s just a person who thinks on her toes and just has to take one step…No matter how scared she is, she’s going to do it because what are the alternatives?

You’ve worked with Dwayne before. Have you seen him evolve as an actor?

Hugely. Hugely so. I think he’s always been very talented and he’s always delivered in all the ways that he has. But this movie, actually, you’ll see — there’s a vulnerability and an emotional depth that he has to go to for this character. It happens very organically, that he hasn’t gotten to do in many movies before.

It was such a joy that we got to do this together, because we both do trust each other. And for where we had to go in this particular script, in a short amount of time you have to establish the long relationship that proceeded that and be really vulnerable with each other. So I’m really proud of him and excited for him with this movie because in all the ways you expect him to be awesome, he is. But there’s also places he goes that I don’t think people will have seen. I think he was real excited about that.

Did you push to do your own stunts? Or are you more like, “Nah…”

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In this one I totally pushed. In fact, the stunt coordinator came up to me at the end of the movie — and they do a bunch of huge movies — and said, “I have never worked with an actress who has said yes to so many stunts.” So I was like, “Maybe I’m really stupid?” [laughs] Maybe I should have been making other decisions. But no, I think you’ll feel it in the movie. One of the things I loved about what Brad (Peyton, director) wanted in this movie was that everything needs to be grounded in reality and everything needed to be unhinged, uncovered, and emotionally raw. And I felt like as many of the stunts as I could do and that you could feel while you’re watching it and see that it is me, I think will have a different visceral response. And it was fun.

You’ve lived in LA most of your life. What’s been your experience with earthquakes?

Well, I live in New York now, but not for that reason. I have been in a couple big ones in LA. One experience that happened was that I was sleeping with no clothes on. I was living on the west side. My boyfriend at the time and I wake up to this massive earthquake. And I cannot find any clothes. Finally, I find a robe and we race outside. I was like, “I was about to run outside butt naked with no problem!” And that point I was like, “I think I will not sleep in that form when I am in California again.” So, never has there been a nude sleep again. [laughs]

Good advice for anybody.

I think just have some clothes near you at least.

They’re saying we’re due out here, because it’s been like 20 years.

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I know. And the movie addresses that, too. It’s scary. I think that’s the thing. We like to pretend that we can control Mother Nature, but we can’t. This movie is interesting, too, because Paul Giamatti is fantastic in it, of course, as he always is. He plays a scientist.  You actually do learn information. It is a very informative movie in terms of earthquake protection and what we need to do to be ready and all that kind of stuff. They’re actually finding that there is a chance of now finding out 60 seconds before something really is going to hit. If there was an alert system for that, like you get on your phone a flood alert or whatever, that would allow people to at least grab a passport, get under a table and actually take a very quick precaution.

Tell me about working on Wayward Pines.

That was a really challenging job in a great way. I don’t want to do anything that’s not challenging. But this was challenging in a very specific way. My character, how you’ve met her, you get a sense that she is not exactly who she seems to be and that something has gone on very strange time wise, because Matt Dillon’s character thinks he was with her in a motel room two weeks ago and she looks 12 years older and has been married and living here for that period of time.

And she’s been doing so successfully. And we’re going to come to find out what’s underneath that, and what’s underneath that is a very different person. And I think that was, to me, what really drew me to it, not only just the cast. This is a really spectacular cast, but I was also very interested in that genre and the way that this particular story unfolds. And the fact that I got to play the duality of this woman in a way that you don’t often get — when you see where it goes, you’ll know what I mean.

Last question. You are good friends with Zack Snyder and have worked for him on Watchmen and Sucker Punch. Surely he’s going to find something for you to do in the Justice League movies.

I mean, tell him that! I’m with you! I’m in! I adore Zack. And yes, I would love to.

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I’m going to tell him next time I see him.

Please! Yes!

San Andreas is out in theaters Friday (May 29).