Above Pic Credit: Marissa Labog
Update 2014! New action trailers for Violence: http://vimeo.com/83729982
With sense of controlled aggression Marissa Labog is prepared to take on the world, no matter if the world includes stunt work, acting, or her first love of dancing. Marissa is a what she terms: “A Punch you in the face kind of sister.” Speaking of punch you in the face, Raze is set to premiere at Tribeca Film Fest, and Marissa chats about her time on Raze and other projects such as Columbiana and Act Of Valor. Sit back, grab a coffee, or a sharp object, or both, and check out the ruminations of Marissa.
You always loved dancing as a child? Was there one influential person that you looked up to in your early dancing career?
I think I came out of the womb with jazz hands and a high kick. I danced all the time. I forced my family to watch me dance for hours and when they were too tired to watch I would prop my little cousin up in his high chair and make him be my audience. So when I was four, my parents decided to put me in dance class to maybe get it out of my system. Wow… did that backfire! It fueled the fire and gave me the tools I needed to do it professionally.
I don't know if there was one influence because I was basically drawn to all movement whether it was vaudeville, ballet, jazz, funk, or even Kung fu. But I did spend a lot of time watching musicals with Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Fred Estaire, and Ginger Rogers. I wanted to dance on the walls and ceilings like Fred Estaire or dance on roller skates like Gene Kelly. It just seemed like anything was possible.
Were you always flexible, or was it something you had to work at?
I was flexible but somewhat in the opposite way I needed to be. Starting with ballet, my teachers always joked that my legs were put on backwards because I didn't have a lot of outward rotation needed for ballet dancers but had extreme inward rotation. I was pigeon toed for the most part. So I had to work really hard to rotate the opposite direction. However when I started doing Modern Dance and Martial Arts, my natural rotation proved to be a real asset.
Did your dance background lead to get into the stunt world or are they two separate developing careers?
My dance background absolutely led me to stunt work. I really didn't know much about the stunt world growing up. There are moments I'm still surprised I'm in this incredible community. I went from dancing with ballet companies, to dancing in modern dance companies (which I'm still in), to breaking (a.k.a break dancing) in the industry, which led me to flipping around, which led me to parkour and martial arts, which fundamentally landed me in stunt work. I never would have imagined that this was my journey, but I'm happy it happened.
Who are some of the stuntwomen you look up to?
The stuntwomen I look up to are amazingly enough, my friends. Jade Quon is amazing. We used to train together when she was also breaking back in the day. She is incredibly fearless and insanely talented. I'm in awe of how she has dominated the stunt world. Kara Petersen, Natalie Padilla, Tara Macken, are powerful and are constantly sharpening their skills. But who I think is most remarkable is Zoë Bell. She has not only been one of the top stuntwomen in the industry but has moved onto to being an incredible actor and producer. She has been able to use this platform she has built to create content that promotes, supports, and revels in strong women and the portrayal of strong women. I am definitely inspired to create and be part of more work like this.
Describe the audition process as a stuntwoman in general; is it the same as acting, or do the producers just bring in specific people for specific stunts?
It depends on the project and whether you are a stunt performer or doubling an actor or actress. Usually if they are looking for a stunt performer the audition process is like a dance and acting audition combined. In the beginning you would be asked to show off your individual skills or learn fight choreography. After that, depending on the role and what they are looking for you may be asked to read copy just like an acting audition. When you’re doubling, it is about your skills but more importantly about how much you resemble the actor. This is when your relationships and your reputation are vital.
Did you ever watch a stunt on screen and say "Damn" that is insane? (which one if you can remember?)
Man… there are a lot of stunts I think are insane. In the ledge fight scene at the end of the Thai film "Chocolate" when the stunt men are falling off the concrete ledges and literally hitting each ledge and sign on the way down before they hit the concrete ground below is.... mind-boggling. I still don' t know how any of them survived. The wirework of the ninja cliff battle in GI JOE: Retaliation is also incredible. The control and precision required for this scene is sick. I' m so proud of my friends Aaron Toney, Travis Wong, Kerry Pak Wong, and Ming Qiu.
I saw that you doubled younger Cataleya in Columbiana, do you have to get in a different mindset when you are doubling children?
Whenever I double anyone, especially children I'm really mindful of how they naturally move. I want to make sure I can embody their natural body movement while executing the stunt. I want the audience to know that these young girls have the power to accomplish anything.
Maybe share a story about your filming Columbiana, and strange or funny things happen on set?
Shooting " Colombiana" was a trip. First off, we were filming in a really dangerous area of Mexico City so we had security that was armed with AK-47s. People in the area had never been around a lot of film crews so there were people crowded around watching everything we did, asking us for our autographs, warning us of what houses to stay away from. It felt like a whole community came out to support the film.
But one of the most exciting parts of working on the film was working with David Belle, the proclaimed creator of parkour. His mind set was just so fascinating. He was so comfortable in the oddest situations. For example, one of my first stunts was jumping out of a third story window onto a ledge, to a drainpipe, and then onto the top of a car. David was on the ground near the car and I couldn't hear what he was saying. So he crawled up a drainpipe on the side of the building, much like Spider-Man (which was a nickname), to talk to me on the third story ledge. Bizarre but incredible. He just kept saying it was normal and natural to do what he does. Yeah... Ok... David... Normal, natural,....if you got bitten by a radioactive spider.... Sure.
Recently I watched Act Of Valor, fantastic film, full of action, how did you get that cool role? Was the audition process lengthy?
Act Of Valor was thrilling. My friend Sonny Sison, who was already working on the project, submitted me for the role. I believe I was replacing someone because it was a little grueling. So the next breakdown of the role included that she had to be a good actress who CAN FALL DOWN. Sonny submitted me and I went in, was handed an AK-47, and ended up working on the film for two weeks instead of just a couple of days.
Maybe share a story on set with the boys in Act Of Valor, must have been fun to be in a mainly male dominated film?
I learned so much working on this film. Everyone took care of each other. No matter what the shot was, everyone was there to lend a hand. I really felt like there was no room for ego on the set because we were pretending to live this life while the Navy Seals actually did. I remember hanging out with our group of stuntmen and actors talking about our lives working in Hollywood. Someone brought up the topic of luck. As we were sharing our experiences, one of the Seals starts talking about his experience in battle where the men on either side of him were shot and killed and he walked out unharmed. Another time, one of the higher rank officers was shot eleven times and not only survived but completed his mission, while his best friend was killed with one bullet. These were his stories of luck, which of course made everything in our lives feel lucky. It kept us in perspective, which was an incredible learning experience.
Do you have a new appreciation for the military and all the hard training after working on Act Of Valor?
I love my stunt family and think they are all incredible but Navy Seals could kick our ass! It isn't t that they are physically stronger than the stunt men and women I know but that the Navy Seals are the most determined group of people I have ever encountered. There is a laser sharp focus when it comes to the task at hand. Nothing seems to shake them except when they talk about their families. They would be cracking jokes, telling stories, but the moment they got in the zone, they were in the zone.
On to Raze, how did you get the part of Marissa, I mean you are Marissa so not much of a stretch right haha?
Haha… Yup! I got the role because of my name. I should really thank my parents for this one! No… all joking aside… I was first brought on to work on the Previz fights for the film, so I got to play in a couple of roles, which was a blast. After that, I guess they liked me enough to keep me on for the actual movie, which was amazing. I’m so honored.
Yeah the film set looked like a blast. Share a story from the set of Raze, any bumps, bruises, or falls?
I think we all walked out of this experience with battle wounds and a huge smile on our faces. I mean we looked insane. The ground was wet dirt so we were all filthy with crap in our hair, dirt down our pants, with fake and real blood oozing out. I got a head butt to the face and had a huge black eye. I was hoping we would use the take with the head butt because if you are going to get a black eye it should at least be worth it. But what's super crazy is that the real head butt looks fake. There isn't as big of a reaction when it actually happens so it' s hard to tell that anything occurred except for the really disturbing sound of two heads colliding.
Must have been fun to work with Z Bell, did you pick up some new techniques from her?
Zoë is hilarious. She could be beating you up, breaking your arm, and you would still be laughing uncontrollably. It is a remarkable thing to work with someone who really knows what it is like to fight and do stunts on camera as a woman. She has incredible power and strength but never once loses her femininity. She incorporates her strengths as a female along with her kick ass skills.
Experiencing a mostly male cast in Act of Valor and a mostly female cast in Raze, does it matter, or is it more enjoyable if the majority of the cast is female?
Honestly, I think it varies from project to project. I loved working with both the male cast of Act of Valor and the female cast of Raze but I think for different reasons. In Act of Valor we all came together because of the shared experience of navigating the life the Seals lived through. It was like we found ourselves in Oz and were learning about the Wicked Witch of the West. In Raze Zoë really brought us together. She had a special dinner for only the women of the film so we could bond and really get to know each other. We trained together and then fought together. So we really bonded as a collective of strong females to really revel in our power.
Females fighting on film, as a writer and a person who enjoys balance on screen, I think Raze will break ground in this realm. What are your thoughts on Raze, do you think it could lead to more films like it?
I hope Raze opens the door to more films like it. I think it proves that women can really carry an action film. We have the ability to fight our own fight without the male hero coming to the rescue. We are powerful survivors and warriors with crazy skills to back it up. Raze shows that we can be shaken and bruised, but are determined to remain.
I hope this is the case with Raze opening doors, shifting gears to your influences, what actors and actresses do you enjoy watching and would like to work with in the future?
There are so many great actors out there and I find myself mesmerized by different ones depending on the roles. I love Viola Davis. She is amazing, raw yet composed. James McAvoy has an incredible way of being all the best parts of a human being. He is strong, focused, confident and then can switch to the nerdy, bumbling, insecure guy in a way that encompasses who we are as human beings. He is also hilarious with it. Jennifer Lawrence is very much the same way. But I think my all time favorite right now is James Badge Dale. He played the Gaunt Guy is Flight. He only had that one scene but it was powerful. He saw the humor and the nonsense of what we do with life in a way that was informative, sad, but joyful at the same time. I feel like anyone else would have focused on the sorrow and self-pity.
What is your focus now, more acting or stunts? Do you have a preference?
I would love to do both acting and stunts. The combination of the two would be my dream. I would love to be a like the character Wesley in " Wanted" or to do films like X-Men and Avengers. I always joke around that I'm a super hero in training but I do believe that is true. The beauty of such a life is to be a strong, independent, highly skilled woman, but who is still dripping with flawed humanity. I feel that this is what gives life and story the humor, determination, respect, and honesty it deserves.
Marissa you are a superhero, closing this interview out, discuss some of your upcoming projects?
Right now I’m one of the leads on a great series called “Dead Man,” written and directed by Brian Maris. I don’t know if I can talk too much about it right now, but I’m exactly what I want to be. I’m a bad-ass with an intense past. So I get to live in both worlds of acting and kick ass action. In addition, I’m writing some of my own content, continuing to break ground on the possibilities of female strength and spirit.
You are a bad-ass and that is no damn lie haha, thanks so much for the fantastic detailed interview Marissa!
Watch for more interviews from the ladies of Raze! More from Marissa later in 2013 on Dan's Movie Report! Click the links below to learn more about Marissa and her projects and follow her on twitter while watching her kicking ass!
Marissa Labog Official Site: http://www.marissalabog.com/
Marissa Labog Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarissaLabog
Marissa Labog updated stunt action reel for 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exy7eHakj8s