As a WWE superstar and UFC Hall of Fame inductee, fans are used to seeing Ronda Rousey toss people around in the ring. Even in blockbusters like Furious 7, The Expendables 3 and the Entourage movie, Rousey’s past big screen roles have mostly featured her kicking butts and taking names. As you can image, the 31-year-old athlete-turned-actress is eager to try new things in the world of Hollywood, which is why she was so excited to work on Mile 22.
Directed by Peter Berg, the movie revolves around a secret U.S. tactical team that’s been tasked with transporting a foreign asset out of Southeast Asia in order to obtain information vital to national security. While Mile 22 still falls under the action genre, surprisingly, Rousey doesn’t show off her hand-to-hand combat skills in the flick. Instead, those duties are left to her castmates Mark Wahlberg, The Walking Dead star Lauren Cohen, plus martial arts whiz and The Raid actor Iko Uwais.
Ahead of the film’s release this weekend, we caught up with Rousey to chat about working with Wahlberg on Mile 22, the evolution of her acting abilities and more.
Ronda Rousey talks Mark Wahlberg, Mile 22 and more
We surprisingly don’t get to see any armbars or judo tosses from you in Mile 22. Was it nice to showcase other aspects of your acting arsenal in this film?
I love being able to showcase my martial arts in anyway, but that’s also not all that I am capable of. I think that Pete definitely made the right call in this film. He said he wanted people to be surprised to even find out that it was me by the end of the film. He didn’t want me doing anything like hand-to-hand fighting and [wanted me] purposefully outside of my comfort zone because he made it clear that he believes I am capable of so much more than just that. That belief was a huge responsiblility. I set out to prove him right and I worked really, really hard on this film. I hope that it shows.
Since Berg and Wahlberg both train in boxing and are big fight fans, did they pick your brain at all about the fight game or try to start any light sparring sessions with you on set?
No, nobody tried to fight me on set. If anything, I was asking them. I was the student there. That’s there arena and area of expertise, and I was the one absorbing all the information for them. Maybe they did learn something from me, I don’t know. There wasn’t much fighting for me to do in the film. I was mostly just trying to learn instead of teach.
You were pretty pumped to work with Wahlberg leading up to production. What kind of acting tips or tricks did you learn from him during this experience?
He’s just such a great example of professionalism. He came every single day completely and totally prepared. It was impressive how many just pages and pages of dialogue he would have memorized, and be able to deliver them differently every time and still be able to improvise if Pete asked something completely different from him at the same time. I realized that I had no idea how amazing of an actor Mark Wahlberg is by the end of this film. He was a great example.
Now I’m just surrounded by the best in the business and the best teachers I could possibly have. I just think it’s the perfect environment to improve as quickly as possible. I feel like I’ve just made so many improvements on this film. I feel like I’ve progressed so much more on this project than any other project I’ve been on before.
You’ve accomplished so much in your career already. What goals do you hope to reach in the world of Hollywood?
I just want to be able to show people that I can do much more than just fight. I also want to be able to contribute to stunts and choreography and that stuff as well because I am just so fascinated with it. I really feel like I have a lot to contribute, but also on the non-physical side, I am so fascinated with it and have so much to learn. Any opportunity I’d be happy with, if anything was super physical, if anything was super drama or comedy or anything in between. I really love acting, it’s something I really enjoy and I’m extremely passionate about it. I would do it for free. I’m here because I love it and I really enjoy myself. I really hope that it shows and people enjoy themselves watching me.
The fight scenes are pretty impressive in Mile 22, especially Uwais’. Were you able to contribute to the choreography behind the scenes at all?
Oh no, that’s Iko’s area of expertise. He is like the Olympic champion of fight choreography. His style is so entirely different from mine. I would really love to collaborate with him and maybe someday create a fight that’s us against each other or us together as a team. I just think that the huge difference between how we fight is really fascinating. I think that any fight is kind of a heightened conversation. I think we would have some very interesting conversations together. That’s one thing I hope people take away from this film. They come an expect seeing me and Iko to be fighting or fighting each other, and when they don’t see it, I hope that people will be demanding it and want to see it and we’ll get that chance some time in the future.
U.S.-Russian relations play a big part in this film, and the subject is obviously a hot topic in the real world at the moment as well. Do you feel like this is the right time for this kind of project to showcase that dynamic?
That dynamic has been ongoing. It’s nothing new. It’s a very storied history. It’s a very hot topic and the moment and very current, and I think that’s part of what makes this film stand out so much from any other action or military film that we’ve seen in a very long time. I think it’s entirely unique and it could be the beginning of a redefinition of the genre. I’ve never seen anything like this in action before. It has so much of everything that I feel like this is one of those movies that are so rewatchable that every single time that you watch it, you’ll pick up on more details and more things. Living in an information era, this is so much information in such a small amount of time, I think this is something that’s completely new in film. You can’t digest it all at once. You enjoy it, of course, the first time just as much as you would the fourth time because I think you’ll experience it differently every single time, where you’re noticing other things that you never noticed before.
From international relations to the world of espionage and mass surveillance, the film covers many themes that are important today. Having worked on this project, does it make you worried at all about the world at large?
One thing that the movie does make me [think about] is surveillance in general, and how surveillance can be used for good and how it can be used for bad, and how it’s something very dangerous that we need to handle delicately.
Whether it’s superhero and action flicks or the rising popularity of women’s divisions in the UFC and WWE, it seems like the image of strong women who kick butt is no longer an anamoly in pop culture, it’s finally the norm. As a pioneer for women in your own right, is it encouraging to see the strides that have been made as a culture?
It’s an exciting time to be in. You go into a period of firsts when you see things like women in a lot of roles for the first time we’ve never seen them in before. Then you enter into an era of normalcy when all those firsts have passed and it just is the way it is. It’s an exciting to be a woman in this business. I think there’s more opportunity for us than ever and more variety of roles for us to take on than were ever available to us before.
Mile 22 opens in theaters Aug. 17.