Cobie Smulders is no stranger to playing strong women, having starred as the no-nonsense Robin Scherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother for nine years and playing S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Maria Hill, in The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Smulders now stars as Major Susan Turner, a high ranking military official and one of ex-Army investigator Jack Reacher’s (Tom Cruise) old friends. When Turner is arrested and charged with espionage, and Jack is accused of a 16-year-old homicide, the two must work together to unravel the conspiracy. Smulders talks about women in Hollywood, what it was like working with Tom Cruise, and how she got ripped whilst training for the role.
You tweeted about doing too much running for this film… “It was so much running, and I had broken my leg right before I started this movie. When I met Ed [Zwick, director] for this movie, I was on crutches, and he was like, ‘You know that we start shooting in six weeks?’ ‘Well, I’m supposed to be off crutches in a week, so that gives us five?’ So I started this movie in probably the weakest physical shape that I’ve ever been in in my life.”
How did you break your leg? “It was so stupid. I always injure myself when I’m just walking down the street, but I was in my apartment and I just tripped over something, and it snapped. I snapped my tibia, so I was on crutches for six weeks. When I got off crutches, I immediately walked into the gym. All the running was the most challenging part for me, because Tom is like a bullet, he is so fast.”
Aside from running, what other training did you have? “A lot of fight training; I was very excited to do hand-to-hand. I’ve done other movies in the past where I rely mostly on superheroes or my Bluetooth…they’re like my two powers! So this was really exciting. We had an amazing stunt coordinator, Wade Eastwood. We did stunt driving, and I went from zero straight into boxing, lots of drills, hitting, hooks, uppercuts and kicks, and then we moved into choreography. So we were training for like two hours a day, seven days a week, for about six weeks. That’s a lot. I’m ripped. I’ve lost it all, but I was ripped.”
How important is it for you, especially being a mother to two girls, to be a strong female role model? You’ve done some kickass roles. “Yeah, it’s very cool. We get to fight, and we get to be tough, but I also think that there’s strength in so many different characters. It’s just a matter of perception. But it’s cool to be in the boy’s club. You get a little bit more attention being a strong woman if you’re in the club. Being a mum, I know how hard it is. So when I see characters, or if I meet women, I think that that woman is as tough as the one who works in the military, or who has one of these tough girl jobs. I know how hard it is to raise children, and I know how hard it is to be a stay-at-home mum, so I know that that has strength in itself.”
How did you grow and what did you gain from the experience of shooting this movie? “It was a really intense shoot for me. It was very demanding physically; it was also creatively really fulfilling. I hadn’t really properly worked on a movie, you know? I’ve done The Avengers, and I’ve done other things, but I’m such a small part of that world. I fly in and do two weeks, and then I go home, and then I don’t see them for two months. For this film, I was there every day, every night, every minute, in every scene, basically. We had such an amazing crew. New Orleans was so great to shoot in, and it takes a certain mindset to keep your sanity for that longevity. We were there for four months, so I feel like I learned a lot and I do feel stronger for it, and better for it. Working with Tom was amazing. I want to do every action movie with Tom, because he’s the man. He knows exactly what works. He’s very safety conscious, and he makes sure that you’re taken care of. He makes sure that we have the best trainers, and the best stunt people. He makes sure that you’re educated, and that you know what you’re doing, but he also makes it really fun. We had a blast.”
About this ceiling for women, do you feel it? You haven’t been in the political arena, but in the entertainment arena – are there things to be broken? “Yes, it’s a really interesting time, and I’ve always been very fortunate. I’m a woman, and I worked on a show for nine years. I feel very lucky, and very privileged. So it’s hard for me to be like, ‘Finally, we’re getting a chance’ because I’ve been given such a gift. I’m actually able to work in this industry where SAG says there’s like 95% of us that are out of work. So it’s hard for me to comment on, because I feel so blessed. But I’m excited to see more opportunities for women of different backgrounds, from all over the world. They’re being depicted in film and TV now. It’s just reflective of this time that we’re living in, and I’m glad that we’re seeing it on screen. In Jack Reacher, Susan Turner is a very high ranking military official. This is a woman in power who isn’t a bitch, who is very smart, very capable, and very strong – she’s not physically as strong as men, but she’s as intelligent. She has the ability to adapt and change, and hopefully this character will add to this movement.”
Did you consult with any female military people? “I met some women who worked for the FBI. I met some high ranking male officials who are now retired, and I did get some amazing research. There are really good documentaries and amazing books out there. It’s really hard to find stories of women in the military in combat, because they’re not allowed in direct combat at the moment. So it was sort of taking these stories of men in combat, and adjusting that, and one of the greatest, coolest things is that I have a dress uniform which I wear in a couple of scenes in the film. It’s all about the insignia, and all about the accolades, and everything means a different thing. One of the cool things was that I was able to wear a Ranger pin, because during shooting, the first two female graduates from Ranger school went through, and that had never happened. It’s a very challenging thing to go through. There’s not a ‘women only have to do forty push-ups, and men have to do fifty’ thing. There’s none of that, so it’s extraordinary that women are doing that, and that they want to do that. That was one of the hardest things for me to do. Why do people want to do this? Why would you want to go to Ranger school? Why would you then want to go overseas? What kind of person does it take to do these kinds of things, and lead their life purely to help others, and to protect others? That’s a hard thing for me to get over in my brain, but I think I was able to.”
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is released in cinemas on October 20.