Why Malin Åkerman fought harder for Chick Fight than Watchmen
"It was really racing against the clock."
Malin Åkerman hasn’t seen the Emmy-winning Watchmen on HBO — yet.
“You’re not going to believe me,” says Åkerman, who starred in Zack Snyder’s 2009 film in the role of Laurie Blake/Silk Spectre, in an interview with Inverse. “Every night we’ve sat here, my husband and I have said, ‘All right, we’re going to watch it tonight.’ By the time my son goes to bed and it’s time to watch, we are exhausted. So it doesn’t happen. But it’s on our list.”
It’s not hard to believe that Åkerman is exhausted. The Swedish-Canadian actress recently fought her guts out in the new sports comedy Chick Fight, in theaters, Digital HD, and VOD on November 13.
Åkerman stars as Anna, a failed businesswoman who discovers an all-female underground fight club. When she enters a rivalry with the club’s top fighter, the younger and tougher Olivia (Bella Thorne), Anna enlists the help of washed-up boxer Jack Murphy (Alec Baldwin) to teach her to fight.
A feminist spin on movies like Fight Club, The Wrestler, and The Karate Kid, Chick Fight shows a different kind of “cat fighting” onscreen.
“Historically, women have been told these things are not lady-like,” Åkerman says, “And it’s fun to go, ‘Well, this is what a chick fight looks like.’ Not hair-pulling and nail scratching. We get our aggression out and among it we find a sisterhood.”
While Daniel-san learned how to “wax, wax off” on car windows, Anna punches whole watermelons on a scenic Puerto Rican beach. A spoof on the familiar training montage trope, Åkerman says it was harder to shoot than it looks. “You would think it’d feel good,” she says. “It was a prop, it was light and made of foam. It was harder than I expected because I had to pretend to punch it hard, and every time it flew like a feather.”
Another hurdle for Åkerman was pretending to not already know how to kick ass. While Anna doesn’t know a left hook from a hook-up, Åkerman already had ample training from Watchmen.
“With Watchmen we got to train for three months before we started shooting, and for six months during shooting we continued to train,” she says. For Chick Fight, with its smaller budget and tighter shooting schedule of 18 days in Puerto Rico, “we had to do it quick.”
“We didn’t have the finances to start early. As soon as we landed in Puerto Rico we tried to find time to get the choreography down. It was really racing against the clock. I tried to get my booty in the gym every morning so my 40-something year old body could keep up.”
To their advantage, the story of Chick Fight lent itself to a rough and dirty style more evocative of UFC than the intricacy of Jet Li. “I don't think she's a fighter at all,” Åkerman says. “She just has the grit she finds inside of her. She is not a trained fighter or knows what she’s doing. It’s more fun to see the underdog story of someone learning to punch and not do it properly. We needed to make it unique and not professional, because she’s not.”
For its fight scenes, the filmmakers enlisted taekwondo expert Emely Cartagena (“She has great kicks,” says Åkerman) and veteran stuntwomen Mónica López (Birds of Prey), Shauna Galligan (Avengers: Endgame), and Holly Dowell (DC’s Stargirl), the latter being Akerman’s double.
For the final showdown between Anna and Olivia, the fight was shot multiple times, each with a different set of performers. One shoot had Åkerman and Thorne performing the fight themselves, while another involved the stunts team going hard into the more brutal moments.
“We did most of it,” Åkerman says. “I wasn’t willing to do the bits where [Anna] jumps up in slow motion and lands on her back. I didn’t think I’d be capable. But we went through that whole fight, Bella versus me. And we do the whole thing with each other’s doubles so we can capture the best moments neither Bella nor I could do.”
Chick Fight was an education for its star. “You learn camera angles to make sure it looks like a real punch. You make sure we don’t get too close to the face because you don’t want to hurt your co-star. It was a dance.”
Like everyone living in 2020, Åkerman knows it’s been a hard year. Post-Chick Fight, she’s preparing to shoot a few new projects, like the vampire comedy Slashers and another TV pilot. But she’s only able to power through because she knows the thrill of getting to hit something.
“I do box, and I think it’s a great outlet for anxiety,” Åkerman says. “Most of us have had moments we’ve been down in our luck. The whole point of this story is this woman who doesn’t believe in herself and [doesn’t have] a lot of self-worth, and regains that to create this powerful, independent woman who knows what is inside of her is worth something.”
At the end of Chick Fight, Åkerman wears a t-shirt that reads in bold text: “I know my content is good.” While Åkerman didn’t come up with the shirt, she agreed with its message.
“This pandemic has taught me to look inside in my own ‘content’ to see what’s in there and make sure that’s always shining through. And it’s nice to punch things sometimes.”
Chick Fight is in theaters and Digital HD and VOD on November 13.