'The Mandalorian' Star Gina Carano on Cara Dune's Secret Backstory

Gina Carano - Getty - H 2019
NICK AGRO/AFP via Getty Images
The actor also reveals her big fight with Mando originally went differently and recalls the filmmakers who have flocked to set: "Spielberg, the Coen brothers and Seth Rogen have visited."

[This story contains spoilers for episode four of Disney+'s The Mandalorian.]

When Jon Favreau created The Mandalorian’s Cara Dune, Gina Carano was the only actor he had in mind. Not only did he not audition anyone else, he even named the character after Carano: Cara-no. Introduced in Bryce Dallas Howard’s “Sanctuary,” Carano’s Cara Dune is a former Rebel shock trooper who partners with the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) to protect a local village of krill farmers from continued attacks by Klatooinian raiders. The raiders’ most recent pillage cost the farmers their latest harvest as the Klatooinians commandeered an AT-ST — a leftover imperial vehicle with advanced weaponry.

According to Carano, there is much more to Dune’s story, something the Rebel tattoo under her eye indicates.

“The eye tattoo has a much deeper meaning once we get into it,” Carano tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Obviously, it’s a Rebel tattoo, but there’s much more to that story. So, I’m excited for that.”

The Mandalorian is setting a new precedent as the series is being shot with state-of-the-art virtual reality technology that creates an immersive experience for actors on-set. Since word travels fast around town, the Mandalorian set has been a who’s who of Hollywood heavyweights. 

It’s really interesting because [Steven] Spielberg, the Coen brothers and Seth Rogen have visited to check out the set,” Carano relays. “Everyone wanted to see what Jon Favreau is doing over here in these Manhattan Beach studios. As an actor, even with Baby Yoda and the Ugnaught, you feel so in the moment because it all feels so real. When you put on your armor, you walk into that world, and that’s been an incredible blessing for my imagination.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Carano discusses working on The Mandalorian’s cutting-edge virtual reality sets, how she’s adapted her MMA skills to screen fighting, working with Baby Yoda and that Mando fight (“the choreography was originally something else”).

First order of business: Is it Care-uh or Car-uh? I bring this up because Mando referred to her as “Care-uh,” but I’ve heard you say “Car-uh.”

I know! (Laughs.) It’s Car-uh; it’s definitely Car-uh. In the beginning, everybody on set asked me, “How do you say your name?” and I would say “Car-uh.” But, for some reason, it’s natural for some people to say “Care-uh.”

Well, you’re in good company as the pronunciations of Leia and Han differed to varying degrees, too.

Oh, really? Oh, my gosh, that’s so funny. I had no idea. Thank you for telling me that because I’m going to use that later.

Your character was given a Han Solo or a gunslinger-in-the-corner-of-the-saloon-type introduction. Then, she had the ice-breaking fight with Mando. Were you and the brain trust conscious of wanting to give this woman an introduction that is usually reserved for men?

Originally, I feel like this all came from Jon and Bryce. I got together with the stunt guys, and we did some different types of choreography and previz. I’ve read a little bit online, and it feels mostly positive as I have so many people who are rooting for this strong female character. But, others are wondering how she did so well against the Mandalorian, who are the badasses of the galaxy. I can tell you that the choreography was originally something else, and we made it to where she got the jump on him. It comes to a draw at the end of the fight so we both get our licks in. They’re both battle-hardened warriors, and I feel like they both have an understanding of what they were dealing with. I definitely think Cara stands out in a way that’s very different from someone like Leia, who’s also very strong and independent. I think that’s exactly what Jon wanted to bring to the Star Wars universe as far as my character. He wanted my arms to show, and I’m like, “Long sleeves!” (Laughs.) He wanted my character to be this new soldier of women, and he wanted her to have an impact. For me, it’s been a way to embrace who I am, and if the biggest complaint is that I’m too strong, it’s really a compliment to me. (Laughs.)

Given your background in mixed martial arts, how helpful are your existing skills when it comes to screen fighting? Or, is screen fighting completely different?

Not every fighter or physical person can transition. What I’ve actually done in the last nine or 10 years of being in this business is I’ve adapted to onscreen fighting. I used to dance when I was a little girl; I did jazz, tap and ballet. It’s also so much more than that as you have to learn to give shots and take shots. The more you sell it, the more the fight scene goes well. A lot of people that come in with egos and are conditioned to “I must be the baddest person in the room” have trouble understanding that. You’re not gonna win everything, and you have to sell that body shot and face shot. I think I’ve had a little less of an ego as I come at it from an art and dance perspective with the skill set of a fighter. That’s really worked out for me, and I’m really proud of that because not everybody has been able to transition so well. (Laughs.)

On Haywire, you had to convince your male co-stars that they didn’t have to pull their punches. Did you have to have that conversation with the stunt performers on The Mandalorian?

Since I’ve been in this now for a long enough time, especially with the Mandalorian stunt team, they understand that I understand. I think the stunt community has kind of accepted me as one of their own because I come in, we collaborate and we do this together. I think I’ve been doing it for a long enough time that I’ve developed a good reputation in the stunt community to where I don’t injure or hurt people. I make sure to ask, “Is this a good amount of pressure?” It’s funny because stunt guys and girls like that you give them just a little bit so their reactions are good. I like the same thing, too, so we’re usually on the same page. You have to have the conversation, though, because if you’re working with a stunt team the entire day and you’re kicking someone from a wide shot to a closer shot, that spot can get a little sore. So, you have to pick your moments. If it’s a wide shot, maybe give it a couple good kicks, but wait until you get to the closer shots to give it a bit more. It’s just a matter of communication and trust. The stunt team on Mandalorian have been like brothers and sisters to me. 

Since Howard is an actor-director, what was she able to provide you that most non-actor directors don’t?

She’s got this fire in her eyes. She pays attention to everything, and she has complete 100 percent control of the set. She’s focused, hungry and passionate. Other directors do different things, but Bryce would bring a little tiny apple box out with an iPad to watch the replays on. She would sit there with you and direct you. She’d have a conversation and talk it through with you based on how she’s worked things out as an actress. She’d listen to my thoughts and ideas. She was very motherly and protective of our performances. She’s probably been in this business long enough to know that you don’t always get a director who’s going to protect you and give you the opportunity to express yourself and give you the chance to do it the way you want to do it. Bryce will try it this way and that way, and then she’ll let you try how you like it. She’s very protective over her actors and story. When she laughs, the entire building heard it. The one word I’d use to describe her is fiery.

What are these virtual reality sets like? During the battle sequence, could you see the AT-ST actually rendered on the display you were looking towards?

The AT-ST, no. But, the set is not a green screen set. It’s a completely different animal. It’s really interesting because [Steven] Spielberg, the Coen brothers and Seth Rogen have visited to check out the set. Everyone wanted to see what Jon Favreau is doing over here in these Manhattan Beach studios. On film, it looks incredible. As an actor, even with Baby Yoda and the Ugnaught, you feel so in the moment because it all feels so real. When you put on your armor, you walk into that world, and that’s been an incredible blessing for my imagination.

What’s the Baby Yoda phenomenon been like from your vantage point?

I learned about Baby Yoda when I read the script after getting the job. When doing promotion at Star Wars Celebration, D23 and the press junket, we were already getting such a great reception, and meanwhile, we were all giving interviews to excited people and thinking, “You don’t even know the best part of it!” (Laughs.) I think it was so smart of Jon and Kathleen Kennedy to keep it such a secret. That was just genius to have people be surprised over something they were already excited about, and now everybody is absolutely in love with this little baby. When you’re acting with it, you’re just like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s insanely cute.” These puppeteers gave it its own personality; it’s a little actor. Jon once belly-laughed and was like, “No matter what, this little guy is going to steal the scene in every scene that he’s in. Just know that you’re all going to be number two to this.” (Laughs.) That’s our little star of the show — 100 percent. There’s no stealing a scene from Baby Yoda.

Cara seems to be running from something since she feared that Mando had a bounty on her head. She also mentioned that she was forced into an early retirement. Did you know her full backstory when you shot this episode?

Yeah, I did. I knew it from conversations with Jon and Dave. They withhold little bits and pieces from me, and they’ll come in and say, “Oh, yeah, also this…” Before I did the introductory scene, Jon told me a secret about my character, and it added so much depth to what her life has been like. I think she’s a really cool character, and I think the sky's the limit with telling her story. When I read the script, I just felt like Jon wrote a little diamond of a character. I’ve been waiting for something like this for so long, and I love putting on the armor and thinking about the possibilities.

Since I’m only well-versed in the films, what’s the significance of the arm tattoo? 

I thought you were going to ask about the eye tattoo. (Laughs.) I’d have to go back and do a refresher on it, but I think that comes from the Rebel Alliance in the Galactic War. I also think it came from one of the producer’s sons who watches The Clone Wars or something like that. I think it’s definitely an Easter egg that attaches me to those soldiers. I know that is an awful explanation, but the eye tattoo has a much deeper meaning once we get into it. Obviously, it’s a Rebel tattoo, but there’s much more to that story. So, I’m excited for that. A girl just tagged me in a photo the other day because she just got it tattooed on her cheek. I just sent Bryce a text message that said, “Bryce! It happened. Somebody got a Cara Dune tattoo on their cheek.” It’s been a crazy zero-to-one-hundred thing already.

I’ve had such an up-and-down career so far. When I worked with Ewan McGregor on Haywire, he said, “Make sure you love the script, get along with the director and respect the director.” He told me that 10 years ago, and, of course, I felt like I had to put in my time and do my time on those independent movies. I really wish I would’ve listened to those words because he was telling me something from experience. Now, after having this up-and-down career, that’s going to stick with me moving forward. I am going to work with people I respect — on stories I’m passionate about. I’m going to be patient and wait for those to come through. After The Mandalorian season finale, I hope people have seen the growth in my work and the hard work I’ve put into acting. I always say this, but I still feel like I’m just getting started.