SAN DIEGO - "Haywire" is not the sort of movie most moviegoers expect from Steven Soderbergh, but the Oscar winner has had a pretty unconventional career.  He'll bring the ensemble drama "Contagion" to theaters this fall, but January will find him shepherding the big screen debut of MMA fighter Gina Carano in the new Relativity Media release.

Speaking at Comic-Con International 2011 Friday, Soderbergh says he sparked to the idea of working with Carano after catching her during an MMA fight broadcast.  He recalls, "I tuned in one night just out of curiosity and I literally thought, 'Why doesn't somebody build a movie around her?' I never saw someone perform like this in a cage."

Following a face-to-face with Carano in San Diego about two years ago, Soderbergh reached out to his "Limey" screenwriter Lem Dobbs about writing a female revenge movie in a similar star.  Soderbergh says, "I felt it would be interesting and unusual if you could create a female character who performed physically for real and there was no cutting away and there were no doubles. I thought that would be fun to watch."

Soderbergh put an impressive cast around Carano including Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton and Antonio Banderas.  Tatum, who like many of his male co-stars got into it with Carano on screen, joked he still might have some bruises from the shoot. Carano didn't cause any injuries on screen, but Tatum revealed she knocked someone out in rehearsal.  The MMA fighter joked that Tatum asked her to kick him harder during their sparring sessions.  All smiles, Tatum acknowledges, "It was a challenge and I lost. I have been a fan of Gina's for a long time. I follow MMA pretty adamantly and it was just a pleasure and an honor [to work with her]."

Tatum also noted, "In the beginning of the movie I have to hit her with a ketchup bottle.  [It wasn't hard enough for her] and then she called me the female p-word and I had to do it [for real]. I had to do it for my mannity. So, I hit her and she hit me back twice as hard and that was that."

As for her big screen alter ego, Carano describes Mailory Cain as a special opps agents who "she just gets the job done and people want to work with her. She works for a private contractor and she starts getting double crossed and doesn't know who to trust and has to fight to get her life back."

If that sounds cliche, well so does the whole movie.  However, Soderbergh has set up the flick to take advantage of Carano's strengths which is mostly her fighting skills.  Therefore, it was refreshing to see an impressive fight scene that is teased in the trailer (Soderbergh says he was inspired by a moment in Robert Clouse's 1970 action thriller "Darker by Amber").  The sequence starts with Carano and Michael Fassbender returning from dinner in a posh hotel.  The intelligence operatives are supposed to be prepping for a mission where they are posing as a married couple.  The second they close the hotel room door, Fassbender strikes Carano behind the head and a full out brawl between the two ensues. Soderbergh increases the intensity by removing any music and just using the natural sound of the fight.  And while they insisted it was all choreographed, when Fassbender's head gets in a number of choke holds it's hard fake all that blood rushing to his face. Obviously, he dies at the end at Carano's hands. As one scene, it was pretty effective.

Carano doesn't necessarily come across as a natural thespian, but she's the first to admit she's had a lot of catching up to do.

"I got acting 101 on my first movie with Steven," Carano says. "It ruined movie for a couple of months for me because I recognized everything [that was going on].  Now I appreciate actors that much more. I don't think everyone is capable of doing it."


"Haywire" was supposed to be one of Soderbergh's last films before his expected "retirement."  The "Ocean's Eleven" helmer tried to dispel that rumor insinuating he wasn't leaving the film world any time soon.

"Matt Damon apparently is about as discrete as a 14-year-old girl," Soderbergh deadpans.  "I had this drunken conversation with him while we were shooting 'Contagion.' And no one wants to hear in this economy about quitting a good job.  It got blown out of proportion."

And so it goes.

"Haywire" opens nationwide on Jan. 20.