Dress, Sachin + Babi ($880). Neiman Marcus, Fashion Show, 702-731-3636

  Gown, J. Mendel ($4,500). Neiman Marcus, Fashion Show, 702-731-3636. Necklace, Badgley Mischka ($495). Neiman Marcus, Fashion Show, 702-731-3636.

As one of the toughest female professional mixed martial arts combatants in the world, Vegas native Gina Carano’s life revolved around training and full-contact fighting. The former UNLV student had always been sporty: She led her Trinity Christian High School girls basketball team to a state title. But she owes the start of her career path to an ex-boyfriend, who got her interested in Muay Thai fighting, which she came to dominate with a 12-1-1 record.

Next? Her big jump to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA ). As she became “the Face of Women’s MMA ,” the beautiful brunette found herself in a world of TV appearances (American Gladiators and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, to name a few) and sexy magazine shoots for publications such as Maxim. But it wasn’t until the 29-year-old was approached by überdirector Steven Soderbergh to star in his action thriller Haywire that a Hollywood career hit the horizon. Jumping at the opportunity, Carano soon found herself on-set alongside a cast of heavyweights: Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, and Bill Paxton. Amid all that testosterone, all eyes are on Carano, who takes ’em down in a leading role that would make Jason Bourne proud. With Haywire about to hit theaters on January 20, Carano caught up with McGregor to talk fight scenes, the future, and growing up in Vegas.

EWAN MCGREGOR: What was your life like right before you were approached about doing this film?
I was actually training for one of the toughest fights of my life against [mixed martial arts fighter] Cyborg. It was the first major female-headlined fight ever, a huge, huge deal. And I lost in like five minutes. I was devastated and had a black eye. I hopped in my car from San Jose, where the fight was, and drove all the way to San Diego. I was going to hide out there for a month. When one door closes, another one opens, though: In that same week, my agent called me saying Steven Soderbergh wanted to meet me.

EM: Were you nervous?
GC: My agent told me he was coming from LA to meet me and I needed to pick him up at the San Diego train station. I was thinking, Do I need to research him? Who am I picking up here?

EM: And then he asked you to star in a movie?
Not until the end of our four-hour lunch! He was like, “Look, I’d like to do a movie with you. I don’t have a script. I don’t have a studio. I don’t have anything locked down, but I wanted to meet you and see if you’d be interested.” I was like, “Yeah, absolutely, let’s do it!” He said it was either going to happen really fast or not at all. Four days later, he called and said there were two studios bidding for it.

EM: How long until you started working on it?
GC: About three or four months later, I started training with [tactical trainer] Aaron Cohen. I was put through stunt training every morning from 7 AM to 11 AM, worked with Aaron for two hours after that, and then I did strength and conditioning for two hours. He rented out a warehouse in Pasadena. We did gunplay, and he taught me how to enter and exit buildings like they do in Israel. I think they wanted to keep me busy so I didn’t think about what I was getting myself into.

Like what you're reading? Get it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now for our newsletters >>