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MISS BALA

Production Information
BECOMING MISS BALA

Having starred for several years as the title character in the popular comedy-drama series Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez was ready for a new challenge. She immediately knew that Miss Bala's kickass action and message of empowerment provided the perfect opportunity to shake things up. "Gloria is actively trying to save herself and her family, which is relatable because a lot of women in my life work to keep their families safe and fix unfavorable situations," she explains. "There's no woman in my life that just sits back and lets things happen. Women are rarely portrayed as proactively trying to save themselves in action films. It's very empowering to see these stories."

While embracing the opportunity to headline a big action-thriller, Rodriguez also appreciated that Miss Bala eschews conventional portrayals of tough Latinas, instead focusing on a woman who is introduced as completely recognizable, even when we meet her going about her ordinary day-to-day life: "Gloria is introverted, smart and focused, and I love that about her. We get to experience her will to survive, and I think that will be exciting for so many people who don't necessarily see the inherent strength of a typical woman.

"I really enjoyed playing Gloria because in some ways I'm so different from her," Rodriguez continues. "I'm constantly working on my strength, which is outward. And Gloria's 'lion' is growing on the inside. I enjoyed exploring that dynamic. She has heart and a quiet strength. Gloria is a problem solver,100 percent."

Producer Kevin Misher notes that Gloria's solutions and transformative experiences are all her own doing. "She becomes a true hero in her own story," he explains. "Gloria isn't waiting for a man to come save her; she's on her own and relying only on her own inner strength. Not only does she survive these incredible challenges, she thrives on them and finds herself in a completely different place at the end of her journey than when she began it."

"It's meaningful that a Latina action hero is number one on the call sheet," says producer Pablo Cruz.

Director Catherine Hardwicke, who explored another kind of empowerment in the box-office smash Twilight, appreciates Gloria's unique energy and approach, which offer a fresh experience from typical on-screen heroics. "Doing the least amount of harm - that's the way a woman would think," she elaborates. "In many movies, you'll see a male protagonist blow everyone away - just destroy anything that gets in their path. This film's female sensibility, on both sides of the camera, makes the action more human and powerful."

The director's connection to Gloria was evident from the onset. "Catherine has a version of Gloria in herself because she always prevails when faced with serious challenges," says Rodriguez, adding, "She wields power with respect, calm and a collaborative spirit."

Hardwicke, Misher, producer Pablo Cruz and the rest of the Miss Bala team all agree that Rodriguez was nothing less than "super-heroic" in bringing Gloria to life. "She's tough, smart, beautiful and has a crazy work ethic," Hardwicke enthuses. "Gina always gives it her all. She makes you believe that Gloria has the fortitude to triumph against impossible odds. Gina always worked to give the character urgency and strength."

"The fact that Gina can make Gloria's experiences credible, in an extraordinary way, was always impressive," adds Misher. "During production I would snap a picture of her in character, because I didn't recognize the person in front of us." And Cruz notes that in or out of character, "Gina has incredible power. She's a true leader on set and within our community."

As Rodriguez's Gloria races to save her friend, she undergoes daunting physical challenges - dodging bullets, shooting guns, triggering explosions, and lots and lots of running. But it was all in day's work for the actress, whose father, a boxing referee, taught her how to box when she was a youngster. "I'm an adrenaline junkie," she admits, so I really enjoyed doing the film's stunts. I knew that Gloria would have a different kind of physique than the character of Jane from the television series, so I consulted with a nutritionist and worked with a trainer. I got very disciplined and focused.

"I wanted Gloria to be tough in every way," she continues. "It's been really nice to become very strong in my body. That quiets my mind when Gloria's mind is supposed to be quiet."

Rodriguez's determination to embody Gloria's surprising physicality didn't go unnoticed by the filmmakers. "She was always willing to do whatever it took to bring a sense of realism to those scenes," says Hardwicke. Stunt coordinator Justin Yu was particularly impressed with Rodriguez's affinity for stunt-driving. "She was eager to learn how to do some challenging maneuvers, so I sat her in a van and I pulled a 'Flying 90' - and she was like, 'I want to do that!' Thirty minutes later, she was pulling '90s', and executing drifts around a pole. It was awesome to be a part of that."

WHEN GLORIA MET LINO...

When Gloria accompanies her friend Suzu to a nightclub, where the latter can mingle with the right people and enhance her chances in a beauty pageant, little does she realize that she'll encounter a man who will forever change her life. Lino Esparza is the kingpin of a fast-growing criminal enterprise, and his initial plan for Gloria is to use her as a means to an end in Lino's world of escalating violence and intrigue. "When they first meet, it's a very practical utilitarian relationship," says Ismael Cruz Cordova, who portrays Lino. "But as they get to know one another, he sees in her a fire that even the men in his own squad may lack. Lino sees a lot of himself in her, and that Gloria has what it takes to live and thrive in his world."

The connection between Gloria and Lino is fueled by their shared experiences growing up straddling two cultures, having lived on both sides of the border. "Both of them feel like they don't belong 100 percent in either country. They're caught between two worlds," Cordova explains. That, elaborates Misher, points to one of the film's key themes: identity. "They're both trying to define themselves. So, it really transcends the traditional captor / hostage dynamic. It creates an ambiguity in the relationship that is surprising and satisfying."

There are a lot of moving parts in that connection, which continues to be offset by lies and betrayals. Playing off of Gloria's determination to find Suzu, Lino makes promises he may or may not honor. "He continues to tell her that he and his men are looking for Suzu, and that they're Gloria's only hope in finding her friend. So, that's another connection … but is it real?" continues Cordova.

The real-life dynamic between the two actors embodying these characters was never in doubt. "Ismael is my heart, my brother and my friend," says Rodriguez. "Miss Bala is the greatest career challenge I've ever taken on, and you don't do these things alone. Ismael has been a great partner in this incredible ride."

Hardwicke says the chemistry between Rodriguez and Cordova was evident from the beginning. "Before we started production, Gina and Ismael, who knew each other from a gym where they both boxed, came to our offices at Sony Pictures and read some scenes together. It was absolutely magic. You could see all of Gloria's and Lino's layers."

Cordova had been recommended to Hardwicke by a studio executive who had seen the actor's searing performance as a troubled boxer on the series Ray Donovan. "I then watched him on the show, on which he was also funny, weird, unique - and could go from scary to funny in an instant," she says.

Cordova's audition for Miss Bala was so impressive that no other actors were considered for the part. "There was a wonderful kismet that Ismael was available and perfect for the role," notes Misher. "He brings an ambiguity in terms of Lino's intentions, and he is incredible scary and charming at the same time. You believe him as both Gloria's captor and advocate."

A MAN OF MYSTERY AND A CROOKED DEA AGENT

Another key, though mysterious figure Gloria encounters, is known only as "Jimmy." She briefly encounters this tough, no-nonsense character when she makes her harrowing cross-border trek to pick up a huge cache of weapons for Lino. As Gloria prepares to leave after the guns have been loaded on her vehicle, Jimmy has a message for her to take back to Lino: there's a mole in his organization. That mole, of course, is Gloria - but does Jimmy already know that? She does not yet realize that Jimmy holds an even greater secret, one that will change her life forever.

One of today's most popular and in-demand actors, Anthony Mackie, plays Jimmy. The Avengers star sums up his thoughts on the film and role in three words: "Adrenaline. Rush. Action." Actually, he notes there were even more important considerations than the story's breakneck pace. "I loved working opposite Gina, who in addition to being a badass in the role, brings humility and a certain grace and beauty to Gloria. It's a character that reminds you that there are no limits in what you can do, whatever your gender and heritage." An additional incentive was the chance to work with Catherine Hardwicke, whom he had long admired. "I work best with female directors - especially when they're named 'Catherine,'" he says with a smile, referencing his roles in the 2008 Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker and the 2018 film Detroit, both helmed by Kathryn Bigelow.

While Jimmy's motives aren't initially clear, those of Brian Reich, a DEA agent who uses Gloria as a means to trap Lino, are all too evident. Gloria quickly realizes that she is nothing but a pawn in Reich's shady machinations. "He encounters this American woman with a squeaky-clean record and wonders what she's doing in Tijuana hanging out with a drug cartel," explains Matt Lauria, who plays Reich. "It gets even more dire for Gloria, when it's revealed that he is supporting a rival cartel."

Like so many others in the cast, Lauria was intrigued by and drawn to the film's theme of female empowerment. "I loved seeing this strong character, Gloria, take on a patriarchy at its worst, and topple it," he relates. "Also, as someone who's surrounded by very strong women in my family, I enjoyed the opportunity of helping tell this story, especially at this time."

Co-starring in Miss Bala are Aislinn Derbez, as Isabel, a haunted beauty whom Gloria encounters at Lino's villa; Cristina Rodlo, as Suzu; and Ricardo Abarca as Poyo, Lino's right-hand man.

Derbez says her character points to Lino's dark side; Isabel was abducted by Lino a few years earlier and remains a hostage. "Her family was threatened, so she's forced to be there," says Derbez, "but Gloria's arrival makes things even more complicated for her."

Rodlo's Suzu is not only Gloria's longtime best friend; they're like family. "They understand each other like sisters," says the actress. "When everything goes wrong, Gloria will do anything to save her."

Abarca's Poyo is closer to Lino than anyone in the cartel, and isn't pleased by Lino's growing attraction to, and reliance on, Gloria. "Poyo tries to make Lino understand what's happening, but Lino won't listen to him anymore," says Abarca. "And in the end, Poyo was right!"

FILMING IN TIJUANA

Miss Bala is a reimagining, for a worldwide audience, of a critically acclaimed 2011 Mexican film of the same name. It provided an intriguing starting point for this all-new version, whose titular hero is an American woman of Mexican descent, while the character in the original was Mexican. "We always return to the stories we love, and we built on the themes of empowerment and transformation, which are universally relevant," says producer Pablo Cruz, who also produced the 2011 film.

Catherine Hardwicke brings a completely fresh perspective to the project, which she envisioned as "a story about identity - what makes a person identify with one community or another, be it nationality, gender or race? Being a woman working in Hollywood, I'm very familiar with those questions."

Producers Misher and Cruz concur, noting Hardwicke's skill in providing an essential perspective to Gloria's experiences. "She's been at the forefront of female filmmakers and we were thrilled that she was interested in bringing her talents to the film," says Misher. "Catherine has a unique way of turning the expected into the unexpected," adds Cruz.

Hardwicke, Misher and Cruz all envisioned filming Miss Bala on locations in Tijuana, to lend a critical authenticity to Gloria's story. "It would have been difficult to recreate the city and region anywhere else," Misher points out. "We really wanted to give the audience the feeling of being immersed in that world."

It's a world not unfamiliar to the director, who grew up in the border town of McAllen, Texas, on a farm on the Rio Grande River. "We'd swim across the river and be in Mexico," she remembers. "I also went to art school and have traveled extensively in Mexico, and have grown to love the country and its culture."

Hardwicke was eager to capture Tijuana's uniquely beautiful texture, which convey the city's stark contrasts and energies. "There is a new wave of artists, cuisine and enterprises there, and I wanted to showcase Tijuana's excitement - the highs and the lows. I loved shooting there and capturing its spirit."

It was important to Cruz to have a way to showcase the changes in the region since shooting the original film there at the beginning of the decade. "Evolution happens," he says. "Tijuana has become a culinary capital of Mexico, with four of the country's best restaurants. The worst times are over; you feel at ease there. In fact, my company's has offices in Tijuana. Baja offers so many unique opportunities to make filming more attractive and interesting."

And film audiences are very familiar with the product of Mexico's thriving film industry. Four of the past five Oscar winners for Best Director have hailed from Mexico - and were in a position to make some of the world's most acclaimed films by building their careers in their home country.

That spirit, culture and energy are conveyed through locations such as the beautiful vineyards at Bruma Valle de Guadalupe, and the coastal resort city of Rosarito Beach, known for its vibrant nightlife, and the area's stunning architecture. The latter was of particular interest to Hardwicke, who received a degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. "I couldn't wait to showcase Tijuana's modern look, especially through the gorgeous anamorphic lens of our director of photography, Patrick Murguia," she says. "It was a magical experience working with Patrick, who's a true artist."

The locations were transformed into film sets by the film's production designer, Marco Niro, who says that the story of Tijuana can be told through its architecture. "It's about the value of the people that live in that area," he says. "It has changed since 2011, 2012. The people of Tijuana never lost their smile, their enthusiasm to create a better day. They push forward day-by-day. It was a pleasure to present those buildings in that area."

It was also gratifying for Niro to work with Hardwicke, who herself served as an in-demand production designer before becoming a director. "She always knows how far we can go, and she takes everything to the edge of the frame," says Niro. "And she was always right. If she pointed out something that could be improved or changed, she was correct. Her ideas were absolutely perfect for the moment, and I was able to take the best of every person in the art department to achieve those little details."

One of the film's biggest action set pieces takes place at the Plaza Monumental de Tijuana, also known as Bullring by the Sea, a home for boxing matches, concerts and other sporting and cultural events that rests near the ocean and border wall. It is here where Brian Reich and his DEA team lay a trap for Lino - culminating in a massive shootout where Gloria, despite being caught in a hail of gunfire and explosions, finds the strength and courage to prevail.

"The setting looks like one you'd find in a western film," says Hardwicke. "It's very cinematic, so it was a great place to have everything converge. We had drone shots, helicopter shots, explosions, thousands of movie bullets, and we blew up police cars. It was cool!"

The location was transformed into the shooting location by production designer Marco Niro. "It was very challenging, because there's so much empty space in the plaza," he notes - how best to give audiences a sense of location, space, and perspective? "For us, it was about colors - putting them together so that when Patrick, the DP, framed it, they balance. He did a great job."

For logistical reasons, this critical scene was shot on the first week of filming. "It was intense," says Cordova. "We actually started with the climax of the action, so we actors had no time to warm up to that. We just showed up and started running, falling and shooting - as things were blowing up all around us."

The explosions, gunfire and running all come with Miss Bala being what Hardwicke calls "a crazy badass action thriller." But she notes that within that context, it explores one woman's extraordinary rite of passage. "Gloria finds solutions to what others would believe to be a series of impossible situations," she continues.

"Gloria learns to believe in herself," notes Misher. "She has great self-doubt at the beginning, but transforms into a strong, confident woman. "It all takes place in a very specific place and under extraordinary conditions, but everyone will be able to relate to her discovering something new within herself."

"Who she is informs the kind of hero she is," adds Cruz. "You couldn't substitute a man for her character; every choice she makes, including the way she fights, stems from what's important to her as a woman and specifically as a Latina."

"The film is also about people just trying to find their place, and who doesn't experience that?" adds Cordova.

Gina Rodriguez says, "This was one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done, and all of us on Miss Bala are excited about it. It's a big action movie with an important and positive message - and we made a little bit of history while filming it."

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