“The Mighty Macs," opening this Friday, doesn’t just give Carla Gugino a chance to channel her inner inspirational basketball coach (think Gene Hackman in “Hoosiers”), it also ended her long bench-warming streak in sports.
“I can truly say I never was a jock,” Gugino chuckled to PopcornBiz. “I'm a very athletic person, but I moved a lot as a kid and so I never really got into team sports. I was never in one place long enough really to sort of do that. I never got to be really part of the team in sports, and I got to really do that in this movie, which was so much fun.”
The film, a rare G-rated offering that’s neither animated nor specifically aimed a children, casts Gugino as real-life college coach Cathy Rush, who in the early 1970s led Pennsylvania’s Catholic university Immaculata’s women’s team to the first of six consecutive championship appearances, a classic sports Cinderella story given Rush’s relative inexperience and the team’s ramshackle beginnings (their gym had burned down, among other misfortunes).
“I was really compelled to by this woman, Cathy Rush, who didn't set out to change the world,” Gugino explains. “She just basically really wanted a job, really wanted to do something that fulfilled her. She was good at basketball. She really fell in love with these players and really saw their potential. I don't think they ever thought to themselves that they could do anything on a professional level in that way. And she just step by step kept breaking down these walls. A fantastic tale that was being told and that it happened to be women – really strong, interesting women.”
Although she experienced her first acting successes in her teens, Gugino says she knows well how valuable that early determination to pursue her dreams really was. “I started acting really young,” she says. “I continued through high school, but I was acting as well, and I was valedictorian and a very academic person. And I think my parents thought I was going to go into business, or something much more sort of, much less artistically inclined and possible – just a whole different deal. And so when I really fell in love with acting I had a lot of support in my family. But I also had people really concerned sort of giving me articles, saying,’You know, only 10% of the actors in Screen Actors Guild make over $10,000 a year,’ and all these sort of terrible statistics that are true. I remember really clearly going, 'Oh, well, I'm not going to be one of those. I'm going to succeed.' And looking back on that so many years later now I really realize that was something so important.”
Gugino's diverse and eclectic range of roles over the past two decades defy pigeonholing or typecasting – and that’s just what she’s been aiming for. “If I have just done a Greek tragedy on Broadway, I'm ready to do a comedy with Jim Carrey,” she laughs. “It comes from a natural place of just wanting to do something different than I just immersed myself in. But also since acting in a way is the love of my life, I kind of want to do it all.”
“I've never been interested in being a brand or being a celebrity or any of those things,” she explains. “It's just I want to be able to disappear into different characters and have people be able to watch me in a movie and believe me as that person. The thing that keeps me going is getting to really mix it up. And it's also like I feel like I'm making a new friend each time. Like the character that I played is someone that might have changed my life along the way.”
"The Mighty Macs" opens in limited release this Friday