10 Great Debut Performances by Non-Actors

We’ve been looking forward to Friday for a while here at Flavorwire: it’s release day for Haywire, Steven Soderbergh’s uncommonly smart, disarmingly taut, ridiculously entertaining action/spy picture, an unexpectedly frisky exception to the rule that January releases are generally terrible. The reason for its creation — and a big part of its success — is the leading performance of MMA fighter Gina Carano (more on her later). Though she had a minor role in one previous film, Gina’s terrific starring turn got us thinking about other non-actors who made a big splash in their debuts; after the jump, we’ve collected ten of them for your perusal.

Gina Carano, Haywire

Director Steven Soderbergh says he was just sitting around his house, contemplating the hole that opened up in his schedule after he was fired from Moneyball, when he started watching Gina Carano’s mixed martial arts bouts and became captivated by her presence and physicality. So he decided to build a movie around her, and good for him. She’s not an actor by trade, and some of her line readings are, it must be noted, a little flat. But she’s got cool charisma down pat, and does she ever bring it in those action scenes. Soderbergh plays most of them without music, fast cuts, or handheld camera; instead, he goes with long takes and wide shots that really let us see what Carano can do, and plays the scenes in a near-silence that borders on reverential. This isn’t a movie star playing at a skill — this is an athlete, and the filmmaker takes what she does seriously. Soderbergh is using her much as he used adult star Sasha Grey in 2009’s The Girlfriend Experience; he’s capturing an essence, of Sex with Grey, of Power with Carano. She’s not indestructible — she bruises, she struggles, she takes the occasional nasty spill. But she is a badass, and we don’t question, for a second, her ability to do every single spectacular thing she does here.