When Emily Browning, the Australian-born fashion model and star of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” (2004), auditioned for “Sucker Punch,” Zack Snyder’s hard-hitting tribute to girl power, the director made her an offer she certainly could have refused. But she didn’t.
“Zack asked me to put myself on tape, singing, which I’d never done before,” says Browning, 22. “I was terrified, of course. But he liked it. I have no idea why, but he thought me capable of carrying a tune on the screen.”
And not just any tune. When Snyder, who in 1992 directed a music video for ex-Smiths frontman Morrissey, informed Browning that he had acquired the rights to “Asleep,” from the band’s 1987 compilation “Louder Than Bombs,” he surprised her once again, asking if she’d feel comfortable performing lead vocals.
“The Smiths are my favorite band,” she says. “I made Zack tell me everything about Morrissey. The offer was flattering, but there was so much pressure. I couldn’t say no, though. Zack tells me Morrissey’s heard it and is happy with it, but is Morrissey happy ever? I don’t know if I believe it.”
Browning ended up singing three songs featured in “Punch” — covers of “Asleep,” Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies — though acting remains her first love.
In the movie, she plays Babydoll, a fresh-faced inmate at a Vermont asylum, institutionalized against her will by an abusive stepfather.
Babydoll copes with the cold reality of life in the ward by inventing fantasies inspired by her struggles.
One minute she’s the main attraction at an upscale brothel, dancing her way into the hearts of the men she hopes to destroy; the next, she’s a fearless warrior, battling the demons who seek to crush her spirit.
The movie’s message, and the chance to work with Snyder, were foremost in Browning’s mind when she auditioned for “Punch.”
“Babydoll doesn’t understand her sexuality, and it’s been used against all her life,” she says. “It frightens her, but over the course of the film she learns to own and control it.
“Within the world of the brothel, but not in the film itself, the girls are being objectified, so the journey from the asylum into the brothel taps into her darkest fears. But the battle scenes are about the girls not allowing themselves to be objects anymore, to control their sexuality and find their inner strength.”