Malin Akerman Knew She Had to Produce After Seeing Margot Robbie’s ‘I, Tonya’

"I needed to find great material and work it from the ground up," the actress and producer tells Observer.

Malin Akerman
“I needed to find great material and work it from the ground up,” Malin Akerman tells Observer of her path to producing. Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for CoolSculpting; illustration: Julia Cherrualt/Observer

“We need a little bit of escape,” Malin Akerman says of her new movie Chick Fight, a light-hearted comedy set in the world of an all-female underground fight club. Akerman, who has starred on Showtime’s Billions and who produced this new film, stars as Anna Wyncomb, a down-on-her-luck woman who discovers fighting as a way to unleash her anger. Alec Baldwin hilariously co-stars as Anna’s trainer Jack, but the movie is really all about its ensemble female cast, which includes Bella Thorne, Fortune Feimster and Dominique Jackson. It’s a surprisingly compelling story—and far less gimmicky than the plot suggests—and the movie represents the sort of project Akerman wants to continue to bring to the screen.

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We spoke with Akerman about how Chick Fight, in theaters and on demand November 13, got made, her interest in producing and why we need more stories about women’s anger.

Observer: What was it about this film that made you want to not only star in it but produce it?
Malin Akerman: It started as me just producing it—I wasn’t going to star in it. The director, Paul Leyden, is a dear, dear friend of mine who I’ve known for 15 years. He’s a cheerleader of women. Everything he writes of his own accord is just bolstering up women, holding to them to high heights. I trusted him that he would be able to bring this to life in the proper way. I thought, ‘Alright, let’s work on this together. We can do some character development and look through all the women’s dialogue and make sure it’s all up to par.’ As we got working on I got more and more excited about it. He said, “Just do the lead.” I thought, Why not? This would be so much fun. I loved that it’s all about sisterhood and women holding up women. There’s power in numbers. I’m so tired of women being portrayed as catty and jealous in all these films. We need to start really looking at sticking together and being a powerful unit. That’s the underlying message of this film.

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It’s refreshing to see a movie that has such a large female cast, too.
I like that, too. And all the little side characters, who are amazing, are men. Like, ‘I’ll give you a little role here. You can be the love interest.’

Is it difficult to get a project like this made?
We actually had a wonderful team. Paul works with another producer named Anne Clements on a lot of his projects and she’s just a powerhouse. She got us together with another great production team who are financiers, and they were really excited about it. It wasn’t too bad. Once we decided to do it and we got out there, it didn’t take long before we were able to get a small independent budget that we could work it. When we sent the script out we just had so many women who were excited about it. It wasn’t hard to convince them to come join us. I think that proof is always in the pudding when you have people responding like that.

Did you do actual fight training ahead of filming?
I didn’t do fight training. I had fought a lot in my life, and that is one of my favorite forms of training—so I have that background. And I have done some stunts in some films and I’ve trained before with stunt coordinators. But because it was such a small indie film we just didn’t have the budget to get trainers in beforehand. We did most of the stunt choreography when we got to [the set in] Puerto Rico. We made sure we scheduled all the fight scenes towards the end of the three-week shoot so we could work on it while we were shooting, like a couple of hours at lunch or before work or after work. Some of those montage fight scenes were actually on the fly, making it up as we went along. Shauna, our stunt coordinator, would show us a few tricks and we’d do it.

The movie was filmed in only three weeks?
Yeah. It was short. And we had a lot to do. Some of these fight scenes normally would take days to do and we would have to do them in six hours. It was just nuts. But we made it happen.

malin akerman chick fight
“I didn’t do fight training,” says Malin Akerman of her work in Chick Fight. Quiver Distribution

The fight scenes are pretty raw. What did you want to achieve with those?
This is an underground fight club. These are a bunch of women who are learning how to fight. Everyone’s at different stages—and this is their outlet. It was formed by a therapist, who happens to be [my character’s] mother, and she decided talking wasn’t enough and we needed to get all our emotions out. We made a decision that the fights shouldn’t look too professional. It should look like street fighting. It’s a bunch of women getting together and trying their best. I’m coming from a place where I do enjoy boxing, but this is a whole other level. There was something exciting about being in that ring and having all the other girls cheer you on. We didn’t experience the pain, because it’s all stunts, so I don’t know what it would be in a real ring, but it was definitely an adrenaline rush.

Did it feel like there was something timely about a movie that showcases women releasing their anger?
We have been historically told that certain things aren’t ladylike, like expressing our anger. I think this is a nice shout-out to say “We’re all human and we need to have outlets.” It doesn’t have to be an underground fight club, but it definitely needs to be more than what we have now. We need to start cutting down all these expectations that society has put on it. We’re all just human and we’re fallible and we need to get things out. This is a great way to do it, in a film anyway.

What led you to start producing films?
I started getting interested in it about seven years ago. Just dabbling and trying to figure out what it was about and how to get into it. I wanted creatively to be part of the decision making whenever I was going to be a lead in a show or a movie. Because a lot of the times all the critique falls on your shoulders when you’re the lead. So it’s about being able to stand behind a project whole-heartedly once you’ve gone through it and been able to be part of the process from the ground up. But what really hit it home was seeing I, Tonya, the skating movie. I’ve been a professional figure skater—I competed professional in Canada for 10 years—and I remember calling my agent saying, “Why wasn’t I called in for this?” And they said, “Well, Margot Robbie produced it.” That’s when it really hit. I realized that was what I needed to be doing. I needed to find great material and work it from the ground up. That’s been my focus lately, optioning articles or short stories and finding writers and putting them together. Trying to build things, truly, from the ground up.

How many projects at a time are you producing these days?
So right now I’ve got two that are coming out—Friendsgiving and now Chick Fight. I’ve another one called Slayers that I’m [executive producing], which is a vampire film. I’ve got another film I’m building from the ground up and I’m interviewing writers at the moment. I’ve got another a TV series based on a short story I’ve optioned, which I’m also in the process of interviewing writers for. That’s what’s happening at the moment. It’s been a great time for development right now seeing that we’re all at home. It’s turned out really well.

Is this leading you to directing or writing?
I’m definitely not a writer. I’m happy to come up with ideas or to work on material that’s pre-existing, but I don’t think you’ll ever see my name as a writer. But directing I could definitely see myself trying out. It’s such a big undertaking and I want to wait until my son is a little bit older. He’s too young and he needs his mama still and directing is just all-consuming.

Chick Fight will be released in theaters and on demand on November 13.

Malin Akerman Knew She Had to Produce After Seeing Margot Robbie’s ‘I, Tonya’