Cobie Smulders has had quite the unconventional career path. After making us laugh for nine years as Robin Scherbatsky on the beloved comedy How I Met Your Mother, she hopped over to the Marvel world and transitioned into a full-fledged action star.
And as her career continues to progress, her roles seem to become only more badass. In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the 34-year-old mother of two plays a U.S. Army major who teams up with Tom Cruise to uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy. While her character pals around with her fierce male colleague, Smulders proves that she can hold her own against the duo’s adversaries. After completing eight weeks of intense fight training to prepare for the role, Smulders delivered roundhouse kicks to the groin, chased killers through the streets of New Orleans, and brought men to their knees with her newly developed hand-to-hand combat skills. And she had a blast doing it all. “It was very empowering,” she says. “I hope that little girls see women that I portray and they see that as a possibility.”
Yahoo Style caught up with Smulders to discuss her newfound fighting skills (which terrify her husband), the importance of teaching her daughters that women can be strong, and what life has been like post-HIMYM.
Yahoo Style: You were all kinds of badass in this film. What did you love most about playing such an empowered female character?
Cobie Smulders: Oh, it’s hard to choose just one thing! I was really excited when I signed onto this film to get to do my own stunts. I have been lucky to be sort of in the Marvel Universe, but I don’t usually get to do a lot of hand-to-hand combat. But in this film, I was able to do so much. I went and trained for about eight weeks before we started shooting in New Orleans with all of Tom’s team. And I learned so much and went through so many painful things. But it was really cool. It was very fun to learn an entirely set of new skills.
I love that you threatened to pick a man up by his hair plugs at one point in this film.
Yeah, that was a pretty intense line! That line has been in since the original draft. I was like, “I hope I am able to say that one. That is a pretty intense one!”
What are some of the cooler stunts you got to do as Maj. Susan Turner?
There was a fight sequence in the courtyard where it was me versus this very sweet German man by the name of Wolfie. When we were doing the actual fight choreography, at one point I was on his back and I was riding him like a horse and choking him with this hose. It was really intense! That was the most tricky one to choreograph and to pull off. We ended up shooting that specific sequence in the middle of the night. It was, like, 3 a.m. when we actually shot it. I was just trying to stay awake and trying to remember all the moves. But it was also the most fulfilling. It was me by myself, and it was a very empowering fight to do.
What’s the secret to beating someone up onscreen and making it look convincing?
We had such an amazing stunt team led by Wade Eastwood, who has done a lot of Tom’s films with him. The hardest thing I found was pretending to be hit yourself because it takes an entirely different muscle group to sort of retract rather than attack. And those were the days that I was the most sore, when I was getting thrown against a wall and trying to absorb the pressure of that on my body. That was really the more challenging step to learn. You want it to look as real as possible. That was really important, to sell it as well. Sell getting hit just as well as when you are trying to make it look like you are hitting someone really well.
Is your husband kind of afraid of you now that you’ve had all this fighting training?
I think my husband has always been afraid of me [laughs]. I would love to learn more in terms of fighting and stuff. There is stunt fighting and then there is the real world, where people actually do try to make contact with your body. But he hasn’t seen the film yet. I think we’ll go opening weekend, and I hope he’ll be impressed.
What has it been like transitioning from television to movies?
When you are doing films, you do have the ability to change it up, to try different characters, to meet an entirely new group of people on each shoot, to go to a new city. There is a constant change. It’s nice to keep it switched up every now and then. But I was also so lucky to be on How I Met Your Mother with a group of people that I loved and was excited to go and see every single day. So I do miss that. I do miss the comfort and the regularity of having that type of a job. I was lucky enough to have that for nine years. But right now, I’m just feeling really lucky to get to jump from job to job, and I’m really enjoying trying new things.
The cast recently went to China to promote Jack Reacher. Did you have any interesting experiences over there?
We didn’t really go outside very often because we were doing so much press inside the hotel where we were staying and bouncing from one screen to the next. But we went out a couple of nights. We actually had some delicious food. We had some delicious dim sum for lunch one day and then we had Peking duck, which was insane. But I also eat lots of weird food all the time, so it takes a lot to freak me out. I’m a pretty adventurous eater. I didn’t really get spotted very often, but I did learn that How I Met Your Mother was a pretty popular show there, which was news to me.
How important is it for you to be a role model for your daughters and play strong female characters?
I’ve been so blessed to play these women who are “strong.” I think it’s because of what their jobs are within the films. In this one, Turner is a major in the U.S. Army, and when I think about Maria Hill from being a part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel movies, they are very strong women. They have very important jobs. They make a lot of decisions in their jobs, which affect many people. But for me, since I am a mother, I feel like I know what it takes to raise kids these days and how strong you have to be for that. I respect women a lot for that,and I sometimes think that being a stay-at-home mom can be more challenging than having certainly my job and a lot of other jobs that are for “tough, strong women.” I think it takes a lot of energy and a lot of strength to get through the day sometimes when you are staying at home all day.
But I’m excited. I hope that my daughters, I hope that little girls see women that I portray and they see that as a possibility. We need more women in our military. They are very few and far between at the moment. They are becoming more of a part of the population there, but I think that there is always room for improvement there. And I think more than a strong female role model, I think it’s exciting to read a script these days and to go, “OK, that character could be male or female or any type of culture, any kind of diversity. Anybody could play that role.” Where before, it was a little bit more selective. I feel like there is just more opportunity now for all, which is exciting.