Q. You seem to be living your life so purposefully these days, committing yourself to solid plans, for your health, your family, and your love. Has something changed in your look?
I had a huge, life-changing moment in 2017 in India during a four-hour group meditation with a shaman on a beach. I saw his aura and the shaman told me that I would see things more clearly in the future and that I should react and act. And he was right. When I got back to LA, one of the first things I did was fire my agent, who kept telling me the same things over and over. But now I saw it differently. I said no. I no longer belong here. The very first project given to me by my new agent was Bruised. And this project, in turn, on so many levels, changed my life. It gave me power. Sometimes we know something or see something or feel something, and we talk ourselves out of it. I don’t do that anymore. There’s also a ton of personal things that I suddenly saw clearly and thought, No!
This is how I live today. All the goodness I have in my life now is due to that time in India, because I started taking control of my life in a different way.
Q. How did you come to both direct and perform in Bruised?
Directors I respected said to me, “For your directorial debut, make it something you love and know. From the moment I read the script, it became part of me. I couldn’t wait to say it.
And that story was a world I knew – domestic violence, for one thing. Not only did I work with a shelter for 25 years, but that’s how I grew up as a young child, with an alcoholic and abusive father. As a child, I saw my mother being beaten up and I know the horror and helplessness that a child feels. I remember my mother feeling humiliated by what her children had witnessed. I’m sure parts of what’s in my subconscious and in my memory, even these decades later, came out through me in this movie. While some people might look at it and think, It’s hard, it seemed normal to me, that’s how I knew it was true. And I knew I had to come to the truth and not be afraid to put that light in those dark places because so many people are suffering from domestic violence.
Q. How do you view your own mother now, after your early childhood was marked by abuse and violence?
My mother is one of the strongest women I know. My mom is white, my dad was black, and in the 60s and early 70s she was raising two little black kids after my dad left and she was a single, single mom. Parts of his family disowned him. The dark side of our family wanted nothing to do with her. I saw her struggle, be strong, face adversity, persevere, never give up, keep going. Sometimes it’s not what she said but what she did, and I know that’s where my perseverance comes from.
And I know as a mother myself that I can tell my kids anything, but they watch what I do, and that’s what they remember. And, yes, you also realize that our parents weren’t perfect, that they made mistakes along the way. And then, as we get older, because we become parents and we start making mistakes, we start to have grace for them. And we realize they did the best they could at the time.
Q. What about all these physically demanding roles — in X-Men, John Wick, now Bruised — which seems to take it to a whole new level?
Kicking, punching and pushing myself to my limits has always been a great and healthy release. Like men, women have a lot of pent up anger, anxiety and sadness. I needed a healthy way to flush this stuff out of my body. Sweating and training are my fuel. I’m also addicted to those feel-good endorphins. Sometimes you have to hit a few s—! [She laughs.]
Playing Jackie Justice was intimidating. How could I make people believe that I am a world class fighter? I wanted to be as realistic as possible, and it wasn’t easy. I love sports and was a gymnast when I was a child. But I had to put in all the work, all the hours, all the training. I never felt like I had enough – I was always looking for an extra half hour to learn something new. I also wanted to do the sport justice. I wanted to be the other half of a really good fight. Valentina Shevchenko [who plays the opponent in the final fight in Bruised] is a beast. She really is the reigning champion of MMA. I must have looked formidable in front of her.
I broke two ribs pulling the big fight you see at the end of the movie. We shot really early, so I had to use my stuntman for one of the other fight scenes. But for the most part, that was all me.