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Mutual Passion for Morrissey Creates Instant Chemistry on 'Sucker Punch' Set

From left: Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish and Zack Snyder on the set of Sucker Punch, which opens Friday.

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 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 screen.”
 
And not just any tune. When Snyder, who in 1992 directed a music video for Morrissey, the lugubrious ex-frontman for The Smiths, told Browning he’d acquired the rights to “Asleep,” from the band’s 1987 hits 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,” the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies. Still, acting remains her first love. In the movie, opening Friday, 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 of freedom and triumph. One minute she’s the main attraction at an upscale brothel, dancing her way into the hearts of men she hopes to destroy; the next, she’s a fearless warrior, battling the demons out to break 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. But the battle scenes are about the girls not allowing themselves to be objects anymore and finding their inner strength.”
 
Snyder, 45, agrees, adding that Browning is the only actress he can imagine playing his strong-willed heroine. “Babydoll symbolizes that transition between thinking like a child and thinking like an adult, when your perception of the world changes,” he says.

“She is a warrior, both delicate and strong at the same moment, and Emily really personified everything I had envisioned about Babydoll. She has this mystic, timeless, almost unquantifiable look and completely brought the character to life for me.”