When Carla Gugino walks into a room, it takes all of 10 seconds to understand why she is successful.
There’s the long-standing career, the seamless transition from teenage star to Hollywood staple, the somewhat still-private life she’s managed to maintain, and the slam-dunk: the fact that she is noticeably personable and kind.
“I’m so sorry I’m late!” the 49-year-old, who is currently getting buzz for her role in Netflix’s Gunpowder Milkshake female-fueled action movie, says, as she’s approximately all of under 10 seconds late and simultaneously offering to order—and pay for—some iced coffee and treats for everyone on set.
Dressed in a cream peasant top, jean shorts, stacked necklaces, with hair pulled back and sans makeup, Gugino could easily pass for a 20-something walking down the unrelenting New York streets on this blistering hot and humid summer day (like a true pro and Florida native, she says the 92-degree temperature doesn’t bother her, but does offer to go as close to the air-conditioning as possible post-makeup in fear being outside might ruin the glam squad’s work)—but that’s not who she wants to be.
“The thing that comes to mind with this birthday is that I am halfway through my time on this planet, if I have a long life,” she shares with me later, on the eve of her 50th birthday. “That is a surreal thing to acknowledge—it’s also incredibly freeing.”
How is Gunpowder Milkshake different than any other projects you’ve done?
It was a special experience on several levels. The fact that we were shooting in Berlin allowed all of us to feel the freedom of being in another world and outside of our day to day lives. I think that sense of “other worldliness” seeped into the film. It also happened to be a group of actresses that were immediately respectful of each other, shared similar work ethics, and were down to play. A very fun combo. Additionally, I was tasked with a tomahawk fight sequence. Something I had never imagined doing before!
It looked like a very physical role.
I had about a week and a half prior to filming the fights scenes. Our stunt coordinators, Laurent and Sebastian, were a true joy to work with. The perfect balance of pushing you and making you feel like you could pull it off. It was the thick of a very hot summer in Berlin so there was a lot of sweat involved. There were a couple of days where I couldn’t lift my right arm after wailing with the tomahawk. But even that felt gratifying somehow.
The film was delayed a bit because of COVID. What was it like debuting something with a lot of buzz as the world opens back up?
This has been such a challenging time for the world as a whole. The fact that things are moving slowly in the right direction is heartening. Part of the magic of movies is their ability to allow us to escape into another world for a couple of hours. This movie certainly takes you into a heightened, visually lush, action packed alternate reality. Hopefully, it’s a fun and entertaining respite for people this summer.
You’ve had some really iconic roles; is there anything that sticks out to you beauty-wise from any of them?
I often discover key elements of the characters I play through makeup, hair and wardrobe fittings. I always ask myself, “Are they the kind of person who thinks about beauty or not?” Most “real” people have morning rituals, they repeat them every day and those rituals are important. So, I take some time to consider if this is the type of person who has a five-minute morning regime before walking out of the house—the woman who puts on her black eyeliner and some lip balm and that’s it.
For JETT, my fantastic makeup artist, Julie Hewitt, and I wanted a strong, but not precious smoky eye. We used Guerlain’s Kohl Powder Liner. It was the ticket for Jett’s signature eye.
Another example that comes to mind is when I was playing Ingrid Cortez in Spy Kids. We felt her hair should be red since her son, Juni, had this vibrant red hair and it probably didn’t come from Antonio Banderas! So, my makeup artist, Ermahn Ospina, whom I have collaborated with on many projects, set out to create the perfect red for Ingrid. The second we found it, I felt like her.
You’ll be 50 this summer. Is it something you think about?
Sweating the small stuff never benefits us, but the harm it does to our well-being becomes more apparent over time. I am much more interested in connecting with those I love and focusing on creating opportunities to do what I love more now than ever. I figure if I keep myself busy with that, there’s less time to worry!
You’ve had a steady career for years in Hollywood. How have you stayed centered?
The work itself centers me. That’s the saving grace. I also have a boyfriend who is very grounding and a family of friends, many of whom are also in this business, that I am so grateful to share this life with. Great friends always give me insight and inspiration.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
In a line, “You got this, kid.” I would also like to tell myself not to be afraid of an appetite for life. It’s what feeds you. And don’t let anyone make you smaller.
What did this past year teach you about yourself?
It definitely allowed me to embrace what it is to pause. To step off the train for a moment and see where the day takes me. Having started acting at 13, and supporting myself since then, I never really felt like I could do that. I stopped and smelled the roses, so to speak. That’s been silver lining of this time for sure. I also realized how much of my identity is identified with my work. So that’s been interesting to unpack as well.
What are you most excited about right now?
I’m excited for community and actual togetherness. I’m a people person. I miss hugs. And long dinner parties with friends. And movies and the theater. The shared experience. I hope for healing and generosity of spirit. For everyone. And I’m excited to embark on my next creative endeavor—whatever that may be.
I love Biologique Recherche products and have used them for years. Lait U cleanser and P50 V toner are my go-tos daily. I also love Joanna Vargas’ Daily Hydrating Cream. The smell is divine. For body lotion, Weleda’s Skin Food is a fave. I love Julie Hewitt’s lipsticks, too. They come in beautiful gold bullet-like containers and the pigments are fantastic. I’ve never found any blush that beats NARS Orgasm blush. Suntegrity Impeccable Skin Tinted Sunscreen Moisturizer is perfect for evening skin tone, protecting from the sun and moisturizing every day. If I’m going to splurge on the most decadent bath, I go for Nature of Things Restorative Floral Bath.