Q&A: Actress Sarah Shahi holds her own in 'Bullet to the Head'

Actress Sarah Shahi plays Sly Stallone's daughter in "Bullet to the Head."

In director Walter Hill's new action film Bullet to the Head, actress Sarah Shahi (Old School) plays Lisa Bobo, the daughter of Sylvester Stallone’s character Jimmy Bobo, a Washington D.C. detective who goes after the man (Jason Momoa) who killed his partner. During our interview, Shahi, 33, who can also be seen on the TV series Chicago Fire, talked about working with Stallone and how she avoided being portrayed as a damsel in distress during a fight scene in the movie.

What drew you to the character you play in Bullet to the Head?

I’m attracted to playing characters that have flaws. [Lisa] has an estranged relationship with her dad. I have that in real life. At that point, I would’ve paid them to let me have the part. I wanted to dive right in. I also thought it would be interesting to play a tattoo artist. No one had ever seen me do anything that aesthetically looked grimier than normal.

Yeah, you’re tattooed all over in this film. I’m guessing all of those were fake, right?

Yeah, that was four hours in makeup right there.

Do the tattoos mean anything?

No, they’re just something the makeup artist and I decided on together. We did a lot of research in tattoo mags and seeing what was popular. She’s a tattoo artist, so some of her ink is going to be old school and some of it newer. Then the rest came down to personal taste.

Is there a fake tattoo you were given that you liked the most?

There was an [Albert] Einstein quote I had on my stomach that I really liked. It said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

Shahi and actor Jason Mamoa

Talk about working with Sylvester Stallone and what he brings to the table as an action star at the age of 66. He doesn’t look like he’s ready to slow down at all.

No, he’s amazing. You would think somebody of his nature and stature would be intimidating, but he was the exact opposite. He was very giving and generous. He was full of wisdom. I just felt lucky to be sharing the same space as Rocky Balboa. Anytime he had any wisdom to share, I just wanted to soak it all up.

Were you familiar with some of director Walter Hill’s past work and did that play a part in your decision to be in the movie?

It did, absolutely. Between The Getaway, which he wrote, and 48 Hrs. and Deadwood, I was a huge fan of his. The goal as an actor is to constantly surround yourself with amazing artists who challenge you and make you grow.

Shahi and actor Sung Kang

Was this role physically demanding for you at all? Did you get to fight with the boys much?

No, not really. I didn’t have any stunts to do. My role was pretty cut and dry. The one choreographed fight scene that happens in my tattoo parlor, at first they didn’t want me to be a part of it. I pulled the stunt guy aside and was like, “Look, I’m Stallone’s daughter in the movie. You’re not going to tell me that I’m just going to sit there like a damsel in distress in the corner and watch Jason Momoa ransack my tattoo parlor. I’m going to try to defend myself.” He was like, “You’re right, you’re right.” So, he let me throw a couple of punches and break a beer bottle over [Jason's] head. During one take, I got a little too close to Jason and did jab him in the chin. Let me tell you, I’ve never heard a man whine more than Jason Mamoa getting knocked around by little ol’ me.

Were you able to handle all the testosterone I’m sure was on set with a cast that was mostly male?

Oh, yeah. I’m a tomboy myself and have always been incredibly athletic. I like guns. I loved it. Ever girl should be the envy of me on that set. I was the only girl surrounded by guys that nobody would kick out of bed.