Things have changed in the action film world, to the extent that these types of movies equal a bodybuilding extravaganza for the actors involved. Take, for example, the Blade trilogy (1, 2 and 3) where in the last DVD “Blade Trinity,” special features, the actors all talk about the inordinate amount of time spent weight training.
Actions films by the very definition of the genre include a lot of action sequences; car chases, shoot outs, heavy-duty fight scenes, et al. More emphasis is now place on action heroes looking more like professional athletes. As mentioned in the special features on the final Blade film, “more actors want to do a lot of their own stunts.”
This move toward shrugging off stunt performers who specialize in making the less athletic, or age challenged, actor is relatively new. Certainly the more “jock-like” actors have always wanted to do as many of their own stunts as possible, but now everyone wants to get into the act.
The “making of” documentaries on the third DVD point out this trend and watching films since the trilogy ended it appears that whether the movies are action oriented or not actors want to do more of their own stunts. This move seems to have broken the stunt world into three camps.
These seem to be: Coordinators, professionals who do the real risky stunts (like being set on fire) and standby performers (in case the actor cannot do the gig because of physical limitations or insurance, or “bottles it.”) *Losing one’s bottle, or “bottles it” and all the various iterations of this phrase equals Brit Speak for chickening out.*
A lot of actors specialize in action features because they are athletic or former athletes. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the perfect example of a sports figure (we won’t go into the debate of WWE being mostly staged, these guys and gals are athletes…period.) who is forging a new career playing roles that are action heavy and he does a lot of his own stunts. Not only that, but Johnson’s acting is very impressive on top of his physical attributes.
But what about actors who aren’t natural athletes or, as stated above, limited by age?
With action films putting a lot more emphasis in actors at least looking like they could perform their own stunts, bodybuilding is the order of the day. This visual believability is crucial if the audience is to suspend their disbelief enough to buy the screen action equaling reality.
Gone are the days when attitude alone made a character deadly in terms of combat. Take for example, the television show “The Equalizer.” The late Edward Woodward, that brilliant actor from across the pond, played Robert McCall aka the Equalizer. McCall was an ex government agent of some sort, an assassin type, who hires himself out as a private detective. He is there to help the “little guy” who needs someone to fight the bullies.
Woodward as McCall didn’t need to look like “The Rock” or Arnold Schwarzenegger to convince the audience he was deadly or tough. His acting skills and the character’s psychological makeup did that. McCall used guns to take out the villains, along with some physical action, and this did not require him to look like a bodybuilder or professional athlete.
Fast forward quite a number of years and Denzel Washington played Robert McCall as a very athletic and martial arts type of ex government killer. Guns were used very little as his McCall used a lot of “The Book of Eli” moves in his version of “The Equalizer.”
The character of McCall becomes less about shooting and more about being creative in dealing out death with something other than bullets. He was also more physical, in keeping with the new millennium’s perception of age; people are lot more active in their “twilight years” now than in the 1980s. Being in one’s late 50s or early 60s “back in the day” meant more reliance on walking frames, canes and a general lack of energy. In 2015 the retired generation have much more get up and go as well as being in better shape physically.
At least in the acting world, fitness is being stressed in terms of time spent in the gym prior to filming. Physical training, fight training and so on all take place in the run up to shooting and throughout the production. “Making of” documentaries on DVD’s feature a lot of “normal” actors talking about “beefing up” and getting “ripped” for a feature film.
It may well be that the action film equaling bodybuilding for its participants is now the norm. Certain actors, like “Resident Evil” star Milla Jovovich, have discovered that they enjoy the more physical aspects of doing stunts and, more importantly, are very good at it. The real dangerous gigs are still done by professionals, but the emphasis on the actor’s looking fit makes it easier for the viewer to believe in the action onscreen.
7 February 2015