Women have been kicking a lot more ass on-screen lately—and it’s about time. Carrie Fisher and Robin Wright have gone from princesses to generals. Female action stars are, for lack of a better term, killing it. I was thrilled while watching Atomic Blonde, which stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, a lethal spy in Russia during the Cold War. Lorraine action heroes her way through Berlin to an impeccable '80s soundtrack. It's amazing not only to see this sexy, strong female spy do sexy, strong female spy things, but also to know Charlize does most of her own fighting.
Naturally, when I had the opportunity to train with the film's actual stunt coordinator, Sam Hargrave, and the director, David Leitch, I immediately cancelled all my plans for Saturday. (That’s a lie, I had no plans because I'm a homebody, but had I had plans I definitely would have abandoned them in favor of this.)
We live in a time of Lorrianes and Reys and General Organas—there aren’t enough praise hands emojis to accurately reflect my feelings about this, so I will spare you and instead tell you some cool things I learned.
Sam tells me that Charlize did 98% of her own fighting in the film. David adds that she trained for hours a day for the role—and her dedication made her able to adapt quickly to changes in the choreography, like when they changed one of the scenes from a simple poisoning to one with more action. To get a taste of what it was like, they—along with a few other stuntmen—taught me choreography for my very own fight scene. Here's what happened.
I wake up ready to go, with only a slight wine hangover from the previous night. Lorraine is not opposed to drinking in the movie and it was a Friday, so I told myself I was just getting into character. I curl my hair and do a smoky eye, because they're going to be recording this and I want to look badass. I also meticulously select my outfit, opting for workout leggings, tank and a sports bra from Varley—the pieces are black and have lots of mesh, obvious choices for Atomic Blonde-ing.
I roll up around 10:30am to an industrial-looking complex in the middle of nowhere (okay, it's in Inglewood, but it feels like the middle of nowhere). This is the famous 87Eleven Action Design, where Charlize trained for Atomic Blonde. I have a much less brutal call time than the stunt trainers, who inform me over lunch that they usually start at 5 or 6 in the morning and go until at least 1pm.
Inside, the gym looks like a place where you’d find lots of big, muscular men—which is, coincidentally, exactly what I find. It's very different from the sleek, boutique-y gyms that are in vogue these days, which I think is refreshing. It feels more real, more rough and tumble. We're not here to Instagram how cute we look in our leggings/crop-top combo, we're here to fight. The walls are lined with action movie posters. I already feel approximately eight times cooler than I actually am.
I'm introduced to the team who will be teaching the fight choreography: Cale Schultz, Daniel Bernhardt (who was in the film!), Stephen Dunlevy, Bruce Concepcion and Remi Bakkar.
Why am I such a dork?
Okay, because I know you're curious: If you think the prospect of getting up close and personal and pretend-beating-up muscled giants sounds uniquely thrilling, you're right. Moving on!
The first part of the choreography is a sequence where I get pushed up against a wall, head-butted, flipped over and onto my back, then have to pick up a case and hit my assailant with it in the leg and then the face. This is with Daniel, who flips me onto the practice mat gently and tells me to make sure to keep my chin tucked so I don't hurt my neck. Once I'm used to the routine, he flips me a bit harder but I have a feeling he's going a tad easy on me.
Next up: practice-hitting Cale (whose Instagram handle I later find out is @icecreamgiant—I'm screaming because that is amazing) in the head. For this practice portion, we use a boxing glove, but for the real version we get to use a sugar glass bottle. I'm told not to be afraid of hitting with a bit of force, because while sugar glass breaks pretty easily, you still need to make a bit of contact. I'm hyped, but when it comes time to deliver the blow, I stop mid-swing and end up just kind of tapping him with the boxing glove. TBH I'm impressed I was even able to reach his head, since I'm five-four and he's like eight feet tall. You can see part of this exchange below.
Then I move over to gun training with Bruce and Remi, where I learn how to "take out" two attackers. All I have to do is run out, pretend-shoot one attacker twice, flip around and pretend-shoot another attacker once, realize I'm out of ammo and drop it. The first time I throw down my rubber weapon in a very un-action-star type way and, of course, it bounces all the way off the stage where we're practicing. In my defense, the whole realizing my gun is out of ammo throws me because that's more acting than I'm expecting to have to do.
Last up is training with Stephen. I get to kick and flip him, but honestly he does most of the work when it comes to the flipping. (Flipping is an advanced movement and we don't have enough time to get my skills up to par.) But that doesn't matter because it looks cool, and next up we're going to run through the entire scene on a practice set. I'm very excited. Stephen tells me (nicely) that I'm at an 11 and I should tone it down when we film or I will look crazy. Surprisingly, this isn't the first time I've been told that. I steel my resolve and channel Lorraine.
Channeling my inner spy.
At the prospect of all this fighting, I have to know: How exactly does one come up with this stuff? David and Sam give me some insight into the making of a movie fight sequence.
"The moves come from the multiple styles we've trained, or the team has trained, so everyone is kind of giving ideas," David tells me. "Then there's inspiration in set pieces. You want to give your lead character a problem to solve, so you try to make it difficult for yourself. You do a fight scene with four Russians—that sounds great. Now, let's do it on a set of stairs. Now it's harder, and it's more interesting.”
"The action should always tell a story," adds Sam. "It's got to tell you something about the character or show you something about the character and move the story forward."
I'm worried that all the choreography together will be difficult for me to remember, but I think the fact that I used to take dance classes helps (just like Charlize, we're basically the same). And in the filmed sequence, we get to use that bottle made out of sugar glass I mentioned earlier. They give me sunglasses and a more realistic-looking (but still fake) gun. We run through the scene a few times, and then it's time to record. Even though I look like a goober in the clip, which you can see below, I feel exhilarated.
At least they all look cool.
So, yeah, needless to say I'm probably not going to be cast in any action movies anytime soon. I should probably stick to penning articles about how I'm prepping for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show like an Angel or the best workout clothes to buy this month. But I'll always have this video (and so will everyone, ever because I've foolishly put it on the internet).
Atomic Blonde is currently available for digital download. It will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and on demand November 14.