Who tried it: Kara Warner, PEOPLE magazine staff writer
Why we tried it: Who doesn’t want to look/be like Charlize Theron? Especially the cool-as-a-cucumber, insanely fit and oh-so-chic super agent Theron plays in Atomic Blonde (out now on DVD/Blu-ray). When the opportunity arose to learn some of the fight choreography inspired by the David Leitch-directed action thriller, in which Theron kicks major ass as undercover MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton sent on a deadly mission to investigate a murder and recover a missing list of double agents, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve always been obsessed with the athleticism on display and involved in movie action sequences; plus, I would be working with several of the stunt professionals who worked with Theron in the film — including stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, aka Chris Evans’s stunt double for Captain America and The Avengers. A win-win scenario in my mind.
Level of difficulty: 5/10 (mainly because this activity was way more fun than it is difficult)
My amateur movie assassin training began on a sunny Saturday morning in Los Angeles, at 87eleven Action Design — a semi-hidden, state-of-the-art facility for all types of stunt training, and where Theron herself spent a lot of time preparing for her action scenes in Blonde. (87eleven is also where Keanu Reeves trained for John Wick and John Wick: Chapter Two and where Chris Hemsworth learned to throw axes for The Huntsman: Winter’s War.) The first part of the session involved meeting and watching the stunt team/instructors perform the sequence I’d be learning. They then broke down the sequence into five sections: 1) how to hold and pretend-fire a prop gun, 2) A kick and punch into an Aikido-style throw, 3) learning to take a fake choke hold and body throw, 4) swinging a fake briefcase into a would-be assailant’s face 5) smashing a prop bottle over a would-be assailant’s head.
Breaking down the sequence into those five sections made it much easier to comprehend and pick up, kind of like how you would learn a dance step or a five-part combination in a kickboxing or aerobics class. Each stunt performer worked with me individually to teach the moves in question and also to figure out where I might throw a punch or kick so they would be ready for me when we did the sequence in full. In the photo below I am practicing the briefcase-smash, where I swung a prop case made of soft-ish foam rubber at the very talented Daniel Bernhardt (in Atomic Blonde he plays the tall blonde baddie who gets keys “stuck” in his face during an insane fight with Theron’s character):
One of the best parts of this entire experience was in working with the stunt team. Not only are they all in crazy-good shape and very patient teachers, but they make you look good, no matter how far off your mark you may be, or if you’re wielding a prop gun in the wrong direction. They always make sure they are in sync with you every step of the way so the actor, or in this case an amateur like me, looks like a professional. Yes, it’s technically their job to do so, but it’s especially fascinating and impressive to see in person and makes me appreciate the complexities of action sequences. To wit, here I am (in a prop wig) after fake shooting stunt pro Bruce Concepcion, whose great jump-fall makes me look like an elite sniper:
After about 20 minutes of learning and practicing all five parts of the sequence with the stunt team, it was time to put it all together and go through the moves at full-speed, in one fluid take — including breaking the fake glass bottle over Bernhardt’s head. The most nerve-wracking aspect here was getting all of the moves right, in proper order, and then smashing a glass bottle over a live person’s head. During rehearsal we used a boxing glove as a place-holder for the glass bottle, but for the “real” take I would be given one bottle to break. Eek! The prop bottles are super lightweight and made from candy glass, as it turns out, so you actually have to be careful not to squeeze it too hard when you grab it or it would break pre-head smash. You can see the final result in the video above, but I’m happy I remembered everything and smashed the prop bottle as instructed.
Verdict: This Atomic Blonde stunt training is, by far, one of THE best things I’ve ever been able to do — both as part of my job and in life. Seriously! I already had a healthy amount of respect for stunt performers and the amount of work that goes into action scenes but I am now blown away by how much work stunt men and women put into every punch, kick and fall. Not to mention the fact that it is a pretty great workout learning and then doing the fight choreography. I wish they would let me come learn more fight sequences every Saturday. Huge thanks to the team above who made it happen: Remi Bakkar, Daniel Bernhardt, Cale Schultz, Stephen Dunlevy, Bruce Concepcion and Sam Hargrave.
Atomic Blonde is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital.