In our April 2010 cover story on the cast and crew of the new Starz show Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Tim Wong, one of the show’s stunt coordinators and trainers, described the rigors of Gladiator Boot Camp - a grueling, month-long training protocol where actors and stuntmen spent close to four hours a day in the gym, five days a week. When they completed the camp, they came out more shredded than they’d ever been.
In our article, Wong chimed in at length on Gladiator Boot Camp, but our interview with him in Auckland, New Zealand, ran too long to fit all of his insightful comments into the article. So here are some web-exclusive outtakes from M&F writer Joe Wuebben’s one-on-one interview with the stunt coordinator and trainer.
M&&F: What were the overriding goals of Gladiator Boot Camp?
Wong: Being actors or stunt guys, or anyone that’s in front of the camera, they want to look their best, don’t they? They’re going to get seen by millions of people. And they were going to look good as a byproduct of the training, but we had to be aware that some people would want to look as good as possible in front of camera and try and maintain, or try to improve it as the show went on. The thing was, when people came to us, they came to us in various forms of conditioning.
Some guys had been doing a lot of training; for other guys, it was a complete culture shock - they had done none of that type of training we were about to throw them into. So we were trying to cater to everyone individually, but at the same time trying to achieve a common goal. Some guys came to us fairly lean, and it was about building muscle for them, whereas for other guys it was about trying to decrease bodyfat. I think everyone probably could stand to lose a little bit of bodyfat, but there was obviously some guys in much better shape than others. So for those other guys it was about trying to decrease bodyfat as well as increase muscle size.
M&&F: Did you find yourself trying to target any specific bodyparts in particular, like the abs or arms, to make them look good on camera?
Wong: No, I didn’t try to target one particular area more than any other. It’s just that with the type of training I was going to throw them into and that they ended up doing, as well as the restricted diets they were on, getting the abs, looking good decreasing bodyfat and that sort of thing was going to be a natural goal and byproduct of it.
M&&F: Is it safe to say that Gladiator Boot Camp was pretty much the same type of training that the actors of the movie 300 went through leading up to their filming?
Wong: I would say no, because from what I understand those guys didn’t look after the stunt side; they just looked after purely the physical side, or the aesthetic side, trying to get them functional. But we’re actually trying to teach [our actors and stunt crew] how to fight and to be safe and fall and roll and look good while they’re doing it while using a multitude of weapons. It’s okay to get a guy good with a sword, but when you’ve also got to put a shield in or a spear, and then some guys have tridents or axes, it’s just a whole new kind of skill set.
And then you’ve got guys that need to know how to not just throw a punch, but look good and know what they’re doing when throwing a punch, a kick, a knee or an elbow. And not just doing it, but also doing it safely, especially when they’re fighting each other. It’s one thing to throw an elbow, but it’s another thing to know when to pull it or when to not follow through on certain camera angles so you don’t actually hit your partner. I think in that aspect we’re a little different than what those guys did in 300.
M&F: Manu Bennett [who plays Crixus in the show and is the lone gladiator on the M&F cover] looks like he’s in phenomenal shape. What was it like to work with him?
Wong: Of all the actors, Manu came to us in the best shape. I think he’s got a long history of training and working out in the gym. If you’ve seen some of the other roles he’s played in other films, he gets hired because of his physicality - well, not just because of that, since he’s also a very good actor. He’s always in good shape. He’s trained for a long time now and I think he has the natural genetics for it. He rips up and he gets big very easily - well, I wouldn’t say easily. It’s hard work, but he does it more naturally than someone else.
He was training for another film in South Africa that I think fell through before he came to us, and he had been doing the basic lifting stuff you’d do in the gym, so he probably struggled with the high intensity stuff at first just like everyone else. But because he came to us in great physical shape already, our goal for him was just to hone the stunt side of it, though I think he got a little bit fitter as well from the boot camp.