THE LAST LEGION
The Fight Scenes
It was important for Lefler to have a seamless transition from dramatic scenes to action scenes. "I think it's a big mistake to think that action scenes are somehow radically different from other scenes," he explains. "There are a lot of films where the character development is one element of the story and the action is another. And I think that's a mistake. You find out who people are in action. When you have a desperate situation, you find out who's actually brave, who's actually responsible, who falls apart, who becomes the leader in an extreme situation. You don't want to stop the character development to have an action scene and then go back to character development. So, I think of action dramatically, the same way I would think of any other part of the script."
Firth adds: "It's not about digital battles and special effects with huge numbers of extras. I think a battle can only work if you are rooting for someone. You're only going to root for someone if you care about that person, so you have to have known them through the course of the story."
To this end, Lefler was keen that each character had his own fighting style. "Sir Ben as Ambrosinus fights with a staff in an unconventional way," he says. "Mira, is perhaps the best swordsman of the group. She tended to be all about grace and fluidity and speed. Rupert Friend plays Demetrius, who's the show-off—he's very flashy, he's young and brash. They all have their own styles and were all a reflection of who they are and what their place is in the story. Initially we thought that the main attribute of Nonzo Anozie, who plays Batiatus, would be strength, but when we started working with him we saw how light on his feet he was, so we played on that. We've tried to let the actors' own personalities come through in these characters."
Lefler took the slightly unusual step of drawing up storyboards for all of the action scenes before starting to work with the stunt and fight coordinators. "I gave them my ideas first which they then took to the next level. A lot of the sequences were designed very thoroughly before we got anybody else involved. Sword Master Richard Ryan and Steve Griffin our Stunt Coordinator, have done a great job of taking what I gave them and making them work in a practical way. When you sit down at your drawing board and you sketch up an idea, you don't always know if it's physically possible. It's always wonderful when you see something come to life and it actually works."
Sword Master Richard Ryan elaborates: "The challenge was having four characters using essentially the same weapons, but fighting distinctly from each other. We gave Vatrenus a small shield that he fought with. For Aurelius, we wanted to show that he was a tactical fighter and only fought if he had to. We gave Byzantine warrior Mira an inverted grip of the sword, which was consistent with the world she would have come from. While Demetrius, who's a younger more impulsive character has two swords to give him a slightly quicker style for the quicksilver character that he is."
A lot of work was put into training the actors to a high standard for the fight scenes so that the scenes look spontaneous and not choreographed. Stunt doubles were used to choreograph the fights and to teach them to the actors, but the actors learned the fights with gusto and performed them themselves. Says Ryan: "The preparation is important to get the performers to a level where they can fully commit to a fight with any necessary aggression that's needed, but have enough control that they're not really going to be hitting each other. They know how to cut the sword up or re-direct the energy so that they can play the fight."
To learn the method takes some training. About two months before filming began Colin Firth started learning the basics—how to hold the sword, how it worked for this particular period - and discussed
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