Actors Talk About What Learning To Use Weapons Was Really Like

List Rules
Vote up the training stories that make you appreciate the films even more.

Sure, we can list oodles of action movies where actors look like they really know how to handle their weapons. But what went into the actors' training process? What was the thinking that informed their choices, and who guided them to move as if they were seasoned professionals?

It will shock probably no one to discover that stars like Linda Hamilton, Keanu Reeves, and Mark Hamill trained for months upon months to nail the expert, lethal skill sets of their various iconic action roles. What could stun you, though, is how little time one star actually spent training to kick butt and take names before cameras rolled...

Vote for your favorite behind-the-scenes weapons training anecdotes from the list below!


  • Keanu Reeves Practiced Like A Maniac To Improve His Gunplay For 'John Wick: Chapter 2'
    Photo: Lionsgate

    To dig into the convincing lethality of un-retired assassin John Wick for John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), star Keanu Reeves underwent several months of training under the tutelage of a high-level marksman, per an AP interview. The article notes that Reeves also used live rounds during his training for many of those months. Reeves's commitment to ensuring that his gun manipulation was pro-grade appears to have been fairly devout.

    A lot of that involved getting in his reps, as one would a workout regimen:

    Basically, just take the gun home, start walking around, practice spying rooms, practice your draws... And with John Wick, it’s practice your reloads, transitions from weapon to weapon, footwork, and then kind of coming up with the John Wick style.

    1,079 votes
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) star Linda Hamilton was obsessed with ensuring that she would appear as single-minded and locked-and-loaded as her signature character, Sarah Connor, actually would be knowing that a machine-led rebellion against humanity, called Judgment Day, is close at hand.

    According to Entertainment Weekly, the then-34-year-old Hamilton trained soon after giving birth to her first child, bulking up under the tutelage of personal trainer Anthony Cortes for 13 weeks ahead of shooting. Hamilton was able to pump-load a 12-gauge shotgun with one arm. They trained for six three-hour days a week, typically in the garage of Hamilton's Santa Monica house.

    When it came to her weapons training, Israeli commando Uzi Gal prepped her using "heavy-duty military training," as Hamilton told EW. She related:

    I learned to load clips, change mags, check out a room upon entry, verify kills. It was very vicious stuff. And it was sheer hell.

    712 votes
  • Training to play sharpshooter Hawkeye taught actor Jeremy Renner the difference between actual high-level archery and cinematic archery. While onstage at the first Silicon Valley edition of Comic-Con in 2016, Renner discussed how training with Olympic-level archers proved to be almost an impediment to his performance, per Business Insider:

    Real archery is not superhero Hawkeye archery. So [the training] kind of helped, but it kind of got in the way, as well. I did train to shoot arrows.

    Renner's training continues to this day for his ongoing Disney+ series Hawkeye. He has no reservations about using unorthodox training gear, as he made clear when he shared a video of himself training with a child's bow-and-arrow toy at home via his personal Instagram.

     

    948 votes
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    708 VOTES

    Cary Elwes And Mandy Patinkin Had To Learn To Swordfight With Each Hand For 'The Princess Bride'

    To depict what was described in the excellent The Princess Bride (1987) screenplay by two-time Oscar winner William Goldman as “the second greatest sword fight ever,” stars Mandy Patinkin (portraying freelance swordsman Inigo Montoya) and Cary Elwes (farm boy Westley, who became the Dread Pirate Roberts) trained for several months. Per Vanity Fair, Elwes trained for four months... and Patinkin trained for six! The duo get into this epic battle on the Cliffs of Insanity after Westley's beloved Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) is abducted by Montoya, brute Fezzik (André the Giant), and mastermind Vizzini (Wallace Shawn).

    Elwes spoke more about the fight on BUILD Series:

    When I got the script and it said, "Greatest sword fight of all time..." Rob Reiner [the director] said, "Don't worry, I got you guys the greatest trainers ever." Their names were Bob Anderson and Peter Diamond... These guys did all the lightsaber sequences for the first three Star Wars films, so they were no slouches.

    I remember I got cocky one day with Peter. He's like, "You want to disarm?" I'm like, "Yeah I can do it." And literally as I went, "I can do it," he disarmed me - I couldn't see it coming.

    708 votes
  • Ahead of production for Steven Spielberg's war epic Saving Private Ryan (1998), the director wanted to put his actors through their paces, and ensure that the way they handled their weapons and comported themselves seemed convincing. To that end, the primary cast enlisted in a "boot camp" under the tutelage of military advisor and former US Marine Corps Captain Dale Dye, who explained the process later:

    It’s all been turned into housing now, but at the time, it had a huge back lot and very dense woods, so we went back there a kilometer or two and established an area where we could bivouac... They did physical training hard every day, and I ran them through the same sort of syllabus that would have been given to basic infantrymen back in 1943/4. Because I had to compress all of that into three or four days, they worked day and night... There was some grumbling and "[Maybe] we ought to walk away, we’ve had enough."

    Jeremy Davies, who portrays the cowardly soldier Corporal Upham, indicated that his willingness to partake in the boot camp changed after actually experiencing it. 

    On paper, it sounds fantastic, but when you’re out there, I found plenty of arguments against it.

    The cast almost staged a revolt three days into training, but ultimately opted to not quit. And ultimately, it sure seems like the training worked. They're never less than convincing on-screen.

    668 votes
  • In Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), avenging assassin Beatrix "the Bride" Kiddo (Uma Thurman) faces off against former coworker Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), just one of the many former members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad with which she has a rightful grievance. Their battle includes a lot of household furniture, and eventually some lethal kitchen cutlery.

    Thurman reflected on just how much she trained to bring "the Bride" to life in an IGN interview:

    They trained me five days a week for three months from nine in the morning until five o'clock at night, and we were not to be late, and I never got to leave early. So, just surviving that was really empowering. I'm the last person that would've thought that I would be ever asked to be so tough.

    That scene [fighting Vivica] actually went remarkably quickly. We did that scene when we got back to Los Angeles after I'd been in China for four months. I shot the entire House of Blue Leaves sequence before that, so for me, it was just like, "Hey, this is no problem."

    Vivica A. Fox shed some light on the extent of her martial arts training, along with the rest of the cast, in an IndieWire chat years later:

    For three months, Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, and I spent eight hours a day studying martial arts at a gym they put together in Culver City... It was nine to five, Monday through Friday. If you didn’t walk in the door between 8:55 and 8:59, you were in trouble at 9:01. I thought I was in the damn Olympics or something.

    Fox discussed their bout again in 2020:

    Oh my God, I trained for six months... I literally went from a size 8 to a size 2. It was intense and grueling, but I loved every single bump and bruise... I’ll never forget the fourth and final day of filming the fight - I counted 30 bruises on my body, and I was proud of every single one of them. I earned them.

    471 votes