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Incredible Things Actors Learned How To Do For A Role

November 24, 2020 1.3k votes 157 voters 5.6k views14 items

List RulesVote up the skills that can come in handy offscreen.

People who think acting is only about, well, acting, might be surprised to learn all the wild and intense skills actors had to learn to convincingly portray their characters. For example, if you're going to portray a famous football player, you need to learn how to toss a pigskin. Or, if you're going to be a famous assassin, your first day on set probably shouldn't be your first time holding a pistol. 

Acting may occasionally lead to a glamorous life of red carpets and after-parties, but a lot of the best actors earned their roles by seriously putting in the work. Many actors describe intense multi-month training sessions where they have to put in eight-hour days cramming to master whatever skill they need for the role. But if it all works out, you get to be in a Hollywood movie and learn how to throw knives or play the piano. That's a win-win. 

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  • The Bride from Kill Bill is one of the best fighters in all of cinema, so to convincingly play the part, Uma Thurman had a lot of work to do. As described by costar Vivica Fox, the actresses had to train eight hours a day for three months. She described the training as being so intense that they'd be in trouble if they were even one minute late. Fox also told of weekly check-ins by Tarantino, where he was often unhappy with their progress and would call them "lazy." 

    Thurman described the training for the movie as "absurd" and said she learned "three styles of kung fu, two styles of sword fighting, knife throwing, knife fighting, hand-to-hand combat, and Japanese speaking." Basically, don't mess with Uma Thurman. 

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  • Point Break is a film with a lot of surfing, so the actors all had their work cut out for them. Just like how Keanu Reeves's character learns how to surf in the film, Reeves had to learn in real life.

    Luckily for him, he had the self-proclaimed "surf doctor of Hollywood," Dennis Jarvis, to teach him. Together with Patrick Swayze and Lori Petty, they spent two months learning how to surf. Even though Swayze and Petty had to train harder because their characters in the film were supposed to be experts while Reeves was a novice, it was Reeves who really took to the sport. He apparently liked it so much that he had Jarvis make him a custom board so he could keep catching waves after filming was over. 

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  • In The Walk, Joseph Gordon-Levitt played a tightrope walker named Philippe Petit, who successfully walked on a tightrope between the twin towers in New York City in 1974. To pull off the performance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt spent time training with Petit himself. Gordon-Levitt described Petit as "such a positive thinker," and that working with him really helped because "when someone believes you can do something, then you yourself believe you can do it."

    Gordon-Levitt said that the wire walking "became easy" for him. He went on to say that he became skilled enough that he could walk across a wire 2 feet off the ground with absolutely no problem - though when the wire was moved to 12 feet off the ground, he began to freeze up. 

    Gordon-Levitt went above and beyond for this performance, and because Petit was skilled in other forms of clown acts, he learned how to ride a unicycle and walk across a room on his hands. 

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  • Photo: Neon

    Margot Robbie is best known for being a great actress, but after I, Tonya, she's apparently a pretty good ice skater, too. In the film, Robbie stars as Tonya Harding, an Olympian ice skater. That means Robbie didn't just have to look like an average ice skater - she had to train hard enough that she could pass for an Olympian. That's no easy feat to pull off in a matter of months. 

    Before filming began, Robbie spent three months practicing skating with the film's choreographer, Sarah Kawahara. Kawahara was nothing but complimentary about Robbie's skill as a skater, saying that she was "a natural" and had a "great work ethic." While stunt doubles did the really advanced skating, Kawahara said that Robbie performed the first minute of Harding's actual 1994 Olympic routine, which is honestly nuts.

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