With the power of editing and special effects, filmmakers can create a magical world where anything is possible. Those advances make these actors who learned tricks instead of using a body or stunt double even more impressive.
Which famous actor learned how to play the guitar for a single scene in her 2003 comedy? Which actor practiced throwing playing cards to the point where his arm went dead? How many months did Channing Tatum train for a six-minute tap dance number in Hail! Caesar?
These skills actors learned for movies prove that some things just can’t be faked. Find out which actors decided to put the work in and why it was so important to them.
- Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director James Gunn sang the praises of Australian actor Margot Robbie in his 2021 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "Like I’ve said before, she’s probably my favorite actor I’ve ever worked with," said Gunn. "She’s a fantastic actor, she’s a fantastic comedian, and she’s a fantastic athlete."
Robbie owns her supervillain character, Harley Quinn. The Oscar Award-nominated actor showed off her outstanding athletic ability during the prison escape scene in the 2021 sequel, The Suicide Squad.
Harley Quinn is handcuffed in chains and hanging in the air. But she is still able to eliminate her captors. Quinn then uses her feet to get the handcuff key off of one of the men she just took out. She then unlocks the cuffs. It all unfolds in one beautiful, easy motion that totally wowed Gunn.
"The main thing is that she was able to just instantly grab the key with her foot and then twist herself backwards to put the key in the lock from the one shot," said Gunn. "And I was like, 'Oh my God.' It’s a real bummer because of that thing in front of her face, but if you look closely, you can see it’s Margot."Impressive?
- 2Photo: Summit Entertainment
Rachel Weisz played heiress Penelope Stamp in Rian Johnson's 2008 caper-comedy, The Brothers Bloom. Penelope spent most of her childhood sequestered inside of a mansion due to her allergies (that she later found out she didn't even have). During her youth, Penelope mastered multiple hobbies. She studied several languages, played many different instruments, and even learned how to skateboard.
During one stylized montage, we see Penelope showing off her hobby mastery. Weisz had to learn how to make it look like she is doing everything herself.
"We had a two-week rehearsal period in which I had to learn to simulate to be able to play piano, banjo, guitar, juggle, skateboard - I’d never been on a skateboard in my life - Brody is a good skateboarder, so we were in the parking lot outside the place we were filming," revealed Weisz. "He was helping me to get my first little go on a skateboard. They’re actually really dangerous if you’d never been on one before."
There is also a clip where Weisz's character juggles chainsaws. "I had to learn to look like I could juggle and unicycle," said Weisz.
The card trick proved to be the most difficult hobby for Weisz to master. It took the actor one month to get it right. "I’d never even picked up a deck of cards. I mean, I played Snap! as a child, but I couldn’t do the shuffling."
Johnson could have used CGI for Weisz's elaborate card trick. However, the movie that is all about conning other people chose not to con the audience. "That was the whole point of the shot - to see that it was me. The mirror was to show that it could only be me there, but I guess with CGI now, people think… oh, that’s a shame. That was me," said Weisz.Impressive?
- Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
In 2003's comedy Freaky Friday, Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her wannabe rock star guitar-playing teen daughter, Anna (Lindsay Lohan), just don't see eye-to-eye. They magically switch bodies, and each has to learn how to live as the other.
At the end of the film, Anna (who is actually Tess) is on stage with her band. She pretends to play the guitar while Tess (Anna) is doing the actual strumming off stage.
Curtis took the time to learn how to play guitar for her role in the film. She is playing the actual notes for the song, including the shredding solo. “I’m not sure most 40-year-old women get to play a rippin’ guitar solo,” she said. “I didn’t end up playing it on the [soundtrack], but I could have if they had let me.”
Curtis's 15-year-old daughter gave her mother some advice on how to act more naturally. “Very early on, when she watched me do a rehearsal, she took me aside quietly afterward and said, ‘You know, Mom, you’re trying too hard,’” Curtis added. “She gave me permission to let go."Impressive?
- 4Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Achilles (Brad Pitt) and his enemy, Troy (Eric Bana), engage in a sword fight to the death in 2004's historical epic, Troy. The movie may not have impressed movie audiences, but Pitt and Bana's commitment to the back-breaking fight scene is a sight to behold.
They trained for six months to acquire the physique of Greek gods. Neither actor wanted to use a stunt double for the three-minute scene, which took six days to shoot. “We made a deal with each that we’re just going to go for it,” said Pitt.
The actors rehearsed the choreographed battle scene every day for several months. Pitt and Bana also engaged in a "gentlemen's agreement." While filming the epic duel, if one actor accidentally hit the other, there would be a fine. A smaller hit cost $50, a larger hit cost $100.
The Greek hero Achilles wins the battle in the film. However, in real life, Pitt paid Bana $750 for not being able to pull his punches.
Bana left the set with a small scar next to his nose. “I’ve got a little Brad Pitt scar here,” he said. “It’s called a full-fledged backhand fist to the face. Luckily for us, it was probably about 85 percent through that fight sequence because it does dull your confidence.”Impressive?