The directors of “The Bear”, “Rings of Power” on training actors as experts
Actors must be experts in the art of acting – conveying emotions and information to the audience through their voice, body language, and other subtle means.
But this awards season spotlights shows that call on actors to become experts in cooking, baking, swordfighting, archery and other skills in order to sell their characters to audiences.
Chopping, stewing, and frying might seem like basic kitchen chores that most adults can handle, and, peeling the fun question, reaching adulthood usually means being able to feed yourself more than a frozen dinner. For the actors of the FX series “The Bear”, the training of Canadian chef Matty Matheson meant much more.
Matheson, who is credited as a cast member and co-producer on the show, says it comes down to movement. Restaurant chefs are constantly on the go as they check the various stages of the cooking process, knowing that someone could hit them with a hot pot or a sharp knife at any time.
Chefs have the ability to “float in the kitchen…to witness it all, to taste it all, to touch it all,” says Matheson.
Thus, a key part of training the actors of “The Bear” was to choreograph their movements while walking through the kitchen and to plan the particular moment for each action, from touching a specific pan to using a napkin passing through parsley examination.
“All of a sudden you have six to eight different types of pivots and moves and the way you do it and your professional appearance is you do it fast,” he says.
In the vein of pundits around the world who resent the complexity of their own work, Matheson says it’s “a fun thing to say” to train actors to walk around a kitchen when it seems so basic.
Sometimes Matheson would ask the actors to watch how he walked around the restaurant kitchen, then let them chart their own course. With everyone moving, the kitchen ballet takes shape.
“We can’t cross paths,” Matheson warned the cast, because safety is paramount in a restaurant lest you cut your fingers or burn yourself on the stove, drop dishes or food, which also creates a safety hazard. “Your goal is to move. Not perfectly, but with purpose and understanding. And the determination that you’re not going to interfere with other people doing their jobs.
Of course, the actors will also bring their characters’ quirks and stories to the kitchen choreography. They have to run it “the way [their character] would move,” says Matheson, because the group of actions may be the same for professional chefs, but not the nuances that individuals bring.
“You give them the instructions and then they gain their own speed, they gain their own confidence,” he adds.
Matheson worked with multiple departments, including set decoration and props, to ensure that the actors would always have ingredients on hand in the kitchen for any food preparation action they might want to take on in a scene where it is not otherwise scripted. The goal was to give the actors enough confidence in their own abilities to achieve something in the moment and work towards a realistic contribution from the restaurant.
“If a camera breaks down,” Matheson explains, “they actually make something that’s on the Beef menu.”
Working in an array of departments is quite common, especially when it comes to specialized acts like cooking in the kitchen on “The Bear” or extremely physical businesses on “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.” of Amazon Prime Video.
Action unit director Vic Armstrong, listed in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ as the world’s most prolific stuntman, works with nearly every department in the series to pull off the action: design production, construction, special effects and costume design, among others. While it might be intuitive to imagine that costumes need to be tailored to hide padding, there’s more to it.
“The moment you get into a combat stance with a coat on, you bend your knees, so the clothes then become 6 or 8 inches too long and you step on them,” Armstrong explains.
While there are individual fights to plan, episode six’s epic battle involving humans, elves, and orcs, who wield swords, bows and arrows, torches, and all sorts of dagger tools. medieval appearance, obviously requires a lot of planning and practice. But, when it comes to choosing a scene that took more effort than the audience realizes, Armstrong takes a moment to think — “Wow, that’s hard,” he says.
It settles on a sequence from the Prologue with Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) scaling a giant ice wall, which was actually created on the studio backlot.
“It’s fiberglass, but it’s all colored, so it looks like a blue ice effect through a lot of it,” Armstrong says.
The form is covered in fake snow, while additional fake snow also falls on it. It’s sprayed regularly with water to keep it looking vibrant and shiny, but the team must also work to eliminate potential hotspots for lighting. Armstrong had to figure out where to place the sculpted, but hidden hand and foot holds, and the loose ice chunks strategically placed and timed to make it look like Galadriel is climbing an isolated mountain covered in ice.
After all that, none of this would work without positioning the camera correctly. With the effects of wind and rain coming down, they can’t shoot up from the bottom, and trying to look down from the top doesn’t work because the camera frame is too heavy. In the end, they used a giant crane to put the camera in place.
Despite all the time and planning that went into it, the few seconds of the footage onscreen feel like a blip in the narrative.
The actors underwent extensive training based on scripted actions like sword fighting and the correct use of a bow and arrow, usually in a one-on-one format.
“We fit it into their schedule, which might not be the same as the other people on the show,” says Armstrong. “They can be busy for a week and then they have a week off with free time.”
Living together during COVID in what Armstrong calls a commune-like setting provided an added benefit that “social time was really dominated by workload. They all knew they were there for a reason and wanted to do it right.
A scene from the second episode challenged Clark – and Armstrong – with a water sequence.
The tank available was not large enough to present the desired 60-70 foot depth when Galadriel falls into the ocean. Armstrong deduced a way to pull Clark horizontally across a pool by wires while she was underwater for 10–15 minutes at a time at a temperature Armstrong calls, at best, “only slightly warm”. Too hot and there will be steam, which will spoil the look of the scene.
It’s easy to imagine the actors might get overconfident with their new skills.
“That’s the secret,” Armstrong said. “It encourages them without them getting too carried away thinking they’re Superman.”
It’s a bit of a weird challenge: asking the actors to behave like experts in a variety of situations, while understanding that there’s no substitute for time and experience when it comes to acting. real expertise. For this, the productions have Armstrong and Matheson to come to their rescue.