In The Woman King (out today), it's clear that the actors portraying the Agojie — the all-female army protecting the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 19th century — trained hard to perform their epic battle scenes: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim are ripped, strong, and beyond fierce as warriors in the Gina Prince-Bythewood-directed film.
And, according to their fight and stunt coordinator Danny Hernandez, the women were a little better at managing pain (surprise, surprise) than their male counterparts on other action films. "To be honest, for little injuries or being tired and sore, I've had male casts [be] like 'I don't want to go to rehearsal' the next day or whatever, says Hernandez, who has trained actors in Avengers: Endgame, Creed 2, John Wick and The Gray Man. "But the dedication and the inner strength of holding pain…I felt that definitely with this cast of women, it was top notch."
Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures
Hernandez didn't call out any of his male stars — which include Chris Evans, Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Gosling — for being manbabies, but says of The Woman King women: "I've done a lot of films. I've never worked with a cast that worked this hard. To have all these women not miss a beat, not miss a training session, giving 100 percent on all counts, getting the bump or bruise. They get hit accidentally or get hit in the head with the rubber sword, or they could accidentally kick each other, and they get up like, 'Oh it's cool, let's do it again. I'm fine.'"
Their nutritionist-trainer Gabriela Mclain isn't surprised by the women's grit. "They all did their own stunts," says Mclain, who, at the peak of training, put Davis, Mbedu, Lynch and Atim through five-hour daily workouts: a combination of running, strength training, and martial arts. "It wasn't just transforming their bodies, but it was also them pretty much gaining those skills, too. They have to become warriors to be able to do that."
Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures Viola Davis wages war against European colonialism in 'The Woman King'
Her method? "I did DNA testing on all my girls," she says. "We are unique, all of us, and whatever works for me may not work for you. I did find out that Viola is very prone to tendon and ligament injuries. So I have to be very careful. She needs to stretch, she needs the warm up, she needs recovery, she needs physical therapy between. All these things are super important or otherwise, we will injure her."
The testing also helped Mclain formulate an appropriate nutritional plan for the women. "There was a certain similar structure to all of [their meals]," she says. "Some of them don't need chicken, some of them want more fish, or some of them want steak. I would design it specifically for each of them so everybody's happy, because when you're starving or food doesn't taste good or is not satisfying, you just get crabby and cranky, and we don't want that."
Though getting hangry would probably be good fodder for those fight scenes.
The Woman King is in theaters today.