‘Obliterated’ Stars Talk Stunt Training and the “Meta” Chaos of Filming in Las Vegas

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Netflix’s newest action comedy, Obliterated, from the Cobra Kai creating trio of Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald and Hayden Schlossberg, co-stars Nick Zano, Shelley Hennig and Terrence Terrell as part of an elite special forces team who wake up with a massive hangover and are tasked with saving Las Vegas from a nuclear threat.

In conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, the trio (separately; their answers are combined) reveal what it was like behind the scenes of the thrill-ride adventure series, withstanding Navy SEAL training in the sweltering 120-degree Albuquerque heat, doing their own high-octane stunts, and how filming on the Las Vegas Strip — among real vacationers, tourists and pedestrians alike — added an element of authenticity to the scenes.

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What attracted each of you to this role?

Shelley Hennig: At the time, I was in the middle of this really intense drama, and I felt like the next project I wanted to do was a comedy. I had done comedy before. I like to genre hop. I don’t want to be put in a box. I like to mix it up a bit.

Terrence Terrell: What attracted me to this role was the character of Trunk. He’s so complex and complicated. He’s a bigger-than-life character, a powerhouse.

Nick Zano: I was on a flight to London and I got the first two episodes. I read it and I saw everything about McKnight. I heard him, I saw him. The way he fights. I said to the guys, “This is my take on this character.” And they became very protective of my take, which is very rare. Usually, you’re fighting for all of what you see in a character.

But that just meant the guys were very secure with who they are. I made a deal with [creators] Jon [Hurwitz], Josh [Heald], and Hayden [Schlossberg]. I said, “I promise you, I will not shortchange you one day on this set. Because I know how good this is and how much fun it could be.” I kept my word, and I’m so glad I did, because the show has been very well received around the world and it’s a joy. I’m so happy for everyone involved. The guys got it. The guys did it again.

Shelley, your television start was in soaps, on Days of Our Lives. How do you think daytime television prepares you for these types of roles?

Hennig: Oh, it’s 1,000 percent prepared me. What I learned in soap operas was to be adaptable and quick. You don’t have the time or the space to do a lot of prep time. You get one take for every scene that you do. In soap operas, there is lots and lots of crying.

Lots of crying, on cue. Which made me a good auditioner and an adaptable actor. It feels nice to not have such a controlled environment to do my job. Because it’s not always that way. So I love that, that’s my background.

Nick, you’ve had a variety of roles on both TV and in film (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Minority Report, Happy Endings). How did film prepare you for your TV roles and, what do you like about each of those mediums?

Zano: I think everything prepares us in life, whether we are aware of it or not. I think what I love about TV is character evolution. If you truly love a character, and are fortunate enough to spend time with that character and grow with the character over seasons, that’s the best. With TV, like in life, we don’t know where the ending is. In movies, it’s a one-shot deal that is mapped out. Lots of Post-it notes in a binder, and you must protect it and study it and stay on top of it.

Terrence, you’ve starred in Chuck Lorre’s B Positive, and appeared in The Best Man: The Final Chapters, Room 104 and Bosch. What prepared you for this role?

Terrell: Acting classes prepared me for TV. Multi-cam is a beast. You’re rehearsing five days a week. That prepared me for quick changes. TV prepared me like a ninja. There’s no time to fake it. It’s aggressive!

Shelley, your character in Obliterated, Ava Winters, is an elite special agent. How did you prepare, did you have any gun-range training or combat?

Hennig: Yes, I did have training. I had never shot a gun before. I had tactical and firing training. The instructor made us feel very safe and educated for what we had to do. Lots of time and practice went into what you see onscreen.

Nick Zano and Shelley Hennig in Obliterated

Terrence, same question. Trunk is a special forces agent. How did you prepare?

Terrell: When you have friends that are workout junkies and health nuts, I had to get bigger for this role. I put on 15 pounds. Working out twice a day, five days a week with two different trainers. Plus, the two days I was off, I was still working out on my own. So, I was working out before I got to the set. I’d get up a 4 a.m., it’s a habit: Work out, go to the set.

Nick, how did you prepare for the character of Chad McKnight?

Zano:  I hired my friend and trainer Arin Babaian. We put a program together. This was a little different. Usually on shows, you have like one day of nudity or shirtlessness. You circle it on your calendar and train up to that day. Unfortunately for me, it was six and a half months. I had to find something I could do long-term and maintain where I wouldn’t tear a major ligament in my body.

I was on set 15 hours a day, sometimes 17 hours a day.

Between setups, I’d work out. Then I had my cooler with food I had prepped. I’d run two miles a day, four days a week. Then I had the Navy SEAL training with Kevin Kent, who’s the best adviser in the game. He was phenomenal.

We trained in Albuquerque in this warehouse where it was like 110 degrees outside and 120 degrees inside. I’m left-handed, so all the weapons I was using were ambidextrous. When we shot the actual day. They somehow lost my ambidextrous gun. I get a mag; explosions are happening everywhere. The first time I attempted to do this with my right hand, I did it during a take, and that’s the take they used. Afterward, I walked off and looked at Kevin and he was like, “Hell yeah, dude, that was badass!” I thought, “Thank God.”

Did you do your own stunts? And if so, what was your most challenging stunt?

Hennig: I did some of my own stunts. I wanted to do it. I wanted to just go for it. I had a stunt double whom I already knew from my hometown [New Orleans] and had a relationship with. Mallory Thompson, we met in L.A. on a film I was doing. I believe it was Ouija.  And realized that we lived close to each other and knew some of the same people. We’re the same age, same height, and it was great to have that familiarity on a big movie set. She’s been my lucky charm.

What was your most challenging stunt to pull off?

Hennig: It was when I had to wrap my legs around a guy and flip him over.

One of my favorite scenes and stunts was in episode five, when you strangle the guy with your bra.

Hennig: Yes, I had to, like, learn how to take off the bra without taking off my clothes.

Also in that episode, how hard was it to shoot the action sequence in the elevator scene? Was it mostly greenscreen?

Hennig: They built the elevator shaft on set. So it was very real, and we had to just dive in and make it happen.

Terrence, your character had great stunts as well. Did you do your own stunts?

Terrell: I did all my own stunts. I was basically working out and eating the whole time. I ate so much I got tired of chewing. I wanted to drink a steak. I had rehearsed on my own two days before I showed up for the big food fight. And they had all this food there, just in case we had to do two takes. I did all my own stunts in one take.

Episode five had the penis torture scene. How much of that was prosthetics and camera tricks?

Terrell: There was no stunt double, no camera tricks. It was all me. I had a prosthetic on in the front, but that was it; it was very real. I had put on an extra 15 pounds. My arms were hanging above my head from the ceiling and my feet were tied at the bottom. It was like holding 25-pound dumbbells over my head. The entire time, the part where I had to wrap my legs around a guy and kill him, that was real. I think the guys appreciated me doing my own stunts because with me, they didn’t have to do different camera angles and hide my face like with a stunt double. It was all me.

Episode six has another great stunt scene, when you take on five or six bad guys in the kitchen. We think that Trunk is down for the count. You took some hard hits. What was that like?

Terrell: One of the guys, I hit in the face for real! I said sorry, they said, “No, don’t say sorry, just keep going, that was amazing.” These guys were really swinging at me.

Nick, did you do your own stunts?

Zano: I did a lot, but I didn’t do all of them. I had the great Chris Reid as my stunt double. I don’t know how you can tell us apart. It’s bizarre, it’s like some separated-at-birth kind of thing. But he’s far more graceful, athletic and agile than me. I got a little injured doing the elevator scene. It was three and a half days, three different sets and 500 punches thrown. It was everything, and that goes to our stunt team. We had a plan, and we executed the plan.

Zano and Hennig in Obliterated

Shelley, in episode seven, what was it like in the middle of the Strip when all the money starts falling from the sky?

Hennig: Pandemonium! There were pedestrians grabbing the money and people pulling over, getting out of their cars and grabbing the money and putting it in their cars. Because they thought it was real, which was fair. I might have thought the same thing. It was so wild. You can’t control the environment in Vegas. So you kind of had to go with it. Pedestrians contributed very well to the story. There were people in Vegas out on the town, and that made it very realistic. I personally enjoyed the chaos of Vegas in this role. It was very meta.

In episode seven, the bomb exchange was satisfying for the audience, to see you get the bad guy. What was it like for you?

Hennig: The bomb exchange was on the streets of Vegas with no controlled environment. It was a huge win for Ava. This guy had been tormenting her and threatening to blow up Las Vegas. So, it was extremely rewarding. Also, I had a lot of training before filming to make sure I felt comfortable with the gun and safe. So, since I had never shot a gun before in real life, that was an added challenge for me on top of everything that I enjoyed.

What would you like the audience to take away from this series, other than the craziness and the fun?

Hennig: Other than the craziness and the fun, I just keep going back to humor. I hope that it is a humorous escape for people. I feel like we could really use that right now.

What was your most memorable part of this project?

Hennig: It sounds cheesy, but it was the people. It was a great cast to work with.

What was the most challenging aspect of Obliterated for you?

Terrell: I think just approaching it naturally. But also, we got on set at 8 a.m. and didn’t get off until 6 p.m. I was in a place where there were no curtains, no sleeping. We went in sometimes in the dark, before it became light. Then we would be in the studio all night. It was nighttime in the studio, but daylight outside. Then we’d leave and it’s nighttime again. So, the most challenging thing was making sure I was taking care of myself and able to show up 100 percent for the shoot.

Terrence Terrell in Obliterated

What was most rewarding?

Terrell: Being able to do my own stunts. One day on the set, they were about to call action and there was a mirror there before I went into the room. I looked in the mirror and I didn’t see myself. I saw the person I wanted to look up to as a kid. It teared me up a bit. Because there weren’t any superheroes who looked like me when I was growing up. And being able to show people that no matter your color, age, sex — you can save the world with your talent, your knowledge and love.

I read that some of your other passions are music and mentorship. You released some music in 2019 that can be heard across streaming platforms; you’re serving as head mentor with the Warrior Angels Foundation. Tell me about your mentorship and giving back?

Terrell: I’ve known Tina Knowles for about six years. I met her on Beyoncé’s Run the World [tour]. I was background. I call her Momma T. Four years later, my mom passed unexpectedly, and Hurricane Harvey had just happened, and she was looking for donations for the organization. I had just put out a lot of money for my mom’s arrangements. So I didn’t have money to give. I donated my children’s books. You always say, “When I make it big, I will give back.” But she taught me that “don’t wait until you make it. You can give at the level you are on now.” That’s how you get blessed to go to the next level.

Terrence, what do you want the audience to take away from this series?

Terrell: I think the fact that it is all types of characters with different personalities, and from different cultures coming together to save the world. I want people to start looking at each other as brothers and sisters, and if we have empathy for each other, the world would be a much better place.

Nick, what was the most challenging and most rewarding aspect of this project for you?

Zano: The most challenging was episode five, the saving-Trunk action scene. The most rewarding aspect of the project was the series itself. It’s a fun, sincere, raunchy, action-comedy with a heart.

Obliterated is now streaming on Netflix.

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