Directors of ‘The Bear’ and ‘Rings of Power’ on training actors as experts

Actors must be skilled in the art of acting: conveying emotions and information to the audience through their voice, body language, and other subtle ways.

But this awards season highlights series that call upon actors to become experts in cooking, baking, swordsmanship, archery and other skills to sell their characters to audiences.

Slicing, slow cooking and frying may seem like basic kitchen chores that most adults can handle, and enjoyment aside, reaching adulthood usually means being able to feed yourself more than a frozen dinner. For the actors of the FX series “Bear”, Canadian chef Matty Matheson’s training was much more.

Matheson, who is credited as an actor and co-producer on the show, says it all comes down to movement. Restaurant chefs are constantly on the go as they review the different stages of the cooking process, while also understanding that someone could bump into them with a hot pot or sharp knife at any moment.

Chefs have the ability to “float around the kitchen…witness everything, taste everything, touch everything,” says Matheson.

So a key component in training the cast of “The Bear” was choreographing their moves as they walked through the kitchen and planning the particular timing for each action, from touching a specific pan to using a towel to examining the parsley.

“Suddenly you have six to eight different types of pivots and moves, and the way you do it and look professional is you do it quickly,” he says.

In the vein of pundits around the world who don’t appreciate the intricacies of their own work, Matheson says it’s “a fun thing to talk about” training actors to walk through a kitchen when it seems so elementary.

On occasion, Matheson had the actors watch him walk around the restaurant’s kitchen set, then allowed them to chart their own paths. As everyone moves, the kitchen ballet takes shape.

“We can’t bump into each other,” Matheson warned the actors, because safety is paramount in a restaurant for fear of cutting fingers or burns on the stove, falling dishes or food, which also create a safety hazard. “Your goal is to move. Not perfectly, but with purpose and understanding. And the determination that you are not going to interfere with other people doing their job.”

The actors will, of course, bring their characters’ quirks and backstories to the kitchen choreography as well. They have to do it “the way [their character] it would move,” says Matheson, as the set of actions may be the same for professional chefs, but the nuances brought by individuals may not.

“You give them instructions and then they gain their own speed, they gain their own confidence,” he adds.

Matheson worked with various departments, including set decoration and props, to ensure that the actors always had ingredients on hand in the kitchen for whatever food preparation action they wanted to perform in a scene that was not otherwise scripted. . The goal was to give the cast enough faith in their own abilities to achieve something in the moment and work toward a realistic contribution from the restaurant.

“If a camera fails,” Matheson says, “they’re actually doing something that’s on the actual menu at Beef.”

In “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” action unit director Vic Armstrong had to shoot water sequences in 10-minute intervals.
Amazon Prime Video

Working in a variety of departments is quite common, especially when it comes to special acts like cooking in the kitchen on “The Bear” or the extremely physical companies on “” on Amazon Prime Video.The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”

Listed in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the world’s most prolific stuntman, action unit director Vic Armstrong works with nearly every department on the series to get the action right: production design , construction, special effects and costume design, among others. others. While it may be intuitive to imagine that costumes need to be tailored to hide padding, there is more to it.

“The moment you get into a fighting stance in a coat, you bend your knees, so the clothing becomes 6 or 8 inches too long and you step on it,” says Armstrong.

While there are individual fights to plan for, the epic battle in episode six involving humans, elves, and orcs, using swords, bows and arrows, torches, and all manner of other medieval-looking implements, obviously requires a lot of planning and practice. But when it comes to choosing a scene that required more effort than audiences may realize, Armstrong takes a moment to contemplate: “Wow, that’s hard,” he says.

He settles on a sequence in the Prologue with Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) climbing a giant wall of ice, 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,” says Armstrong.

The shape is covered with fake snow, while additional fake snow falls on it as well. It is regularly sprayed with water to keep it looking dynamic and bright, but the team must also work to eliminate potential hot spots for lighting. Armstrong had to determine where to place the carved, albeit hidden, hand and foot grips, and the broken-off chunks of ice that were strategically placed and planned to make it look like Galadriel is actually climbing a remote ice-covered mountain.

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 below, and trying to look down from above doesn’t work because the camera chassis is too heavy. In the end, they used a giant crane to get the camera into place.

Despite all the time and planning that went into it, the mere seconds of sequence on screen feel like a flicker in the narrative.

The actors underwent extensive training based on the actions in the script, such as sword fighting and the correct use of the bow and arrow, usually in a one-on-one format.

“We fit it around your schedule, which might not be the same as other people on the show,” says Armstrong. “They can be busy for a week and then have a week off with time to spare.”

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 they wanted to do it right.”

A scene in the second episode challenged Clark, and Armstrong, with a water sequence.

The available tank was not large enough to present the desired depth of 60 to 70 feet when Galadriel falls into the ocean. Armstrong deduced a way to pull Clark horizontally through a pool on cables while she was underwater for 10 to 15 minutes at a time at a temperature Armstrong calls “just a little warm” at best. Too hot and it would vaporize, altering the look of the scene.

It’s easy to imagine actors becoming overconfident with their newfound abilities.

“That’s the secret,” says Armstrong. “It keeps them upbeat without getting too carried away thinking they’re Superman.”

It’s a somewhat strange challenge: asking actors to behave like experts in a variety of situations, while understanding that there is no substitute for time and experience when it comes to true expertise. For that, the productions count on Armstrong and Matheson to rescue them.

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