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The Old Guard Fight Coordinator Reveals The Most Dangerous Aspect Of The Film - Exclusive

The action in The Old Guard is often up-close-and-personal, which means Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, and the rest of the hit Netflix film's cast couldn't rely solely on stunt people and special effects. Most of the movie was shot with handheld cameras, right at eye level, with the actors' faces visible in the frame. As the movie's fight coordinator explained to Looper in an exclusive interview, that made the choreography particularly challenging — and, of course, dangerous.

"We meet with the actors and assess them and see what their abilities are," said Daniel Hernandez, who has been part of the stunt teams on the John Wick movies as well as the two most recent entries in the Avengers series, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. "As a choreographer, I really like to do things that I know the actor can do and still tell the story. I love having the actor doing 100 percent of all their fights and not putting in doubles in."

The kill room massacre and resurrection in The Old Guard

Early on in The Old Guard, there's a scene that introduces the audience to the movie's central premise. Andromache of Scythia ("Andy" for short), played by Theron, leads a team of immortal warriors who fight battles big and small against bad guys. In what seems like a routine mission, the group is ambushed and mercilessly gunned down, only to immediately rise from the dead.

Hernandez described that setting as "the kill room" and said it was perhaps the most dangerous part of the production. "In the kill room, you have a lot more elements to deal with," he explained.

With all of the guns in play and the multiple wounds inflicted on Andy, Sebastian (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), there were a ton of squibs — small explosives used to simulate gunshot wounds, among other things, in movies. "You have squibs. There are more stunt elements. You have blank rounds going off. You have guns, and you also have swords and an ax, and more actors," said Hernandez. "It was a lot more to worry about."

The brutal brawl in the skies

The airplane battle between Andy and Nile (KiKi Layne), a Marine who learns she's also an immortal, is one of the standout sequences in The Old Guard. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood told Looper in a separate interview that it was the first scene that the production shot for the movie. As Hernandez explained during our discussion, the sequence was particularly dangerous as well. 

"That one took the most planning and the most training for both of them," he said of the film's two leads. "We were just repping out [the choreography] like hundreds and thousands of times."

Theron is no stranger to the hard work, discipline, dedication, and risks involved in stunt work, as action fans have seen in movies like 2017's Atomic Blonde. The Oscar-winner also suffered a serious neck injury while making 2005's Aeon Flux — that's just how dedicated she is to getting the action right. After production wrapped on The Old Guard, she had three surgeries to repair onset injuries she'd endured, but powered through to finish filming.

"She got injured a few times," Hernandez confirmed, with a tone of seriousness and respect. "I would say that the kill room is trickier to be dealing with. It's dark, with the lighting, it was kind of hard to see. I would say the plane is really difficult, too. They're both different in their difficulty."

He added, "[The plane] is a tight space, you can easily roll an ankle or punch each other. That was more what I was worried about, them really smacking each other in the face or something."

Preparation was key for both of the film's most dangerous scenes. Hernandez explained, "They prepped really hard for it and the stunt guys were just amazing on there. It worked out really, really well. The same with the plane. KiKi and Charlize, they did get bruised up, let me tell you. Their arms, a little bit of the stomach, a little bit of the back — they were whacking each other a little bit. We padded them as much as we can, but sometimes when that adrenaline's going — boy, oh, they were going. They were throwing bombs at each other. [...] They really did a really good job."

The Old Guard is available to stream on Netflix now.