Before being cast as Air Force pilot turned Kree warrior Carol Danvers in Marvel Studios’ upcoming “Captain Marvel,” Brie Larson admits she was “never particularly active,” which made the ensuing nine months of hardcore workouts particularly brutal.
“Carol is a trained warrior and I can barely walk in a straight line,” the 29-year-old Oscar winner said with a laugh. “So for me to get to the point where I can do all of the things that were required of me meant really putting myself to the test and dedicating a lot of hours to it.”
The first female-led superhero movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Captain Marvel,” out March 8, follows Danvers’ literal fall to Earth as she investigates a past shrouded in mystery.
Although Captain Marvel has been described as the most powerful Avenger to hit the screen so far, further details about the film’s plot are equally cryptic. What is known is that Danvers derives much of her strength from her Kree heritage, an alien race of “noble warrior heroes” with super strength, a prolonged lifespan and other powers. However, a background in the military also informs her fighting style, something Larson and her trainers were deliberate to include.
“She’s on a journey from civilian to military to superhero,” said stunt coordinator Jim Churchman. “So the styles would change depending on what the scene needed. The action is designed to fit all those story lines.”
“We wanted her to feel really raw and scrappy, not super perfect and clean, but still with a bit of style to it,” said Larson. “But a lot of her fighting style comes from being a Kree warrior, so it also had to be a little otherworldly.”
Churchman, who has worked on a handful of Marvel films in recent years including “Doctor Strange” and “Iron Man 3,” was impressed by Larson’s determination to nail her own stunt work.
“Brie certainly works very hard, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “She took her bumps and bruises and kept going. Often to the point where the conversations with the producers were, ‘Hey, do we have to limit her training a little bit?’ She did some intricate wire work, she did tons of fighting and she was all in.”
To prep for the fight scenes, Larson trained in a mix of tae kwon do, judo and boxing. Although stuntwomen Joanna Bennett and Renae Moneymaker doubled for her in a number of scenes, Larson did most of her own stunts.
“One of my personal challenges was a sequence where she had to be barefoot for an entire fight,” Churchman recalled. “It’s a pretty involved, long fight. I’m like, ‘How do I protect her feet?’ We were trying to come up with latex applications for protection and a lot of times they just don’t look quite right, so Brie ended up doing a lot of it barefoot. She just stepped up and did it.”
Larson, who took the lead-actress Oscar for 2015 for her performance in “Room,” was homeschooled for much of her life, which made learning to take direction hard.
“This was one of my first times being a student and there was a learning curve,” she said. “I realized that I had to learn to learn. I had to learn how to not get frustrated, which is something that definitely parallels Carol, we both want to be the best immediately and don’t have a ton of patience. Recognizing that I was starting from the beginning with a completely new skill and it wasn’t going to come easy was huge.”
Training lasted for nine months and began with daily 90-minute workouts for the first six months before ramping up to twice-daily two-hour workouts for the final three. Muscle-building exercises included 215-pound deadlifts, 400-pound hip thrusts and single-leg lunges with 40 pounds of weight in hand and 10 pounds strapped to each leg.
“I’d do an hour and a half of cardio or strength training, go eat a bunch of food, pass out for an hour and then put on another set of exercise clothes and go to the stunt gym to do fight training and wire work stuff for another two hours after that,” she said.
There were moments where I cried, there were moments where I thought it was too hard, where I got pushed beyond my comfort zone.
“There were moments where I cried, there were moments where I thought it was too hard, where I got pushed beyond my comfort zone, but those were ultimately my favorite moments. At the time you’re like, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ And then afterwards you feel so proud of yourself.”
“She learned very quickly,” said Churchman. “Her biggest asset was being invested in the character and in the work needed to pull it off. Certainly her physical fitness escalated during the shoot but the bottom line is, you can be the most physically talented person but if you don’t have the discipline and the mental state to push yourself and commit to it, you won’t perform. And she did.”
“I was usually pretty dead after around four hours of exercise a day,” Larson admitted. “It’s really a full-time job. I completely turned my body around. I was just pure muscle by the end of all that. But I do think it’s important to say that it took a nutritionist, two different trainers, a paleo meal delivery service, a lot of mozzarella sticks and a lot of sleep and water.”
To achieve the most accurate portrayal of an F-15 fighter pilot, Larson also spent a few days at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, where she was introduced to fighter pilots and weapons systems operators.
“These airmen were able to give her some insights into everything from how to hold the throttle to how to use an ejection seat,” said Lt. Col. Nathan Broshear. “It was a pretty grueling schedule and then at the end of the day, Brie tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey look, I’d really like to have dinner with these women and spend the evening with them to trade war stories, so to speak.’ And then every night that’s kind of what she did. She spent time with those fighter pilots and got a chance to know who they are and how they tick.”
She worked closely with Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, an aviation pioneer and the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot.
“I was really impressed with how much effort Brie put into getting the details accurate,” said Leavitt. “It says a lot about her professionalism as an actress. We showed her all types of things. She just wanted to understand the character to get an idea of what it is like for the real-world female fighter pilots.”
In addition to speaking to military personnel, Larson got the opportunity to go up in a F-15 for an hour and simulate an aerial battle. “It was awesome,” she said. “In particular, doing a barrel roll and feeling the G-forces later became pieces that were really helpful when we were making the movie … I knew what that felt like.”
Before this experience, Larson says she shied away from any attention being aimed toward her body in her work.
“I never wanted my body to be a part of the conversation,” she said, citing Hollywood’s tradition of objectification as the main reason. “I just wanted to disappear. And so I never paid attention to it or put thought towards it because I didn’t want anybody else to think about it. So getting to take my body back and own it and make it a weapon and a tool was really powerful.”
Captain Marvel has been heralded as the strongest and most powerful Avenger, male or female. But for Larson, the role was just a job, the same as any other.
“I just didn’t think about it,” she said. “I just tried to do an accurate job, just like I would any other [film] and not think about the scale of it. My job is still the same at the end of the day, whether it’s in a low-budget film or the biggest budget film, it’s all the same. It’s still just me and a camera and a bunch of people trying to get the shot.
“I just tried to approach it like that and have as much fun as possible. Because Carol really does have fun. That’s one of the other pieces of her that I love — when she’s fighting, when she’s in her element, she enjoys it.”
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