Second Unit Director David Leitch reveals what it took to Design and Choreograph the Stunning Martial Arts, the Blistering Action and the Spectacular Stunts for the release of The Wolverine
Hugh Jackman returns in THE WOLVERINE.
Set in Japan and directed by James Mangold this is the ultimate story about the adamantium-clawed hero, dealing with themes of destiny, honor and revenge. Vulnerable and alone at the start of the movie, searching for meaning in his life, Logan/Wolverine travels to Tokyo where he is embroiled in a mysterious web of tangled loyalties, deceit and intrigue, fighting bloody battles against deadly adversaries in a world that is entirely foreign to him.
Invincible but deeply troubled THE WOLVERINE finds Logan at his lowest point, out of his element in a culture that he doesn’t understand. Darker, deeper and more exciting than any previous film featuring the clawed mutant, this time he has to confront lethal samurai steel, but also grapple with an inner struggle, coming to terms with his immortality.
With Hugh Jackman reprising his role as the hugely popular character from the X-MEN universe, James Mangold (KNIGHT AND DAY, WALK THE LINE, 3:10 to YUMA) directs the gripping and highly original film, which is set in Japan and inspired by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's 1982 comic book series. The cast includes Will Yun Lee, Hiroyuki Sanada, Brian Tee, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto and Svetlana Khodchenkova.
Second unit director and stunt coordinator David Leitch worked closely with the star and director, designing every complicated and thrilling fight sequence and stunt.
David Leitch and Chad Stahelski are the co-founders and owners of 87Eleven, specializing in action design. The company has become synonymous with Hollywood action at its best and has been involved in dozens of hits ranging from THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM to MR. & MRS. SMITH and THE HUNGER GAMES.
Leitch’s personal credits as second unit director and stunt coordinator include V FOR VENDETTA, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, IN TIME, THE TOMB, PARKER, TRON: LEGACY and HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. Leitch has appeared in many films and has worked in various capacities on a total of 50 movies during his impressive career.
David Leitch sat down to discuss his work on THE WOLVERINE.
By Elaine Lipworth
How did you get started in this aspect of filmmaking?
“I was very athletic as a kid growing up in Wisconsin and loved sports. At school I also loved performing. I went on to be an athlete in college and I have always been a great martial arts enthusiast. But I couldn’t envisage a way of working with martial arts. I wondered how it would be possible to express that passion in a career. I had learned all the techniques but there seemed to be no obvious use for them. It’s not as though I would need self-defense on a daily basis. Then I discovered that I would be able to utilize my skills in the movie business. Working on movies also meant that I could be involved in physical activity long past my college years. As a stuntman and second unit director I am still effectively a professional athlete and I still have a reason to train every day. I love what I do and working on a movie like THE WOLVERINE was a great honor.”
As an action specialist and stunt coordinator what was the specific appeal of THE WOLVERINE?
“I was excited about designing the amazing martial arts sequences in the film. At 87Eleven we work on many big martial arts movies. But this one was different. What really drew me to the project was the Japanese theme: Wolverine versus ninjas! How fantastic, that was like a dream come true (laughs). Everyone knows the X-MEN universe and loves these stories about Wolverine, but for me as far as action design goes there couldn’t be anything more compelling than the idea of Wolverine fighting ninjas. That was like candy to me. It was very exciting.”
At what stage did you get involved in the film?
“I was involved from the very beginning in the pre-production stage. There are a lot of martial arts sequences in the movie and five or six main fight scenes. That initial design work had to be done before filming even began. What we do at 87Eleven is to design a sequence and then choreograph it by making videos with stunt performers. That enables us to map out the action so we can get an idea of what the actual scene will eventually look like on screen. Sometimes we will use stunt doubles in the videos. We worked closely with Jim (Mangold) so that the sequences fit in with his vision.”
What are we going to see that is cool and different in terms of the stunts and action?
“What’s cool about the film is that you’ll see a very different style of action than you would normally see in a comic book movie. Jim was adamant that we ground Wolverine in reality so that the audience can identify with his human, vulnerable side. Logan is coming to terms with his immortality. He is lost and is looking for meaning in his life. That theme gives the movie a different feel and influences everything. We did not choreograph these fights with a lot of complicated wirework. We designed them from a martial arts movie perspective. There are visceral foot chases. The sword fights tend to be influenced by classic martial arts rather than the kind of fights you would see in a regular superhero movie. You still have all the fantastic spectacle that you get in all the big X-MEN films, but this film is grittier.”
What style of martial arts will we see in the film?
“It is a combination of different styles. For the ninjas we used a Japanese style martial arts … but on steroids (laughs)! We had to sensationalize it for Hollywood. We developed a distinct style for Logan. Logan doesn’t learn martial arts formally in the movie. He doesn’t train in a traditional way, but he learns about the philosophy and discipline by observation. He is animalistic in the way he fights, but he’s fighting these super technical, relentlessly disciplined martial arts foes. Wolverine’s fighting style is more ‘berserker’ street fighting than classic martial arts. But the style of the fighting is mostly Japanese. We wanted to give the action authenticity because this is a Japanese themed film.”
THE WOLVERINE IS OUT NOW