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6 Notable Hollywood actors trained for their action roles

Writer: Casey Chong


Dylan O'Brien in "American Assassin".

Remember Dylan O'Brien from "The Maze Runner" (2014) and "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" (2015)? Following a near-death on-set accident while filming "Maze Runner: The Death Cure", it almost seemed as if his career was over following his long absence, but the 26-year-old heartthrob managed to bounce back with a new action thriller titled "American Assassin". He even trained under Roger Yuan, the fight coordinator who has helped the likes of Daniel Craig in "Skyfall" and Matt Damon in "Jason Bourne", to prepare for his physically-demanding role as a CIA black ops recruit.

To coincide with the upcoming release of "American Assassin", here are six notable Hollywood actors who have no martial arts background whatsoever who had to train for their respective action roles.

1. Daniel Craig (James Bond movies)

Daniel Craig in "Casino Royale".

Of all the previous actors (Sean Connery, Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan) who played the iconic 007, it is Daniel Craig who handles the most physically-demanding James Bond. Beginning with 2006's "Casino Royale", he engages in a brutal stairwell fight against Isaach De Bankole's Steven Obanno before finishing him off with a rear naked choke using the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique. Then, in 2008's "Quantum Of Solace", he uses a Filipino martial arts technique to stop the knife-wielding assassin in a hotel room. Craig was also trained using the Krav Maga technique (Israel Defense Forces fighting style) in both "Skyfall" (2012) and "Spectre" (2015).

2. Denzel Washington ("The Book Of Eli")

Denzel Washington in "The Book Of Eli".

To prepare for his role in "The Book Of Eli", Denzel Washington trained for months under Bruce Lee's protege, Dan Inosanto. His extensive martial arts training paid off handsomely as he managed to showcase some cool moves during the fight scenes using a machete-like Bowie knife. This can be seen during the first fight under the bridge and another one in a bar.

3. Keanu Reeves ("The Matrix" trilogy, "John Wick 1 & 2")

The opening fight scene in the garage in "John Wick: Chapter 2".

Who would have thought that Keanu Reeves could make such a lasting impression as a cool action hero? Sure, he already acted in action movies like "Point Break" (1991) and "Speed" (1994), but he only managed to convince the world that he can fight like a pro in "The Matrix" (1999). Trained under the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping (the renowned martial arts choreographer of "Drunken Master", "Once Upon A Time In China II", "Fist Of Legend" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), Reeves adapted various martial arts techniques to play the role of Neo in the movie. Then, in 2003, he reprised his role in "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions". Over a decade later, Reeves trained hard once again to prepare for his assassin role in "John Wick" (2014). In the movie, he engages in different fighting styles such as judo, jujutsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He made the same commitment again for this year's "John Wick: Chapter 2". And yes, he does most of his own stunts in both "John Wick" movies.

4. Liam Neeson ("Taken" trilogy)

Liam Neeson in "Taken 2".

"But I do have a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career" is a memorable line uttered by Liam Neeson during the iconic phone scene in "Taken" (2008). And he wasn't kidding about his "very particular set of skills". In order to prepare for his ex-CIA agent role, Neeson spent months learning to adapt a hybrid martial arts technique called Nagasu Do. As a result, Neeson proved to be such a convincing action star that it became his late-career resurgence. Thanks to the worldwide success of the first movie, he has gradually inspired other older actors to play the "geriatric action hero". Neeson also undertook Krav Maga training for both "Taken 2" (2012) and "Taken 3" (2014).

5. Matt Damon (The "Bourne" movies)

Matt Damon in "The Bourne Ultimatum".

Before Matt Damon saw his Hollywood status skyrocketed into superstardom after appearing in "The Bourne Identity" (2002), it's hard to imagine he would become a successful action star, but surprisingly, he did it well and the success of that 2002 movie prompted two sequels including "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004) and "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007). Despite wrapping up for good in the trilogy, his character is so popular that he returned nine years later in "Jason Bourne". Over the course of four "Bourne" movies, he has trained extensively to portray his role convincingly under different fight coordinators including Jeff Imada and Roger Yuan. Among the martial arts techniques used by Damon are Kali and Jeet Kune Do.

6. Sean Penn ("The Gunman")

Sean Penn in "The Gunman".

You would never guess Sean Penn, the two-time Oscar winner for "Mystic River" (2003) and "Milk" (2008), ended up becoming an action star. But in 2015, he did the impossible by tackling a physically-demanding role as an ex-Special Forces operative in "The Gunman". No doubt following the footsteps of Liam Neeson, Penn manages to pull off the feat, complete with washboard abs and well-toned physique. He even went as far as learning Krav Maga for his role. Although his stunt work is impressive, it's just too bad the movie itself failed to ignite the box office.

Cinema Online, 10 September 2017

Related Movies:
American Assassin (14 Sep 2017)
The Maze Runner (11 Sep 2014)
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (10 Sep 2015)
Maze Runner: The Death Cure (25 Jan 2018)
The Gunman (26 Mar 2015)
John Wick (06 Nov 2014)
John Wick: Chapter 2 (09 Feb 2017)
Jason Bourne (28 Jul 2016)
TAKEN (19 Mar 2009)
Casino Royale (16 Nov 2006)
Skyfall (01 Nov 2012)
Spectre (05 Nov 2015)

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