Training an actor to do something they have never done before
Learning a new skill can be a challenge, especially when you are an actor and require a new one for every role. We looked into their training in this case learning to play Polo like a pro.
We all know about stunt doubles doing the dangerous work but what if actors are required to perform out of the ordinary. We will show you how difficult it is to train actors with horses. I am sure you have heard about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s movie, “Hercules” or Henry Cavill’s series “The Witcher”, both partly filmed in Hungary with the actors adding a new skill to their repertoire, horse riding. The movie we are discussing might be something you have not yet seen, with its glamorous title “Monte Carlo”.
We were talking with Gábor Szegedi, the founder of La Ballena Polo Club in Budakeszi to gather insight on filming scenes with horses. The movie “Monte Carlo”, was actually the very first production done at Origo Studios with the main focus being on playing Polo.
Watch this video if you want to know how a Polo training looks like.
Budapest Reporter: How did the production team find you to be a trainer in the movie?
Gábor Szegedi: At first, they were in contact with another stable, and they were asked to provide 10-12 polo horses including 2 very calm ones which the actors will ride on. Polo horses are very powerful creatures and they need an experienced rider to master. They asked me to provide the 2 tranquil horses, because they didn’t have any to offer which the main actress Selena Gomez and actor Pierre Boulanger would learn on, and with that I became their instructor.
Bpr: What was the procedure for their training?
G. Sz.: The two stars arrived 1 month in advance to learn the basic perks of polo and horse riding. They were coached in the National Riding Hall in Budapest. Having one month to master the art of Polo is not a lot of time, because of that they were practicing 5 or 6 days a week to get to know the animals and be comfortable riding on their own. The first steps were getting to know the horses, named Ariel, thoroughbred for Gomez and Pistolon, Argentine polo pony for Boulanger. We were there every step of the way reassuring and supporting them.
The first day they got on the horse and started walking around to have a feel for it, later trotting was taught on the lounge and finally galloping where I was also on a horse holding their reins and riding side by side until they were comfortable enough on their own. I have to say they were very motivated, besides having muscle pain, they never told me that they are tired and want to give up.
Bpr: Were you nervous coaching such famous actors, to quite a dangerous sport?
G. Sz.: To be honest, I didn’t know who the actors were, which in this case was a plus as a I wasn’t nervous meeting them. It is very interesting to see how humble and receptive a person is when they are out of their comfort zone, doing something that scares them a little. As I got to know Selena Gomez was the bigger name in the industry, but she was very down to earth and easy to work with.
Trust was very important as she was doing an activity that she has never done before, both actors had no experience in riding. I was always next to them and especially Gomez as she wouldn’t get on the horse without me being by her side.
Bpr: How did the shooting schedule look like for a day?
G. Sz.: All the Polo scenes were shot in 3 to 4 days in Csákvár, about 40 minutes from Budapest. We had to arrive very early in the morning, and when I say early I mean around 4 am which for me didn’t make any sense, because mostly we didn’t start shooting until hours later and it is very unusual and tiring for the horses as well. The time our scene was about to start I would get on my horse behind the cameras and ride side by side with the actress.
The camera was on a Quad Motorcycle which I found very interesting and luckily polo horses are “bullet proof” in the sense that they are very stable and not a lot of things can scare them. The actors had stunt doubles to do the more dangerous scenes such as two horses bumping heavily into each other in order to hit the ball which is very common at polo games. The iconic scene of the champagne bottle was a complex shot. I hit the ball while I was galloping with Gomez behind me, when the director said „action” I left the scene and Selena continued galloping.
Of course, I didn’t break the bottle from the horse with the mallet, that would have been amazing, it was a bottle made of sugar and the ball was thrown by hand to break the glass, and eventually all cut together. The days were very long and often we took a hay stack and napped on it between scenes.
Bpr: What were some challenges, was language barrier an issue?
G. Sz.: We communicated in English, so that wasn’t a problem which made things at least on that part easier. There were some issues where the director wanted us do stunts with the horses that were simply impossible and also not used in Polo, but gladly he took our advice and kept it authentic in the scenes.
Bpr: How was this experience for you, was it your first time working on a film?
G. Sz.: It was great, I had a lot of fun and the catering was top-notch. There were times we had grilled sausages at 3 am in the morning and that is something I will always remember; it was very memorable. This was the first time I was asked to train actors, but since then we worked with the Hungarian series “Drága Örökösök” for the past two years.
Source: Wikipedia, polodays.com