From the film franchises of Marvel, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and the Fast and the Furious, Action and Science Fiction has consistently dominated the top-grossing films of the past decade. These stories and the actors who star in them have cemented a template for international appeal and stabilized the film industry during an era when technology is rapidly changing the way audiences consume entertainment. There’s a trickle-down effect which has led to the creation of these stories in not only big budget studio productions but also those which possess a more Indie feel. Fans of these films recognize UK actor Aaron Deakins as one of the most charismatic and embraced Action Stars of the genre. Deakins is notable for his acting as well as the required exemplary physique. As with Stallone and Statham in the past or more recently with Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick, Marvel’s The Eternals), the genre requires a hyper level of physicality and body aesthetics for audiences to buy into the stories and believability of the actors inhabiting them. Deakins has received accolades for both his acting and his commitment to manifesting the body types that infuse a greater authenticity for both audiences and the actor himself.
The popularity and diverse subgenres of SciFi and Action films has created its own additional demands on the actors whom star in these stories. Beyond the “look” of one’s body, the commitment of stars like Keanu Reeves and his tactical training for the John Wick films attests that today’s actors delve even deeper to attain the authenticity of their characters. Deakins studied with kickboxing and boxing champion (WKA, WUMA, ABA) Carl Drake to obtain the functionality and size of a real soldier to portray Captain Walker, the leader of an anti-bio terror group in Shadow Division. A six-day split routine that began with fast cardio before sunrise and continued with a focus on hand to hand combat pushed the actor to 200 lbs. of sheer fighting muscle. It wasn’t as simple as bulking up to make Captain Walker believable as the actor describes, “My goal was to be convincing as the leader of a spec ops group called to clean up the biggest and worst situations. I wanted the size for him but something whichalso looked functional so that it wouldn’t just drag him down in the battlefield.The bigger I got for the role of Shadow Division, the more I genuinely felt the part. The same applies for the skills of the character. An almost reflexive use of martial arts or self-defense and tactical abilities can help me intuitively relate to the mindset of what these people have to do for a living.”
Becoming a serviceman suffering from PTSD due to his interactions with otherworldly aliens at a secret military base in Tape 51 demanded a vastly different approach to training than that of Shadow Division. To sculpt his character David, Deakinscommitted to a restrictive body weight work out and a dietary focus of nuts and a drastic amount of water intake to manifest the emaciated look he desired for David’s fragile emotional state. Revealing the motivation for this approach, Aaron notes, “Cardio was a massive part of my training, not only because filming would be very hectic and full of running away from the extraterritorial menace that was seen in the film but also so my size from Shadow Division would be trimmed down. With this ‘balls to the walls’ style of training, I would become someone who was himself put into uncomfortable situations and felt the sort of pain and discomfort that the character felt as he tried to prove to his friend what he had seen.”
The Lost Isle is a film which combines the idea of secret government organizations with an isolated island possessing prehistoric secrets. Deakins admits to being “all in” as he studied with professionals of military background in his training to play a mercenary for the production. Consisting of hand to hand combat work, survivalist skills, and weapons training, Aaron’s regimen produced an aesthetic which is hard and lean for the role. Still on delay due to the pandemic, The Lost Isle presents yet another diverse role and body type for the actor who imparts, “I really needed to become a weapon for this character. He uses Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and an MMA style. He is a machine.” Aaron adds, “All of these characters are unique. It’s a massive amount of work to carve their bodies out, as it is with creating their individual histories and mindsets. I always have a different formula for each and goal setting is a huge part of it, requiring months of dedication.”
Film is evolving more than ever these days with streaming services and technology making it increasingly possible for production quality of the highest level, without the accompanying purse strings and committees diluting the creativity of the storytellers and extraordinary talent like Aaron Deakins. It’s a scenario which continues to drive bigger audiences to seek out films by this generations greatest artists.
writer – Cecil McCoy