I Attempted A Fight Scene From Bullet Train At David Leitch's 87North Stunt Facility

"Bullet Train," directed by David Leitch and starring Brad Pitt, is hitting home video this week. In honor of the event, I got a chance to visit Leitch's 87North, the stunt studio he and producer Kelly McCormick recently started in Hollywood. The last time I was there, for the opening event, I got to watch some amazing stunt people kick all sorts of ass. This time, I got to do it myself. Okay, it's possible that I wasn't kicking ass as much as the actual stunt people, but it was an amazing look at the incredible amount of work that goes into films like this. 

"Bullet Train" is based on the 2010 novel of the same name (called "Maria Beetle" outside the U.S. and U.K.) by Kōtarō Isaka. The film features Pitt as Ladybug, an assassin who is faced with a ton of other killers and agents on a version of the Tokaido Shinkansen high-speed rail.

The film, which is non-stop action, also stars Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny, and Sandra Bullock. I learned some of the choreography from the scene where Bad Bunny fights Pitt who is using the suitcase as a weapon. (FYI, I did the fight, but I also dropped the suitcase on my foot once. It is absolutely, painfully a real metal case.) I also chatted with Mike Chat, the original Blue Power Ranger, who has worked with Leith and "John Wick" director Chad Stahelski. 

Fighting with the pros

Before we began our training, we were treated to a show from the actual professionals. (That is one of them in the picture above.) They were mind-blowing!

The 87North facility is set in an old church that formerly housed a video game company. They can do stunt practice and even shoot there if they want. We were all taken onto the springy tatami mats in the center of the main room and shown a sequence of nine moves with the suitcase. We were then paired with a pro who let us rehearse a few times. Then we were put on camera and told to add a tiny bit of character after the fight. I promise you, I do not walk like a snotty person all the time. 

In the film, Bad Bunny has a knife, though the pros just used fists with us. We worked with a padded shield first, then actually got suitcases. Mike Chat took us through all the safety checks and gave us a little hint that when the Blu-ray comes out, there is a sequence with 17 fights. He says there's a surprise for us at the 17th in terms of who is doing it! 

Teaching stunts to actors

Chat, who was working the tournament circuit and nabbing world titles when he met Stahelski and Leitch, said he didn't even know who they were at the time. He said: 

"They helped to bring me into the stunt industry and I did that for several years. And then I booked the role as the Blue Power Ranger, 'Power Rangers,' 'Lightspeed Rescue.' And after that then I had opportunities to do martial art curriculum and programming and the acting was up and down. So I took a little break, but that's how I got in, through David."

I asked Chat about training actors because, as we were working, he explained that some do short bursts of training for an hour before a shoot, while some do months beforehand. He told me that it really depends on their fitness beforehand, their earlier training or lack thereof and that they often help develop a style to suit the person they're working with. I also asked him about weapons and if there was one that was the hardest to train actors with. He said: 

"It depends on the person and their movement. For example, you might think, oh, a knife is small, it's easier to use with the movements ... so then that's not natural. That can be more difficult for one versus other people might make that adjustment easily, and that's a single-hand grip. 

"When you have two hand grip, many people feel more comfortable. But the challenge now is when you have a longer weapon, distance. They don't have the awareness, and they will get too close, or they feel like the stunt person is too far away."

He added that firearms were the ones that made actors the most nervous, which makes total sense.

On the Bullet Train

For "Bullet Train," Chat explained that some of the actors didn't have training or had very little. Some of them only had a week to work on the choreography, while others had a couple of weeks. Of Pitt, he explained that he and Leitch have been working together for years. (Leitch famously did stunts for Pitt as well as Jean-Claude Van Damme.) Chat said: 

"Brad, it's not [in] every film he's doing action, but he's used to it. So we know that the stunt guys can do more with him and the other actors, it just depends. But you have the 87North team on every level from the DP, the second-year director, stunt coordinator, Greg Rementer, Kirk Jenkins, the fight coordinator, and all the stunt doubles. So you could not have gotten a better team to then work with the actors to bring it together, especially when there were times when they had much less time to prep and then get into it."

This was such a cool experience, and despite the fact that I'm already an exercise nut, I'm a little sore the day after. I already had crazy respect for stunt actors, but I have infinitely more now. If you happen to be a stunt person and want to become one, 87North does do training. There is currently a waitlist, and you have to go through an evaluation first, but if that's your thing, I can tell you that everyone we worked with was wonderful at making things clear and safe. 

"Bullet Train" is currently out on digital and will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on October 18, 2022.