Viola Davis Did Nearly ‘Everything’ You See In The Woman King, According To Her Stunt Double

With the 2022 fall movie season around the corner, it’s that time of year where we start really paying attention to what actors do with their performances. In this weekend’s latest film, The Woman King, Viola Davis transforms into a badass general of an African women warrior unit inspired by history, and as Davis’ stunt double and the movie’s fight choreographer told us, the Oscar-winning actress completely went for it. 

Jénel Stevens, who has an impressive resume in stunt work, including various credits in Marvel productions, spoke with CinemaBlend about her experience as the fight choreographer and stunt double for Viola Davis in The Woman King. When I asked her about the trade off between herself and the 57-year-old, here’s what she said: 

She did about 95 to 98% of her own stuff. I'm not even kidding. I would maybe do a run and do a take. But, it was mostly her. And I wouldn't say that woman has any limits to be honest with you. You know, obviously the falling and the flipping and stuff like that, going to the ground, we didn't want her to do it. Sometimes she did it anyway in certain takes. We're like, 'All right, calm down. You're trying to take my job?' So, she really didn't have any limits as far as the fighting sequences went because she was really badass and she worked her butt off to look like that on camera. And you know, you have to look like that in real life to make it transcend to the camera sometimes. She put in the work and she looked great.

Well, there you have it. Viola Davis is The Woman King. As Jénel Stevens shared with us, Davis, alongside her young co-lead Thuso Mbedu, began their training process in April 2021 before undergoing even more with her for the fight choreography. The production began filming in November, meaning the pair were particularly at it for six months. Stevens continued with these words: 

We would ask [Viola Davis] what she was willing to do and what she didn't wanna do. And, Viola Davis is the perfectionist she is and then the hard worker that she is, she was down for everything basically. I would tell her what we were gonna do and if it was something that she was apprehensive about, we worked up to it, but she inevitably was able to do everything that we asked of her.

Viola Davis has recently said that she worked five hours a day for her role in The Woman King, where she did an hour and a half of weight training, three and a half hours of martial arts, punching and 10.0 on the treadmill, per her words on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Stevens said she worked a lot with Davis and a machete to pull off those incredible action scenes throughout the movie. 

While she nor the impressive The Woman King cast, including Lashana Lynch, John Boyega and Sheila Atim, couldn’t have done it without the stunt and choreography team, Davis is in just about every shot fully owning playing a seasoned warrior, despite no prior experience with a transformation such as this. 

Before you check out the movie, some things you might want to know about The Woman King is that it is based on a true story within the kingdom of Dahomey (present day Benin), which was protected by an army of women. The movie follows Thuso Mbedu’s Nawi, who is a young woman living in the kingdom and becomes part of the warrior unit after refusing to marry. You can also check out CinemaBlend podcast ReelBlend’s interview with the movie’s director, Gina Prince-Bythewood

The Woman King premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last week to rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. This includes CinemaBlend’s own Corey Chichizola, who said Viola Davis becomes a “bonafide action star“ in his The Woman King review. Viola Davis’ historical epic is playing exclusively in theaters now. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.