Of the many fight scenes in The Old Guard, the showdown between the characters played by Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne while aboard plane is definitely a highlight. It’s the kind of fight that tells you a lot about those participating, while also featuring some intense and well-executed choreography. It’s particularly great that the scene is so wonderful, however, because it was a pivotal one for director Gina Prince-Bythewood during production.
I had the pleasure of doing a remote video interview with the Old Guard filmmaker late last month, and the subject of the plane fight was broached when I asked about the aspect of the film that proved to be the greatest challenge. As for why it’s that particular scene, there are many reasons, including (weirdly enough) a dash of aerophobia, and you can watch her discuss them by clicking play on the video below:
In the making of The Old Guard, Gina Prince-Bythewood found herself venturing into new territory as a filmmaker, having never before helmed an action movie. The majority of her career has been spent writing and directing character-based dramas like Love & Basketball, The Secret Life Of Bees and Beyond The Lights, so she didn’t have much experience with fight choreography going into the project. When filming began, however, a kind of “baptism by fire” schedule was put in place, giving Prince-Bythewood the opportunity to dive head-first into the most complex material – and that meant doing the plane fight on day one.
As she explained in the interview, setting things up that way wasn’t the original plan, but she ultimately realized that it would be best to take on the sequence immediately. Said Prince-Bythewood,
The plane fight is the first thing that we shot, and I was nervous about that at first. Originally I was talking to my AD and said, 'Why don't we start with, you know, two people at the table?' Like, that's what I'm used to. But then it was like, 'You know what? Let's just go big or go home. Let's just throw ourselves into it.'
The filmmaker didn’t exactly decide to take it easy on herself either. Establishing her own “no shortcuts” policy for The Old Guard, she limited her angles on the scene to shooting within the contained space that was the body of a plane – which was itself raised on a gimbal so that the whole thing could shake to simulate turbulence. There were no removable parts of the set to provide extra freedom for camera movement.
Highlighting a drive for authenticity, Gina Prince-Bythewood told me,
I knew exactly what I wanted from that fight. I knew I didn't want to give myself any crutches, so DP Tami Reiker and I, we didn't have any flying walls on that plane. That is a plane that was built. I didn't want to allow myself any shortcuts. If these two actors, these two characters are fighting in this confined space, then we need to be in there as well.
All of that alone would have made for a suitable response to my original question, but there was a little cherry-on-top that came with her story. As it turns out, Gina Prince-Bythewood also happens to be what one might call “a bad flier,” and when the action began and the hydraulics kicked in, the scene’s realness had the effect of overwhelming her.
But the biggest challenge, honestly, despite that – I hate to fly. I'm deathly afraid of flying, and we are inside this... you know, when it's ready to go, they shut that door and they move it away, and they turn on the hydraulics, and every time those hydraulics turn on I had to calm myself every time.
While that definitely doesn’t sound fun, it’s also remarkably cool to hear about a filmmaker get totally lost in the fictional world and story of what they are working on.
You can watch the badass final results of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s efforts to get The Old Guard’s plane fight scene perfect by checking out the clip from the movie below:
If you enjoyed that taste of the film, you’re going to dig the full thing – and you don’t have to wait too much longer to see it. The Old Guard, which stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, and Luca Marinelli in addition to Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne, will be available for Netflix subscribers at 12am PST on the streaming service, and between now and then be sure to stay tuned for more from my interview with the movie’s cast and filmmakers!