“Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” Episode 6 – Into the Battle
Ismael Cruz Cordova and series stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong describe the acting skills required to pull off what Episode 6 achieves.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a huge collection of one-offs. Branch out from any element and there are so many different components that need to work together to make everything work.
Fight scenes are no different. For every long shot of a battle – in the case of Episode 6 “Udûn” in the village of the Southlands near the tower Ostirith – every bit of chaos has to mesh. For series stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong, it starts with putting together a team.
When hiring local stunt performers, Armstrong not only looks for strength and agility, but also for the true element of performance that goes with them. It can be so easy to see how someone can sell the idea of being hit by an arrow.
“One test is that I have them run across a field and tell them to give me your interpretation of the bullet that hits you. Some people fall to the ground like a spider having a heart attack. Some people take it easy. It’s a bizarre thing and an ability,” Armstrong said. “We rehearse that when we rehearse for the fights. You have to stick your head in the right direction when you get hit. You have to track where the arrow’s speed hits you and where that takes the body. There are all these little things that come into play, but they make the overall picture more realistic.”
This specific type of reaction applies to many other moments throughout the episode. Númenórean horsemen charge in and take out a dozen orcs, a gag that Armstrong said took half a day alone. And, of course, there’s the crescendo at the end of the episode, when a nearby mountain erupts and rains flaming rocks on the village below.
“In an explosion there is a physical explosion. We put cork and stuff in there that doesn’t rip your head off, but gives you something to duck and jump out of the way,” Armstrong said. “But again, you must not anticipate. You must not start the jump before the bang starts, you must not be too late. You should not overdo it and be too theatrical and energetic. Again, it dampens it, just trying to keep it as real as possible.”
It’s a technical balance that the show’s leads are also able to show off in the episode. Arondir’s stumbling over a giant Ostirith trap and a duel with a massive orc seemingly twice his size gave actor Ismael Cruz Córdova the chance to unlock a different kind of performance. These scenes involved wire work, with Córdova attached by a harness to a rig that helped him fly through the air via various jumps and throws. It’s a physical challenge that Cordova didn’t know he would face when he auditioned for the role, but later fought for the chance to do as much as possible himself.
This process, in turn, helped him better understand the character he was playing.
“Elves are precise, elves are perceptive and he is a warrior elf. So it’s not outside of his philosophical and physical ways. He’s a warrior, he has to be like that. So that really got me into playing the emotional part of everything,” Córdova said. “I hope you can see him trying to impose the stoic nature of his elven self, trying to show emotion, trying to connect. So I married them both. I believe there is a lot of drama in action. Even when I braked, I only ever did it in my role.”
The months of training and rehearsals were intended to prepare everyone physically, but also to connect Córdova with both his scene partners and other craftsmen in fight scenes that were choreographed down to the smallest movements.
“It’s precision. There’s a conversation and a bond you have to have with the people who operate the wire, and those are the people you don’t see,” Córdova said. “My steps have to be exactly the same every time. I have to hit that wire at the same time. They’re looking at me for the same visual cue that I need to perform at the same rhythm. Something that really stuck in my mind was the teamwork and connection with the artists around me. There’s an incredible amount of confidence as I’m hanging from that wire and jumping three stories. You have my life in your hands.”
“Each routine is Milli-Move engineered. You have to be prepared that your partner might forget their milli-move and go in the wrong direction. You just can’t go on with yours. If I swing the sword and you don’t duck, I have to be prepared to react that way,” Armstrong said. “You can hide it to a degree, like a punch where you line up a camera. But deep down, it needs to be done as real as possible, relying on each person, the receiver and the giver, to do the work together. But also be ready to react and stop and not really take anyone’s head off.”
Of course, these on-camera elements are not possible without an extensive technical support team and specialized equipment. The fact that much of the combat takes place at night gave Armstrong and episode director Charlotte Brändström a chance to hide some of the handy skeletons that support a variety of stunts. It also gave them an excuse to literally play with fire.
“It can be a handcuff, but in those situations it’s a bonus for me. It helps tremendously because there’s gear that we can have to enhance part of the action of a shot that you don’t have to remove from the shot because you can just use lighting to get it out of your field of view,” Armstrong said. “There’s always a big crane arm sticking out with cables, and then ratchet machines pull people. Even things that send out the fireballs, there’s devices with hoses or propane going there. If they fall off the roof there are safety cords or cords to get them in their moves. And if we do an A, it’s a lot easier to walk through a dark wipe than something your eyes can focus on more easily. You don’t have to worry about costuming the orcs in the distance because their torch is missing. There are such little things.”
The extreme physicality required to achieve what “Rings of Power” does in this episode eventually became the fuel for Córdova. Although that episode 6 fight was one of the later things he filmed in the season, he’s far from ready to finish it.
“It’s the endurance. I was so tired, like extremely tired. It was just always rehearsing, always fighting, always training. It was that stamina and the ability to connect with that emotional stamina,” Córdova said. “It became quite meditative and an enlightening process, through the pain, through the kind of brokenness, through the exhaustion. I kind of learned a new level of confidence and strength I didn’t even know I had. So it was definitely an enrichment for me as a person and as an actor and I’m ready for more.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power releases new episodes every Friday on Prime Video.
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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/10/lord-of-the-rings-the-rings-of-power-episode-6-battle-1234768493/ “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” Episode 6 – Into the Battle