The Old Guard on Netflix has won fans, partly because of its visceral action scenes.
At SDCC’s ComicCon@Home, The Old Guard director Gina Prince-Bythewood appeared at the panel, ‘Women Rocking Hollywood 2020: Supporting Female Helmed Film and TV’, alongside a host of women directors and producers.
Prince-Bythewood spoke about the success of Netflix’s The Old Guard, working with comics creator Greg Rucka, the powerful action scenes, and creating a believable dynamic between her characters.
The Old Guard Comics to Film
Prince-Bythewood was effusive about the working relationship she had with Rucka, who created The Old Guard comics and wrote the screenplay for the film.
Aside from the story, which she enjoyed directing for the screen, Prince-Bythewood was particularly enamoured with the way Rucka had managed to create the central female characters, Andi (Charlize Theron) and Nile (KiKi Layne).
Like the numerous fans of the comic series and the film, the director also loved that the female characters were warriors, no matter which era they came from, without any added explanations.
According to Prince-Bythewood, too many women warriors in media are borne out of trauma, instead of just being allowed to be “courageous and badass”. This is a stance that the director wants to eschew in all her work going forward from The Old Guard—because she was surrounded by courageous women around her when she was a young athlete and audiences need to see more of that on-screen.
Directing The Old Guard’s Action Scenes
Prince-Bythewood, like so many women around the world, loves action films. But Hollywood’s narrative that women don’t watch this genre has severely curtailed not only who audiences see in front of the camera, but also who gets hired behind the scenes.
Director Prince-Bythewood was very aware of this mindset as she took the action scenes head-on. She was excited to shoot them but was cognizant of where the characters were coming from—the Old Guard are centuries old, as are their weapons and the skills they have with those weapons.
It was imperative for her to make the fight scenes look believable and to show how the archaic weaponry could defeat the modern weapons used by the Old Guard’s enemies.
But that wasn’t the only aspect that the director wanted to add realism to. With two female leads, Prince-Bythewood wanted to show the audience how believable it was that Andi and Nile could fight and win.
To make the action scenes stand out, the director chose set pieces that drove the story, and she asked Theron and Layne to do the fights themselves, instead of relying on a stunt team, so their faces would be visible to audiences. Both actors were up to the task, though it required months of training.
Fight co-ordinator Daniel Hernandez got a shoutout from Prince-Bythewood for being a great collaborator—the director mentioned how she’d heard horror stories of female cast and crew being treated unfairly by stunt teams, but that was not the experience on The Old Guard.
Prince-Bythewood’s observations are interesting, especially as Theron mentioned during her ComicCon@Home panel how differently she has been treated by stunt teams in her career.
Speaking of her time on The Italian Job—where she was the only female cast member—Theron was given a much longer stunt training schedule than her male counterparts. The assumption appeared to be that a woman wouldn’t be able to take to the training as well as the men.
Theron took the challenge to heart and ended up being able to endure more of the fight scenes than her fellow co-stars. But it was clearly an incident that bothered her, especially as it wasn’t an isolated one.
The landscape has since changed as Prince-Bythewood enjoyed working with her stunt team and felt that they were respectful of her. She also felt her background in kickboxing helped her better understand what would look good in a fight scene.
However, she did mention that shooting the action scenes was an exhausting process. Not only did the actors have to train very hard for it, but Prince-Bythewood had to ensure she took enough takes so that, in the editing room, she wouldn’t feel like she’d missed out on a shot that she could no longer add in.
The Old Guard’s Central Pair
Action films are still catching up in the gender department—they have been overwhelmingly centred on cis white, straight men. While we are seeing more women take on lead roles in these films, they rarely feature women of colour.
An action film featuring not one, but two women, one of whom was a young Black woman, was a massive draw for Prince-Bythewood when directing The Old Guard.
And ensuring that the dynamic between Andi and Nile was character-driven and realistic was a huge focal point for Prince-Bythewood’s direction. She aimed for a veteran-rookie conceit that powered not only the casting, but the production design, and the fight scenes.
So much so, that Theron and Layne spent a couple of months training together so that the dynamic was better cemented. The fact that Theron already has a few action films under her belt, while Layne is still new to the genre, with a more dramatic role in If Beale Street Could Talk behind her, made the partnership more plausible both on and off-screen.
Prince-Bythewood also elaborated on how Layne eventually earned the role. Having seen her in Beale Street, Prince-Bythewood felt that Layne was ‘too soft’ to play Nile, until she came in for the audition for The Old Guard.
Layne expressed the innate vulnerabilities of Nile while also exuding the toughness the character embodies as a soldier. Prince-Bythewood knew within seconds that the Nile she had been looking for was before her. The rest, as they say, is history.
You can watch the panel discussion with Prince-Bythewood on the YouTube link below.
What was your favourite part of The Old Guard? Let us know in the comments.