What does it take to build a movie badass? I chatted with super-cool Wonder Woman cast member, Hari James, about the training it took to build a squad of strong, kickass ‘Amazons’, and how she has CrossFit to thank for her incredible Wonder Woman experience.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did your involvement in the Wonder Woman movie come about?
I was working in the police force and I’d been doing CrossFit for a year when one of the girls from the gym where I train convinced me to come up to London for the 2014 British CrossFit Championship. I’d finished one of the workouts and I think I was dramatically lying on the floor, when one of the judges came up and said, ‘Have you got a few minutes? I’ve got a lady that wants to speak to you.’
She came over, introduced herself as a casting director for Warner Brothers and said she was here to find any females who fit a ‘look’ for a film they were looking to produce. She described it as something along the lines of the female version of ‘300’ as to what she was looking for. She asked whether I would be interested, so I gave her my details, she took a video of me introducing myself, and that was it to be honest.
Had you any acting or film experience prior to this?
Nope. It was completely out of the blue. Laura, who I was competing with, had a bit of a laugh about it with me: Was it even a real thing? We were a bit sceptical. Then I went back to work on the Monday and I had an email from this lady saying thank you for having a chat and could I send over some pictures and email over some videos of me competing so that they had more footage. A little bit of digging and seeing her email address and we were like, ‘Oh, this looks legit.’ Correspondence went back and forth and it went from there.
At what point did you learn it was for the new Wonder Woman film?
It was quite far into the process to be honest. I went and did a screen test, then a formal offer came through. But even then it was given a code name. It was only after we were told it was in London and then in Italy for 5 weeks that we pieced it together and thought it could be Wonder Woman. But it wasn’t until we got there [to the studio] that we were officially told. It was all kept very hush-hush. Obviously close family and work needed to know because I needed the time off. But you couldn’t say anything about where we were going.
Did you have to do an audition?
No. In fairness, I wasn’t there to act. I’d never done any acting, so it wasn’t something I had gone looking for. I’d only got the part because I had a certain look. One of the things I kept saying to the casting team was, ‘You know I’m not an actress?’ and they were like, That’s fine. So no audition, apart from doing a little screen test where they’d sent me a little passage that I had to try and learn. Again, surreal and completely out of my comfort zone!
Can you tell us about your character, Trigona, and the rest of the Amazons?
There were a lot of Amazon women in the film, a big group of us. Five or six of us were given names and were a little bit more at the forefront of bits and pieces that were happening. A lot of the stunt girls were the ones who did the individual pieces and they were awesome – we did some training with them and they helped us to get to grips with swinging a sword, and we had to do some horse riding holding spears. The stunt girls are just insane, the things they can do are incredible. I don’t think they get the credit they deserve. I now look at a film differently because I understand about how much work effort goes into what ultimately ends up being 2 hours. It’s massive.
To start with you were based in London with fellow Amazon cast members – what was this like?
I went up to London on a Monday-Friday basis, stayed in London and then we had a 6-week period of training. It then became my absolute dream, being paid to train every day. It was brilliant. And obviously I got to train with the other characters and cast of Amazons. We’d have training in the morning then two hours’ horse-riding, then we’d have stunts and then training again. And that was our day for six weeks. All done in London.
What was a typical day of training and stunt work like?
It was long. And that was another thing that was a bit of an eye opener, not having done anything [for a film] before. It was hard, a different type of tiring. It was an early pick up, get to the gym at 7.30am, then training 8am-10am, then leave at 10.30am to get to horse riding for 11am. Then we’d have a lunch break and then stunts 2pm-4pm and then a training session 5pm-6.30pm, and that was pretty much Monday-Friday. It was full-on.
What was it like training with Mark Twight and the other Amazons?
It was amazing to get to work with Mark Twight (legendary trainer of Hollywood superheroes) and see how he got all the girls together. A lot of the training that he brought in was similar to stuff that I’d done with CrossFit, plus new things which was good as well. It was nice to be able to train alongside the girls. Ultimately, having a lot of girls together could go badly – having that many people together for that amount of time. But the training environment clicks and you all go into the same pain cave in order to get to an end goal, so everyone was really genuinely quite encouraging. It worked really well.
Was it strength work you were doing in training?
It was a variety of stuff. The gym set-up they had was insane. They had a unit which looked like a CrossFit gym with all the kit in – it had your ropes for climbing, your ski ergs, your bikes, your rowers, kettlebells, free weights, squat racks – it had everything in there that I was used to seeing on a daily basis [at CrossFit]. Training that much, you get bored and your body kind of gets used to it so the key to the training was that it was different every single day. There’d be a strength element to it where you might be squatting and deadlifting, or you might be doing upper body stuff. We did a lot of teamwork as well, where you might be in threes and fours having to get through so many metres on a row and then having to run, throw medicine balls, pull sleds, climb ropes… engaging everybody so we were working together. There was also a lot of emphasis on warming-up and stretching.
Obviously, it’s not possible to train every single day at such a high level, so you had that programmed in to the schedule – you’d have hard days, recovery days or lighter days and just working your body all-over. It was intense. And incredible to see all the girls changing shape.
Did you have a diet plan you had to stick to?
Diet-wise, they did give guidance but at no point were they strict. Because I’d always followed a diet plan I wasn’t exposed to that as much [in that I didn’t need any help]. But at the end of the day, you wanted to look the part.
There was certainly an emphasis as we got closer to filming that [diet and training] would pick up [in intensity] a little bit so you were looking a little bit more ripped. But it was all done gradually and it wasn’t so intense that people were crying or collapsing! It’s probably quite a tough area to control – people had to be comfortable and understand why they were doing what they were doing. They took photos as we went along so people could see how they were changing shape.
Tell me about the horse riding training. Were you already familiar with horse riding?
I rode horses when I was little. When we were talking in London, they (Warner Bros) asked me whether I had done any horse riding, and I was like, Yeah, I used to go when I was younger. And then I thought, I hope they don’t think I’m some sort of jockey! But no, to be honest horse riding was probably my favourite part of it. I used to love horse riding when I was younger and being able to have 2 hours a day on these amazing animals that are used in all the films and that basically knew what they were doing more than any of us did [was special]. The people at the stables were brilliant and would teach us to ride without stirrups, to ride with no hands or with a sword, controlling the horses.
It was brilliant, but also really hard. Tiring. You’d do two hours and then after that your legs would be dead!
Did you do any of the stunts standing up on the horses?
We got to watch the girl who was stunt-doubling on lots of the horse stuff when she was doing tricks. And when we did have any downtime, the guys in the stables would show us how to do tricks like running alongside the horse and jumping on, which was really nice. It wasn’t something we used in the film, but it was something they helped us do to make it a little bit more fun.
What other kind of stunt work did you do?
We had a lot of stuff where we were on crash mats practicing rolls or falling, learning how to react to being hit or punched, or hit with a sword. And then trying to learn sequences just to make it look more real. I probably found that the hardest. A lot of the girls were dancers and you had your actresses there… it was very unfamiliar to me, I felt a little bit like an awkward statue! [laughs]. I felt quite uncomfortable first because you go one at a time and you feel like everyone’s looking at you. So yeah, that was the thing I found the hardest to adapt to because it was so, so out of my comfort zone. But the stunt girls were amazing and we’d go and have a little bit of a practice with the girls that we were training with, so we were all much more comfortable with it.
Were the swords heavy?
They were replicas, but you have to have a bit of weight behind them so they look real. It’s quite hard to make a sword appear heavy [when it’s not] – to have that sort of tension in your arms – so you have to have some weight behind it.
At what point did you head to Italy to film Wonder Woman?
We did a little bit of filming in London, some green screen stuff, but then we went to Italy at the end of March that year. We were in Italy for 5 weeks. That was our beach – that was where Themyscira (Wonder Woman’s home island) was created. That’s where we had our locations and where filming was done.
Where did you stay while you were filming in Italy?
We were in three locations. We stayed in a place called Happy Village, which made us laugh, it was literally a holiday village and just us lot there. They had some private beaches, so that’s where a lot of the filming was done. We were there for about two-and-a-half weeks, that was our longest stint. We had a gym set-up there too.
What was a typical day on set in Italy like – were you still training?
Training dropped off a bit because now we were there to film. So sometimes it was 5am starts to get to hair and make-up and get into costume, and then being on-set pretty much all day. You’d get called to film and then when finished we’d be able to go back and train. Or, if we had a later start, we’d train in the morning. But it kind of depended on what scenes you were doing and when we were needed – trying to fit it in around that. Once you were in hair, make-up and costume, there wasn’t really a lot else you could do. A couple of us tried to see if we could train, but obviously in our costumes you risk sweating or damaging your hair or make-up – so not ideal!
Was being on a film set for the first time an eye-opener?
Redoing the same thing so many times just for one little clip was a massive insight into how much time and effort goes into it – it’s crazy. The simplest scenes being redone, redone, redone. And then you get to actually film, but the majority of that doesn’t even make it to the final film – obviously they just pick the bits they want and everything gets shrunk down. It’s just so much work.
Was there a lot of waiting around while you filmed Wonder Woman?
Yes, even if you’re not in a scene you might be in the background, setting the scene while they were filming. So even when they’re not necessarily filming you, you’d still be in place to help create the atmosphere so that the people who were acting had someone to look to and act towards.
In the film the island of Themyscira is stunningly beautiful. Was this true to life or CGI?
It sounds a bit corny, but it was one of those breathtaking places. It was really warm and when you see the film, yes that is what it was like. To ship everybody out there and set-up was a massive operation but when you got there you were like, okay, I can see why we came out. You could see why they chose it.
By the time we came back we had some crazy suntan lines because we had these random costumes on with arm bracelets and all the bits cut-out!
Were you having to train for the CrossFit Open while you were out filming in Italy?
All the main [film training] work had been done and it was kind of about maintenance then, but the CrossFit open was during the last week we were out and Brooke [Ence] and I were competing. So we still had competition and training to get done for the season. Sometimes, we would be training at 10pm/10.30pm because it was the only time we could get a session done – and we couldn’t afford to not do it. Brooke, certainly, is a world class athlete and can’t afford to go a couple of days without training. The trainers were amazing though and we’d open up the gym at 10pm/10.30pm just so that we got something done.
Were you following your own training plan at that point?
Yeah. All the way along we’d been allowed to do our own stuff on top because our training was a little bit different. With the other girls, sessions were split up – some might be in scenes and some might not, so the trainers would have on-going training; whenever somebody was free they could come and get an hour’s workout done. It was very similar to the stuff we were doing in London – they took a lot of equipment out there and it was the same kind of workouts and movements. Training was to maintain the physiques we’d created, so body building and strength stuff for that, as well as workouts to keep our fitness up and stay in shape. They managed it pretty well and kept the gym running all day long.
I sounds exhausting having to fit your CrossFit training on top of an already long day…
There were certainly days when you came off set and you wouldn’t want to go training. It was quite nice having Brooke, who is so dedicated and had to train – it’s kind of her job. I think it was nice for her to have somebody else going, yeah, let’s go and train. So when one of us didn’t want to, the other would make the other one go along. It was a dream come true to be able to do it and it was thanks to CrossFit that I got the job, plus I love training, so it was just like ‘Let’s get on with it!’
Are there people from Wonder Woman who you’ll keep in touch with?
Yeah, definitely. These are people you spent a lot of time with. You have good and bad days [while filming], when people are fed up and people are tired and you form quite strong bonds in those circumstances, away from home. It’s a load of strangers put together and then next thing you have Monday to Friday with them for weeks and weeks. It was intense. Naturally you gravitate towards people with similar interests and there were a few of us there with sporting backgrounds who formed quite strong relationships. I guess it’s a similar mindset – we need to train and that was our kind of escape.
You used to compete in athletics for Wales and GB when you were younger, is that right?
I was a sprinter from when I was about 13 until when I joined the police at 22. And then at 30 I took up rowing and did a couple of years’ rowing [representing Wales]. And then I started CrossFit when I was 34/35. I’m 38 now.
So, Wonder Woman finishes filming. How did your role in Justice League come about?
When I was out in Italy with Wonder Woman it was mentioned, and a couple of us were approached and offered a role in Justice League. I came home for a couple of months and filming began later that year.
How did your Justice League experience compare to Wonder Woman?
It was a lot shorter and it was only in London. It was different in that I knew a little bit more about what to expect and when I went to the studio it was more familiar. There were a few of us who had worked together, the gym was familiar, the trainers were familiar, so that was quite nice. It was weird doing it so soon after, but that made it a bit more normal. Knowing what to expect for the hair and make-up, waiting around, and being able to plan around for that a bit better. It was great to be able to do that again for another 6-7 weeks.
Will you be in the Wonder Woman sequel?
We honestly don’t know. If Amazons are going to be needed then potentially we’re there to be used. It would make sense because a few of us have already done this Wonder Woman movie. But we genuinely don’t know anything about Wonder Woman 2 or what the storyline is. Ultimately, Amazons might not be in it. We just don’t know. We all massively hope so; it would be so great to go and do it all again.
In the meantime you’re on a career break from the police force and currently coach as a PT?
Yes. When I was on my career break – I took time off for Wonder Woman and then extended it for Justice League – I did my personal training and my CrossFit Level One qualification, so I now coach at Atlantic Way CrossFit, where I’m based. I train from there, I coach the classes, and I personal train from there.
It’s been amazing, the whole experience. Doing the film was one thing, but it’s given me the opportunity to be able to do something different. I’ve always loved sports, but when I finished athletics I’d kind of had enough of it and went into the police. Having been away [from sport], I really enjoy personal training and coaching people. I’m lucky, living the dream, getting to train, doing something that I love, which has all come about because of CrossFit. I feel really, really lucky.