The real-life sword master prepares the actors for real-time movements on screen
It’s confusing enough that The Three Musketeers has four musketeers, but every movie version actually has five: The story’s four, plus the real-life sword master who trains the actors. And so, for the latest remake, let’s hear it for Athos, Porthos, Aramis, D’Artagnan and Anderson.
That’s Bob Anderson, the 71-year-old former British Olympic fencer and coach, who for the past 40 years has taught the likes of Errol Flynn, Sean Connery, and Mandy Patinkin the art of parry and thrust. Anderson not only staged the light-saber duels in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, he actually donned Darth Vader armor for the fighting scenes.
”That’s not very well known,” Anderson says. Vader actor David Prowse explains that he did his own swordplay in Star Wars, but when the movie became a hit deserving of sequels, ”having one of the principals do his own stunts made (the filmmakers) very weird from an insurance point of view.”
Under Anderson’s instruction, actors begin with slow-motion choreography, then gradually build up to real-time movements. For Musketeers that process took a month, and Anderson, to his delight, found his students eager learners. ”Chris O’Donnell became very athletic and gymnastic,” he says. ”Kiefer Sutherland got really wrapped up in his role — he couldn’t wait for the sword action to happen. Charlie Sheen was very precise, very technical. And they couldn’t have picked anybody better than Oliver Platt for Porthos. He’s a fun man, with a whole bag of tricks and gimmicks.” But Anderson’s students rarely take up the sport seriously. ”Actors almost never do,” he says. ”They enjoy the make-believe.”