“It’s like learning how to dance,” Nick Frost says of shooting the fight scenes in AMC’s dystopian martial arts fantasy Into The Badlands. “Lives are at stake, so I tended not to… can I swear? Fuck around.”
Frost, a series regular for season two, joined the cast to play Bajie, the comic relief of sorts opposite Daniel Wu’s stern protagonist Sunny. The newcomer, who made a name for himself in comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz starring alongside his buddy Simon Pegg, was thrust into 10-hour days shooting rigorous fight scenes alongside Wu.
The shoots are intense. Sometimes the cameraman wears a helmet. To Frost’s surprise, he actually had to hit the stuntmen with nunchucks. “It’s a shame but also thrilling to do,” he says. “I have to concentrate and not kill anyone.”
The fluidity of the fight scenes, easily some of the best on television, stuns in the final cut. Behind the scenes, Badlands is a product of exhaustive physical training, tedious choreography, restrictive costumes, and possibly the most irritating element of all, fake smoke. The cast calls it “Badlands Lung.”
“It’s a new disease. I think AMC are in trouble,” Frost jokes.
Stamina and patience are a virtue on set, but the spiritual and structural core of the fight unit is martial arts coordinator Huan-Chiu Ku, affectionately nicknamed “Master Dee Dee.” When we spent time on set in Ireland last fall, we were introduced to Master Dee Dee as he orchestrated a fight scene with Ally Ioannides’ Tilda. Daunting at first in season one, Ioannides says it required a leap of faith in the fight unit. “It’s about pushing yourself to go do it,” she says. “A lot of it is trust.”
It helps to have someone who’s presence demands it on set. Master Dee Dee, who once upon a time was a stunt double for Jet Li and worked on films like Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is a perfectionist in white gloves. Whether he’s analyzing the monitor as filming begins, hooking up wires with those big white gloves to send an actor in flight, or critiquing moves within 5 seconds of yelling action, Master Dee Dee is the series’ kung fu soul.
“There’s something about Dee Dee’s face that makes you want to do really well,” Frost says. “He has an insular side to him. You’re not sure if he’s really happy or mad.”
They shoot a few seconds of fight footage at a time and the cast only needs to remember a handful of moves for each of those takes, but Master Dee Dee doesn’t allow any slacking. If narratively season one’s six episodes felt like a prequel that set up a larger world, then physically season one’s fight training was an introduction course that paid off when production on season two began.
“The first season went zero to 100 and we were practically dead in pain,” say Emily Beecham, who plays The Widow. “This season we went more gradual. More yoga. We’re more confident this time because we know the system.”
For more on Into The Badlands, watch Beecham, Ioannides, and Frost join Den of Geek Live at Winnie’s Jazz Bar to talk about the new direction of season two and dive into more behind-the-scenes stories: