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November 17, 2017

Knight Club

Training in medieval armor bonds cast and crew on Knightfall.

Paula Hendrickson
  • In tunics and chainmail: (from left) Pádraic Delaney, Guy Lewis, Simon Merrells and Sam Hazeldine

    Larry Horricks/History

The first time the stars of History’s Knightfall dressed in chainmail for a screen test, they were stunned by its heft.

“I couldn’t pull my sword out of my belt because I couldn’t lift my arm,” recalls Tom Cullen, who later weighed the costume and discovered he was wearing about 50 pounds in full chainmail — with thick tunic and armor — and around 35 pounds the rest of the time.

But authentic costumes were de rigueur for the series, about the Knights Templar, a Catholic military order that grew in power in the 12th century but met an unfortunate end: King Philip IV of France persecuted the group  and had many members arrested in 1307 and burned at the stake. The 10-episode tale debuts December 6.

Fortunately for Cullen — and his costars Pádraic Delaney and Simon Merrells — the production provided an intensive boot camp, on set at Barrandov Studios in Prague, in the Czech Republic. They even trained in chainmail to get used to moving under its restrictive weight.

“It was quite a lot of work, but we gave them strength and endurance,” says Cedric Proust, the stunt coordinator. “During prep, they were doing a normal workout in the morning, warming up, and then boxing for about an hour or an hour and a half. Then they did between two and three hours of swordfighting, broke for lunch, and then one or two hours on horseback.”

That’s not all. “Then we’d come back and do weights,” Cullen adds. “That was our day, for two weeks. It was a really intense regime. And we made sure we kept up that regime as much as possible during filming.”

Proust prefers having actors perform their own stunts when possible. “We were prepping fights with doubles, with the stunt guys,” he explains. “Then I  showed [the choreography] to the actors or gave them a video so they could learn new fights.”

The stars’ stunt doubles — Faycal Attougui for Cullen, Jakub  Bobuski for Delaney and Josef Jelinek for Merrells — helped with tutoring.Cullen was on set virtually every day of the seven-month shoot — the Welshman left once for a wedding and once for a funeral. Not surprisingly, the actors and stuntmen formed tight bonds.

“We worked together to improve and hone our skills,” he says. “It was great to have [Attougui] on set — he was watching every movement I made and gave me notes on every sword stroke.”

As difficult as it was wearing — and training in — chainmail and muslin tunics through extreme heat and cold, the result was worth it. The show “looks amazing,” Cullen says. “The costumes made us move in a specific way, which makes it look authentic.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2017

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