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Superhero stunts demand a blend of fighting styles

Associated Press Published: May 1, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The werewolf and vampire battles of "Twilight," Jason Bourne's super-agent skirmishes and the sword swinging of "Conan the Barbarian" were all just warm-ups for stunt master Jonathan Eusebio, who choreographed the superhero fight scenes in "The Avengers" with the passion of a lifelong comic book fan.

"I grew up as a fanboy," said Eusebio, 38. "I grew up reading comics, collecting comics, so for me it's a dream job. And to be part of something new, something that's never been done before like this, it is really exciting. It's almost like the highlight of my career."

Eusebio spent countless childhood hours absorbing tales of the Hulk's immense size and strength, Black Widow's quick and deadly moves, Hawkeye's precision archery, Thor and Loki's otherworldly powers, and Captain America's unflinching readiness. Add in a big Marvel budget and the high stakes of saving humanity, and it's a comic-fan turned fight-coordinator's perfect gig.

Eusebio taught Jeremy Renner how to wield Hawkeye's bow and showed Scarlett Johansson the Black Widow's wicked martial arts. In short, he helped give the stars and their stunt doubles their superpowers.

The actors spent months preparing for the physical demands of their roles and learning the techniques that make them lethal on screen, if not on the street.

They began with basic training to learn the body mechanics of various martial arts, then Eusebio built fight sequences based on each character's attributes and actor's strengths. He had a distinct advantage here: As a fight coordinator, he'd worked with many of the actors before, and as a fanboy, he knew the characters well.

"It becomes a part of you as you're growing up," he said.

He choreographs the fighting moves into a camera-ready routine, which the stars and their stunt doubles each master. Johansson, Renner and Chris Evans, who plays Captain America, compared the training process to learning a dance.

"It's choreographed steps that are all put together in order for you to pack a punch and in order to make it safe and not as painful as it could be," Johansson said. "You learn to kind of seamlessly become one with your double and with Jeremy (Renner)'s double and be able to fight one another interchangeably.

Renner said he spent more time preparing than in front of the camera.

"I only shot about 18 days, and when I wasn't shooting I was in that stunt gym," he said. "It was mostly (learning) that hand-to-hand stuff that you can't (simulate by computer), and you can't fake it."

Evans compared the stunt preparation to superhero summer camp.

"(Captain America) doesn't really have any training in any one particular style of fighting, so it wasn't like I had to learn some certain type of martial arts," he said. "You just have to learn the choreography like you would a dance, you know, punch here, step here. It's just a lot of stunt training. It's kind of fun. It's kind of like summer camp."

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