Stuntman Mike Chute chuckles a little bit when he hears people talking about the new workout fad called CrossFit. That’s not because he finds it to be silly but rather because he started doing it ten years ago when it was used to fashion the uber-fit cast members of the film 300. Mike has been in ridiculous shape for many years thanks to 300 and the new approach to working out at that time. This established stuntman remarks that working on 300 was one of the most unusual experiences of his life. That is saying a lot for this pro who has worked on major film productions like X-Men: Days of Future Past, Suicide Squad, Lucy, The Day After Tomorrow, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and a host of TV shows. Chute is one of the mainstays of the film industry’s stuntmen so when he says an experience was like none other, people take note.
As a traditional stuntman, Mike Chute does it all. He drives, he performs choreographed fights, he jumps out of perfectly good buildings. Chute and his compatriots are the men and women who make the faces of Hollywood look brave and adventurous. Veteran actor Michael Ironside has worked countless times with Chute. Ironside, whose credits include Top Gun, Total Recall, The Perfect Storm, The Machinist, and others states, “I’ve been blown up, dropped from buildings, crushed by vehicles, set ablaze, shot, stabbed, beaten to a pulp and terminated in every possible way one can imagine. All of them, spectacular sequences, well outside my realm of expertise/talent and far too physically risky and dangerous for me to perform. Michael Chute has been my action double and/or stunt coordinator whom I’ve entrusted my physical safety to countless times.” Situations like this are just another day at the office for Chute. When this stuntman recalls his work on 300, it involves a completely different and unique experience.
300, based on the Frank Miller Graphic Novel was a smashing worldwide box office success, grossing $457 MM and winning over twenty awards (Saturn Awards, BMI Awards, Empire Awards, etc.). In many ways, every aspect of making the film was different including the preparation for filming. In preparation for filming, Chute was given one week to learn ten different fights with 10-30 moves per fight. A natural athlete who played semi-pro hockey, Mike had an inclination towards anything which resembled sports, but Chute likens this experience to dancing. He states, “It’s the same principle as dancing. You’re moving in an organized sequence around a floor. For 300 we learned a very specific set of moves that were based on a few different martial arts styles centered around Wushu Kung Fu.” Once Mike and the other stunt fight team members were chosen, they trained for four months, followed by four months of filming. The actors and stuntmen on 300 spent 60% of their day training with weapons and rehearsing fight scenes while the remaining 40% was a CrossFit workout. Mike shed 30 pounds in training for the film. As someone who has been a natural athlete who loathed training, Chute took well to the variety of training. There was an added factor which contributed to the progress of the cast member’s workout. Mike notes, “They would time us. Forty men with egos become competitive quite quickly in that situation. It was still a lot of fun.”
One of the factors that was not so exciting was the filming environment. In order to capture the actual look and vibe of Miller’s Graphic Novel 300’s producers and Director Zack Snyder (decided to film in a soundstage entirely using green screens. For a professional stuntman who is used to being in the eye of the storm rather than imagining he is there, it was a bit of a challenge. Chute comments, “Zack Snyder was an unbelievable ball of energy. He was so much fun to work for. He made the days go much quicker. I normally work on really big sets. On 300, there was nothing there; it was all using your imagination. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun, but I wouldn’t want to make a lot of movies that way. I’m definitely glad I did it because I gained even more respect for actors who can use their imagination to give such a believable performance on screen.
With months of rigorous training and demands for use of imagination, the most torturous part for a stuntman like Mike was sitting still. He reveals, “The hardest part of making 300 was being in the makeup chair. Even though everyone was in the best shape of their lives, the appearance on the camera had to be big in a Hollywood sense. We spent four hours every day in the chair getting makeup put on and then an hour taking it off. The camera test revealed to the filmmakers that the abs weren’t standing out like they wanted. It’s amusing when you have trained to get a six pack and then they are painting shadows on them. The costumes that we wore as the Persian army members were made entirely of neoprene, resulting in all of us losing any water weight we might have had. Everyone was carved out of stone but it just didn’t translate to a comic book type look without the makeup. 300 was easily the most physically demanding movie I’ve been a part of.”
As a stuntman who is always required to be in top physical shape, Mike Chute has a perspective on the start of a fitness trend that is ubiquitous these days. On a parallel path, Mike’s career is more vibrant and present than it was even ten years ago. As a part of the X-Men and The Mummy franchises, Mike has proven that he is taking the legacy of stuntmen into current days and evolving with it. Mike’s most recent work can be seen in DC’s Suicide Squad, Marvel’s X-Men: Apocalypse, and the upcoming XXX: Return of Xander Cage