Steven McMichael is a tough guy – the kind of guy who tortures middle-aged, accountants at fitness boot camps. But McMichael doesn’t spend his time making out-of-shape guys flip tires and climb ropes. Instead, the former marine spends his time getting movie stars ready for their big-screen fight scenes. I sat down with McMichael to talk about movies, fighting, and workout tips for dads.
Mocha Dad: How did you begin choreographing combat scenes for movies? Did you ever expect to get into this line of work?
Steven McMichael: On the TV series “Nightman,” I was the lead stunt double. The stunt coordinator would commonly ask me to help put together the fight scenes. The same thing happened on another TV series called “The Crow.” My first credit as a fight choreographer was on “The Immortal.” I never expected to get into this line of work. In my opinion, you don’t find stunts, stunts find you.
MD: How did the Marine Corps prepare you for your current job?
McMichael: Improvise, adapt and overcome. Those three words define how to prepare yourself to work in the film industry.
MD: What fighting techniques are you trained in?
McMichael: Taekwondo, Capoeira, Wushu (ascetic performance & weaponry).
MD: How do you go about training movie stars how to fight?
McMichael: Typically I start off by teaching actors how to open hand fight and we work on their strength training. Once the actors build up enough strength, I introduce them to fighting with weapons (which can weigh up to 30 kg). My most important task is making sure the actors feel comfortable. I often teach them the moves and let them give their own input, which also makes the scenes look more natural.
MD: You’ve trained many A-List actors. Who would win a fight between Will Smith, Wesley Snipes, Hugh Jackman, Elijah Wood and Michael Chiklis?
McMichael: Will Smith hands down. Will is the most physically gifted actor I have ever worked with.
McMichael: Full Metal Jacket. If you want to know what Marine Corps boot camp is like, this is it to a “T”.
MD: What are some of the best self-defense moves men should know?
McMichael: In my opinion, a combined defense-counter is the best. You not only deflect the attack, you strike at the same time (Jeet Kune Do for example). It is fast and effective. Other excellent self-defense moves would include (in MMA terms): the ‘rear-naked’ (standing up fight) or the ‘kimora’ (ground fight).
MD: What advice do you have for dads who may have gained a few pounds after the kids were born and want to get back in shape?
McMichael: Some first steps would include exercising with your baby. Taking the baby for daily walks in the jog stroller or front carrier and Dad-baby exercises such as ‘Baby Barbells’ would definitely help while enjoying your baby. As the baby gets older, there are more activities that you can do together. Also, try cooking fresh meals rather than falling victim to the take-out and frozen food trap—a frozen lasagna takes at least an hour to cook and is loaded with salt and preservatives and is low on taste, but gluten-free spaghetti with fresh turkey meatballs and salad takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and is far superior is taste and nutrition.
MD: After they’ve gotten started, how can fathers maintain their momentum and not give up?
McMichael: You have to make your healthy lifestyle a habit and you have to WANT to do it. Everyone has different reasons. For me, it’s for myself, my wife and our kids. To prevent boredom, you have to have a varied routine that uses multiple athletics.
MD: How can dads motivate their families to lead healthy lifestyles?
McMichael: I think the best motivation a dad can provide his family is leading by example. If dad is exercising and eating well, the rest of the family will follow suit.
MD: What are some of your favorite out-of-the-box fitness routines that would be fun for dads?
McMichael: The “Bruce Banner CrossFit Workout” is the most challenging, yet fun workout I have ever done. It is better with a group of guys cheering you on.
MD: I’ve trained in Taekwondo and Muy Thai, I’m a really cool guy, and my wife finds me attractive. Am I ready to be an action hero?
McMichael: I’ve been asked this a lot by both men and women. I paint them the following picture: You have to fall out of the back of a moving, five-ton truck going 30 miles/hr on a gravel road and your wardrobe is a tank top and shorts. You cannot wear any safety gear, and the director wants four different versions filmed. Are you good to do that? or shall I go through the list of all my injuries for you? Stunt performing is rarely glamorous work; it’s physically demanding and it can be extremely hard on the body.
MD: To me, people like you, who have served our country in the military, are true heroes. How would you define a hero and how can men lead more heroic lives?
McMichael: The main qualities of a hero are empathy and selflessness. Try donating your time to a charitable organization or special cause (The Marine Corps Toys for Tots for example) and include your kids in the process.