The Ex-Marine Who Trained Callum Turner and Austin Butler for Masters of the Air Didn’t Underestimate the Power of Push-Ups, Sit-Ups, and Pull-Ups

“In real life, they went eight or nine hours over Nazi-occupied France, and in World War II, they had to learn to soldier before they became aviators, so we focused on getting them looking right in the uniform. Improving their presence and posture.”

Naturally, this meant physical training. “I start with Let’s see if we can get these guys in some kind of shape,” says Dye. “As with any military force, you’ve got a combination of introverts and extroverts. I’m not sure why, but the UK actors [the likes of Callum Turner and Raff Law] seemed to be much more introverted than the Americans [Austin Butler]. We had to accept that and work on it. It wasn’t about making them look great with their shirts off, but we wanted a certain dexterous physicality so that they could climb in and out of aircraft and maneuver themselves through constricted areas inside an aircraft fuselage. And to do that, we had to do two things; essentially, we had to limber them up and make them flexible.”

Dye says that at the start, the British actors tended to be better physical performers than the Americans, but the aim was to bring both groups up to the same standard, erasing any national differences in the process.

To do this, Dye deployed two of his favorite exercises: caterpillar push-ups and atomic sit-ups. In the former, you line up as many men as you have in the push-up position, their feet on the shoulders of the man behind. “You have is a long line of bodies that are all connected, then on command, they have to press up. If everybody does it properly, you can get thousands of pounds of meat in the air,” says Dye.

In the atomic sit-up, recruits lock legs and arms together, needing to rise as one. Both exercises teach teamwork as well as being great for your abs and, in the case of atomic sit-ups and your hips. One weak link in either chain ruins the exercise.

“What we find there is that leaders will emerge; they’ll start counting down their group to get everybody to come up,” says Dye. “So they’re invaluable in teaching the power of the team.”

One foot, then the other

With the group starting to think like a unit, Dye compounded the gains by making them run. And run some more. “Running is a really simple demonstration of the power of a group,” says Dye. “I make them listen to their foot strides, the boom, boom, boom. The rhythm picks up, and suddenly, you physically feel the power of that unit coming down the road. And that’s another great lesson. Once they have that, we begin to move them in formation. They begin to move more fluidly, which American soldiers tend to do more than British soldiers.”

Another team event saw the actors divide into two groups and pass a mock 500-lb bomb down the line, competing to be the first group to fuse it.

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