One of the most physically demanding sports that also tests a person’s mental strength, rowing is not an easy sport to master. ‘The Boys in the Boat’ follows the story of a rowing team that surprises everyone, going against all odds and proving itself to be the best of the lot. The team goes undefeated to eventually win gold at the Olympics, but it takes everything for them to achieve this feat. They prepared night and day for to make their mark in history, but the actors playing them are not the Olympics level athletes. How did they manage to play the part?
The Boys in the Boat Cast Spent Five Months Learning to Row
When George Clooney was put at the helm of bringing ‘The Boys in the Boat’ to life, he knew that the most important thing to do was to get the rowing right. In a movie that is all about rowing, it wouldn’t make sense to bring in a cast of actors who had no idea what they were doing on the boat. Luckily, the plan was to shoot the film chronologically, which means that the team would have enough time to get in shape, and it would also allow the film to track their progress, much in sync with what happens to their characters. But even with months of training, it wasn’t easy to replicate the historic 1936 win of the original team.
Actor Jack Mulhern, who plays Don Hume in the stroke seat, compared the experience of rowing to driving a car, only with eight people learning to “drive at 100 miles an hour sharing one steering wheel”. Olympics level coach Terry O’Neill and US Rowing Level 3 coach Nick Harding were brought on board to coach the team of actors, none of whom had any prior experience. About a month and a half into training, George Clooney and the producers took stock of the situation and realized that the guys still needed a lot more work. Fortunately, they were in good enough shape by the time they needed to film the Olympic race scene to make it look as authentic as possible.
To begin with, the actors were taught to row in a controlled environment. Instead of being sent directly to the river, they were taught to get the movements and the rhythm right inside a pool-type setting. Even after that, when they finally arrived on the river, they discovered that the change in setting brought a load of other challenges, with synchronization being the biggest of them all.
To help the actors, the coach brought in additional help. Instead of putting all eight of them together, they brought four real rowers to sit alternately with them. Rowing with the professionals brought more perspective for the actors, who had their mistakes pointed out in real-time, getting to learn the techniques on the go. According to actor Callum Turner, who plays Joe Rantz, they had about 30-40 people from the rowing community with them at all times.
All in all, it took about four weeks for them to learn to row as a team and a total of five months to row, good enough to at least look like they were competing in the Olympics. By the time of the final race, the actors were not only in sync but were also pushing each other to do better. Like Joe and Hume in the movie, Callum and Mulhern landed in arguments a couple of times about the right technique. In the end, the entire team was impressed by how far they’d come, with the actors themselves proud of achieving the feat.