When director Gina Prince-Bythewood gave audiences at the 2022 Black American Film Festival in Miami, Florida a preview of her upcoming film “The Woman King,” the auditorium erupted in deafening applause. Screams of jubilation and adulation caused People’s Choice and NAACP Image Award winner Prince-Bythewood to bow her head, overwhelmed by the crowd’s praise.

Sony Pictures presented the action drama as a story based on real events concerning the Agojie, an aggressive all-female African military regiment that defended the Kingdom of Dahomey against European colonization in the 1800s. an Oscar®, plays General Nanisca, whom King Ghezp, played by John Boyega, plans to appoint as the new female king to advise him on the governance of the dominion of Dahomey.

The film required all actresses to commit to the authenticity of being warriors, and they had to do their own stunts so that audiences could viscerally experience the riveting story. To ensure the health and agility of their bodies, Sony employed personal trainer and lifestyle coach Gabriela Mclain with twenty years of experience. Mclain, originally from the Czech Republic, fell in love with dancing and danced professionally for Niki Harris, a former backing vocalist to pop legend Madonna.

Then an unexpected injury, a dislocated hip, derailed Mclain’s dancing career; she noticed his increased interest in martial arts after spending a lot of time training in the gym. “I was doing this kind of Tae-Bo that Billy Blanks used to do, and I fell in love with that kind of movement,” she said of her first health and wellness journey. .

At the suggestion of a friend, Mclain pursued a career in physical training because of his deep understanding of how humans function and behave. Soon after, she got her license to train and moved to the United States. She worked in a gym with many people who worked in the entertainment industry. Eventually, she took a leap of faith and slowly built her following. She began coaching individuals like comedian Kym Whitley on effective workouts and then had two children.

However, after her second child, she fell ill and credits this heartbreaking experience with inspiring her to become a better teacher. “I believe that going through the pains and facing the immunity [system] made me understand the body on another level. I feel like that’s why dealing with [these] women and not hurt them for six months straight with training and martial arts,” she says.

Although her resume is impressive, Mclain divulges that she has earned her position as the main trainer for the cast members. She trained Davis for four years, and although the “Fences” actress is credited as the film’s producer, she couldn’t greenlight Mclain’s role in the project. Sony and the other producers also had to agree to his involvement.

Her years of working with Davis provided Mclain with an understanding of the actress’ body and how to deal with injuries. “I know her body, so it makes sense. However, when I started coaching Viola, we started on July 12. A week later, they saw how I trained, how Viola talked about me, they have traveled my course, and [asked if I] could you practice [Thuso Nokwanda Mbedu]. I’m like, of course, it would be my honor,” she explains. As she continued to train the two actresses and produce results, she then received a call from Prince-Bythewood, who wanted her prepare the rest of the cast and “turn them into athletes.”

“I want you to turn them into warriors inside and out. I don’t want anything to be fake for the screen. I want them to become those warriors,” she recalled of her conversation with the director of the film. She set out to create physical exercises for Sheila Atim and Lashana Lynch, both from London, during pre-production; however, a significant dilemma immediately arose as to who would maintain the performers’ bodies throughout production. The production team introduced Mclain to Sony, and she was approved to stay on as the lead trainer and nutritionist for prominent South African cast members and actors as well.

“With Gina, we both grew up as athletes, and there’s a certain toughness, which she liked. I think even the actresses are all fighters and warriors in real life. It was so easy to tap into that and open it up in them,” she added. said. Mclain worked alongside the film’s fight and stunt coordinator, Danny Hernandez, who worked on the Netflix blockbuster “The Old Guard.” Mclain would attend the actors’ martial arts sessions and watch their movements and the muscles they used so she could identify areas that needed more development and strength.

“If she’s going to swing a sword every day, I have to make sure the shoulder is strong enough to do it because those swords are heavy. If you see the movie, there’s a scene where Thuso grabs the sword , and she falls. So we were working together, and I was working more on strength and aesthetics, so they’re a lot like warriors. And Danny was working on choreography,” she says of the intensity of the scenes in combat and subsequent workouts she cultivated Davis, Mbedu, Lynch and Atim each endured daily five-hour full-body activities including running, weight training and martial arts, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Mclain wanted the women to acclimatize to having their bodies challenged every day and stick to the same exercise regimen for a four-month span, coupled with recovery sessions. Davis would run for an hour and thirty minutes focusing on drills, technique, speed, and acceleration, then depending on the day Davis had two to three hours of martial arts conditioning.

“Then she would have another hour and a half of strength training, 90 minutes usually full body, I always start with the legs, we [would] doing heavy weights, but also combined with light weights, so I keep agility and flexibility. Then generally move to the upper body. Again, a mix of light and heavy weight builds volume and thickness. But also get those small muscles with small weights to keep up the speed and agility for punching and swinging,” she says, describing how she transformed Davis’ body with high-intensity interval training, pushing her and her castmates beyond their comfort zones.

“That’s when I feel the warrior’s mind open up, and that’s when you feel the pressure when you’re like, ‘Okay, either I’ll start. to cry, or I’ll just start fighting. fights,” she remarked, talking about the mental toughness women needed to generate for their roles. “You have to understand what these women feel, you go through the pain, so training is nothing compared to when you get cut with the sword. So you have to feel that pain to get them. [in the right] state of mind [and] also challenging the heart, of course, in a healthy way.”

During filming, Mclain would maintain his physical prowess non-stop before each scene, and “I’d be there to pump them up”, both mentally and to make sure the blood was flowing to their muscles so they were visible to the camera. . Even when the actors weren’t filming, they kept training with her: “They saw the results, and they liked that feeling; [made them feel] powerful.”

In addition to creating vigorous workouts, she used DNA testing to determine how each person’s body functions and processes macronutrients for their muscles, tendons and ligaments. Understanding the genetic makeup of all screen players has given him insight into how to avoid injury and tailor diet plans based on each person’s body type.

“Viola, for example, I know she’s prone to ligaments and tendons, she needs more recovery. When she’s training, I’m going to make sure she always stretches before doing anything. I’m going to be honest, every time, even if it’s martial arts or she gets down on her knees, I’ll make sure her muscles are ready to move so we don’t hurt each other and we can film another five months,” she explains, adding, “That would also tell me, let’s say Viola doesn’t process fat that quickly. So I put her on a keto diet; she’s going to be bloated, she’s going to feel lethargic and foggy in her head because fats are slowly changing For Viola, it was great to keep her on a low fat diet more, and I found she was okay with carbs For me, that’s a green light to maintain his carbs, of course it’s going to be complex carbs to give him energy.

Mclain instructed the women to eat five meals a day, every three hours, and to drink a gallon of water a day to keep their bodies hydrated and their muscles lubricated. She worked with a chef in South Africa to come up with nutritious and delicious ideas for their meals.

However, the actresses complained that they couldn’t have sweet treats like cake, and Mclain gave them an avocado chocolate mousse: “It worked because it gave them energy. They weren’t starving but were eating healthy and according to their body’s needs. That’s why we got the results, the performances, the fights, the power and the looks.”

The film debuted on September 16, 2022, grossing $19 million at the box office. However, controversy began to arise around the film when some viewers lambasted the film for not accurately depicting historical facts about how the Kingdom of Dahomey actively played a role in the transatlantic slave trade, Insider reports. .

But Mclain is aware of the comments but thinks everyone should go see the film because they will connect with the narrative: “I grew up in communism, people look at you and say you never fought and the people don’t know your story. All of us have a story, and we’re all struggling with something. I feel like everyone will relate to this movie.”

For more information on Gabriela Mclain’s training programs, go here.