Thuso Mbedu is a female warrior on and off screen. Consider this: She recently went indoor skydiving precisely because she’s petrified by heights.

“That’s why I challenged myself to do it,” says Thuso. “Coming down, I was laughing the whole time. I want to do it again just because it was terrifying. I refuse to keep getting dizzy.” She literally laughs at her fears.

Thuso channels that same determination into his work. Watch some scenes from The female kingand you won’t doubt it.

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She needed it to develop the physical strength necessary to woman king, and for good reason. The film is inspired by the largely forgotten story of African female warriors from the kingdom of Dahomey. The Agoji (a veritable all-female army) defended the West African nation throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Naturally, Thuso would be required to fight alongside co-stars Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o, or at least pull off all the stunts (no doubles) that make the battles look more real than life. She therefore had to pass a fitness test to land the role of Nawi.

To her own surprise, she showed enough physical potential to land the role. “I was freaking out after I got home,” Thuso says. “I was out of breath and confused. Luckily, [the stunt coordinator] Danny thought I could be taken to a place where I could perform my own stunts.”

Here is exactly how Thuso prepared for battle and trained to become a female warrior:

Thuso started with mixed martial arts.

Thuso started training on her own as soon as she got the role. “I put myself in Muay Thai classes, because I didn’t want to start from scratch.” She filled her schedule with workouts of all kinds before filming.

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Those Muay Thai classes were just the beginning for her. She spent the two months leading up to pre-production building a solid fitness foundation.

This included military lessons at House of Champions every day. She added private sessions twice a week in May and June 2021.

She added weapons training and choreography.

Once pre-production began in July 2021, Thuso and his castmates stepped up their training. “We worked with the machete, the bo staff, and then we just kicked and punched and jumped,” she says. “It wasn’t just about learning the choreography that was at the top of my list, but watching the role.” Pros leading the training included Peter Iacangelo for bo staff, Kensi Emory for sparring and Noah Fleder for punching and kicking drills.

These months of practice have paid off. “I’m much more confident in terms of handling a weapon or just strength, I can see the difference,” she adds.

At his request for extra training, Thuso accidentally increased the training volume to everybody. “We were supposed to do martial arts for two hours every day,” she says. “So me being me, I asked for an extra hour because the choreography is a little tricky for me. They just did it for everyone…my bad, guys.”

“There was a time when we trained every day for two to three hours,” adds Thuso.

She focused on building strength with a personal trainer.

The legs and lower body were his main targets. “It was all about tightening everything up,” Thuso explains. Thuso trained with Gabriela Mclain, who is behind Viola’s mighty arms, four or five days a week during the three months of pre-production.

At a minimum, they trained for 90 minutes each day. “Each session started with the lower body to build the base for at least 30-40 minutes to prepare her for all the fight scenes,” Mclain explains. “We then moved on to the upper body where we usually work three different muscle groups, for example, biceps, shoulders and back. The last 15-20 minutes of our session focused on the abs and core. “

The intervals were intense. “I usually set the timer for 40 seconds on, 12 seconds off, and 3 sets for each movement,” Mclain says. Lower body exercises can include jump squats with dumbbells or kettlebells, deadlifts, explosive jumps, and jumping with or without weights. For the upper body, shoulder presses, side raises, vertical rows, bicep curls, side rows, and pull-ups were likely on the agenda.

Those core burners (mountain climbers, sit-ups, and crunches, with or without weights) finished the job, before a light stretch “to avoid soreness,” Mclain says.

She lifted weights, used balls and kettlebells, and did aerobic work to increase agility and speed. This added up to real results for Thuso. “I finally got some definition in my arms, legs and abs,” Thuso said. “I was also able to do the stunts and not get tired quickly, be able to keep going and push harder than necessary.”

“She shows up to every session, never a minute late, no apologies, ready to train, even though I know she might be exhausted,” adds Mclain.

This attitude paid off. “At the very beginning, I struggled to lift two and a half pounds, it was like everything was burning, everything was hurting me,” Thuso says. “Now we lift about 10, 20 pounds or 30 pounds.”

“By strengthening our bodies, they kind of made them resistant to injury,” Thuso added.

Thuso added sprints to improve his form.

Fight scenes required full-speed sprints, which was uncharted territory for Thuso. “I’m more of a long distance runner and not an explosive runner,” she says. “So I had to learn how to do that and look like I know what I’m doing.”

On days when she didn’t have weight training, she worked out with running coach Jerome Davis for an hour.

Thuso prioritized recovery to stay healthy.

All those sweating sessions took their toll on his body. Thuso didn’t forget the massage therapist provided for the casting during pre-production. “They had a therapist for us who came to see us at least once a week,” she says. “I also went to a physical therapist in Van Nuys, just for me.”

Thuso played his recovery time hot and cold. “I also did cryotherapy and then when I could, infrared sauna too.”

She still maintains her martial arts and bodybuilding.

Although Thuso doesn’t log those three-hour marathon workouts on the reg, she maintains a similar routine. “100%, I absolutely fell in love with everything we do on set,” Thuso said. She took a few months to rest and recover before resuming sessions with Mclain.

Lately, Thuso is training three days a week at 7am. “We’re supposed to do an hour, but it can easily be an hour and a half or more because she’s so passionate about it,” Thuso says. “[Mclain] love it, and she always challenges me.”

Thuso became his guinea pig for abdominal training. Mclain brings him new moves (like sword crunches and oblique kayak crunches) for trial sweats. “So I got such good core strength, which allows me to be more creative with the workouts,” Mclain said. “I’m also always trying to make it more fun and incorporate visual warrior moves.”

sword cracks
1. Lie on the mat with your knees bent, back flat and feet bent. Hold a weight like a sword above your head.
2. Raise your shoulders, tighten your abdominal muscles and swing your arms as if you want to split something in half between your knees.
3. Make sure you only go halfway up. This is not a full sit up.

She has very real aversions to the gym that make her easier to relate to. “I hate battle ropes with everything in me,” Thuso says. “I always hated them. I always hate them. I’ll probably die hating them.” Not far behind on this list? Lunges, squats and jumps. “All I have to do. In fact, I hate it,” she admits.

That doesn’t mean she ignores them, though. “Thuso’s role is to pretend not to enjoy the shoot, even though I know she secretly likes it,” Mclain laughs.

“All jokes aside, Thuso is a driven and disciplined person,” Mclain continues. “If Thuso encounters obstacles, she practices the specific moves until she performs perfectly. It’s just who she is, and I love that about her. I’m extremely proud of her and the progress she’s achieved. She’s a real warrior.”

Thuso said. “All the stunts? I’m ready to go.