COVER STORY: Actor Daniel Stisen: How to prepare yourself for a role in an action film 


The former bodybuilder and actor Daniel Stisen has many experiences in action film roles. Daniel shares his training techniques including a special diet as he prepares for action roles in Film and TV. He is a former bodybuilder who has won a number of bodybuilder awards including some championships. His team in the film Retribution won an award for the Best Action Film and Best Fight Scene combining different types of fighting techniques which made the choreography even better. Daniel told us about his preparation and stunts which can be at times quite dangerous.

HS: What kind of a mindset is necessary to have to prepare yourself for an action role?

Daniel: “To prepare yourself for a leading action role, you need to be mentally and physically fit and strong. There are lots of responsibilities on your shoulders. If you fail, the film will fail and the studio and the investors would want your head on a pike. I like to prepare myself the same way I did as a bodybuilder before a contest. 3-4 months before the shoot, I make sure I don’t drink alcohol. In my case, I don’t drink anyway. I eat very lean, healthy and organic food because I think you become what you eat. Physically and mentally, good food also gives you higher and more stable energy levels and faster brain function. I go through the role and the scenes mentally, many times like a sportsman goes through the route before the contest, but at the same time, not lose the spontaneity you need in an acting performance. I do the analyses of the story…the character, get into his brain. Ask simple questions you need to answer, like why, when, how, where, etc. Use psychology to understand the character you want to become and how you can use your own personal experience to achieve that.”

HS: Which techniques are the best for someone who would like to play a role in an action film?

Daniel: “I go to my own acting coach and we work on any weakness; to strengthen them and test out some of the scenes. The good thing is that my acting coach knows me almost as well as I know myself and knows my strengths and weaknesses. I work hard on my memorisation; I need it to be good, so I’m able to memorise the lines, something I can find difficult sometimes. I start to pick up some basic stunt training with my stunt buddies in London in group training. The basic for me is hand-to-hand fighting, use of weapons; medieval and moderns and basic falls. The riskier stunts, I will leave for the stunt double.”


HS: How much time does an actor usually need for the preparation?

Daniel: “I’ll spend five days in the gym, I’ll structure my gym sessions, to increase my muscle size and decrease the fat.

I’ll do more cardio to get the better condition and I’ll do more stretching than normal, so I don’t risk getting any injuries in some of the fight scenes.”


“My food intake is measured and weighed. The basic of my food intake is oats, rice, green veggies, fruits, berries, nuts, coconut, olive and fish oils, chicken breast, eggs, and protein powder, vitamins and minerals supplements. Usually around total 3000-3500 Kcal of quality food.”


HS: What kind of sport can contribute to a better action performance?

Daniel: “I think good sports make you a good action actor. In some of the same sports, that many stuntmen do, I’ll say the most important ones are martial arts, weightlifting/fitness and weapon training. Martial arts is the basic; you need to be able to fight as most of your scenes include some form of hand-to-hand fighting. Other sports that come in handy are like gymnastics, dancing, mountain climbing. I’ve not done those sports myself, but I’ve seen how handy they can be at least for the stunt guys and girls and something I would recommend doing if you have the time.”


HSYour team won an award for the best action choreography in Retribution. How did you prepare for the action film?

Daniel: “Yes, correct. Retribution won Best Action Film and Best Fight Scene and I used the same methods mentioned earlier in my preparation. In Retribution, I was lucky I was fighting two of my friends; actors and martial artists Grant Stevens and Phillip Ray Tommy, who both are very good martial arts performers and a good eye for action choreography. We knew our styles and we had time to talk through the scenes. Grant did his Bruce Lee fighting style and I went to the Hulk fighting style and then blocked it before we shot it. We had an excellent DOP, Yiannis, who let us fight and followed us with the camera and not the opposite, where we’d need to adapt to the camera. It made it much easier for us and the result was amazing and we won an award for it.”


Photo credit: Nick Wall
Actors: Daniel Stisen, Mark Epstein