Photo courtesy Scott Olynek
Local actor Scott Olynek spent eight months on the Kananaskis set of the Oscar-nominated film The Revenant as the stand-in for principal actor Tom Hardy, arriving during the summer to do rehearsals and test tapings and remaining on until the Canadian shoot wrapped in the spring (after the snow melted, the film relocated to Argentina to finish shooting ). Olynek would also score a bit part in the artistically composed frontier western, whose making-of notoriety is approaching Apocalypse Now levels. With the film favoured to take home the Best Picture Oscar, here’s what he had to say about it all.
What does being a stand-in for a key role in a movie entail?
“Well, I’ll tell you what it usually means: typically speaking we are there to make sure the camera and the lighting and everyone behind the camera gets a chance to get themselves set up. So, while the actors are either rehearsing or getting themselves into costumes and makeup, we are on set basically as a body for them, so they can get the shot set up for when the actor comes and is ready to go.”
Is it important you actually look like the actor you stand in for?
“To a degree. Mostly what they’re looking for is similar hair colour, similar height, body type to a point would be important. What ended up happening with this movie is that we were actually memorizing the entire script and getting to act out the scenes and the director was working with us and changing what we were doing and filming the whole thing because they were trying to see what it looked like on film. Because of the different techniques they used for the shoot they needed us to actually work through the entire scene itself. It was pretty fantastic, actually.”
The making of this film is becoming the stuff of legend for how difficult it was, weather-wise and otherwise. What was it really like out there?
“It’s tough, because I think some of the things that were said were coming from people who maybe weren’t used to this environment. Speaking for myself, weather-wise, it was actually not half bad. We had one particular day that may be where the myth has sprung up from, because it must have been minus 30C or so and the Kananaskis River actually flooded the banks and was quite literally engulfing the area that we were trying to shoot in. Because it was all snowy, the snow was becoming slush and some of it was turning into ice and it was just taking over the entire area. So that was going on, as well as it just being freezing cold, and the actors were unable to stay warm. They were keeping them in a heated tent but outside they had to take off their head coverings because the scene they were doing was supposed to be an early winter sort of thing. When they took their gloves and the toques off they were instantly freezing. That day, we finished shooting and the next day we were told we were going to take a break for the Christmas holidays. So that was pretty tough.
Other than that, I think it was that the director (Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu) was very impulsive. When something hit him that he wanted to do or change or try, he would just say ‘this is what we’re doing,’ even though the production had something else scheduled. There were moments where it got pretty stressful. It all worked out on the film – at the end of the day it looks great – but it did cause stress for people to change things up like that on the fly.”
He sounds like your classic “mad-artist.”
“I guess that’s not a bad way to put it. He’s very passionate and he definitely has a strong vision of what he’s looking for. For us, when we were on it, when we hit it, he was all over that, but if we were missing the mark somehow, or if he was thinking of something else, come hell or high water, he would make sure that we figure it out. Sometimes it had nothing to do with us or the script, it would be location. We’d spend an entire morning in a little area of trees. It would seem like it was going well. He would yell: ‘Cut!’ And then walk off, maybe 50 metres over, and then the entire crew would move and we would try doing it again over there because the trees were different. He was very specific as far as what he was looking for.”
Did you have any memorable encounters with Leo or Tom Hardy?
“I met Tom Hardy a number of times, but they were brief encounters. DiCaprio was like a ghost for me. I saw him around, but as soon as they yelled action he was on set and doing his scene and I would be on the sidelines watching and as soon as they yelled cut, you’d look around and he’d vanished again. But I realize both Tom Hardy and DiCaprio were very busy on the set. It was quite a lot of pressure for them too, just what they were asked to do. Even just the hair and makeup part – these guys were in hair and makeup for a lot of time. It was pretty awesome to be there up close to see these guys. Watching DiCaprio – the guy is so intense. Even if he’s not on camera, just to see him hanging out waiting, there’s a real intensity to him. Same with Hardy. He was very focused and it was very cool to see how they both bring that and keep it together in front of the camera.”
Do you feel like an Oscar win would be validation for what the crew went through on set?
“I hope so. I would say that it was quite a journey for most everyone involved. Especially from the standpoint of Best Picture, it would be a way for everyone involved to be able to say ‘yeah, I did that.’ It would be a real accomplishment.”
So if you got called up for another Irritu movie, would you do it?
“Oh yeah! The way he films is like being a stage actor with long, sweeping shots that follow one scene or idea or chunk of story with the same camera for a long time. From the actor’s perspective it’s pretty exciting. You have to know what you’re doing and the choreography of it all involving the camera – the camera might start behind you and move around you and get up into your face into the scene and then move off and you have to move with it. It would be really cool to work with him again. I could put up with the eccentricities to get a chance to work like that.”