The first rule of Bottom's fight club is: Only talk about fight club with the hot girls. From director Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott, the high school sex comedy sees unpopular best friends PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) start a fight club at school in order to get closer to the cheerleaders they want to sleep with. Of course, they tell the principal it's a "self-defense club" intended to promote "female solidarity."
Who better to oversee the movie's girl-on-girl action than one of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling? Stunt coordinator Deven MacNair, who once wrestled with G.L.O.W. under the name "Freedom," was pitched Bottoms as a movie about "female empowerment" — and it is, despite PJ and Josie's best efforts — and recruited to translate Seligman and DP Maria Rusche's vision of bare-knuckle brawls for the big screen.
"I had to be really honest with both Emma and Maria, and I said, 'Oh my God, some of these fights are so gnarly. I can't promise you that these actresses will be up for it,'" says MacNair. "And then I got to meet all the actresses, and gosh dang it, they were on board. That was the fun part too, is seeing how on board these actresses were."
A.frame: You led a fight-club boot camp for the actresses. What did that entail?
It was amazing. We had a couple of days of very generic fight rehearsals, where we learned how to punch together. We learned how to kick. We learned how to roll. We got physical — just to see what they were capable of — and we had a blast. But we also reminded them, 'Don't get too badass. Don't forget how you looked as a beginner, because we need to recreate that [on-screen].' I was a little scared of them getting too good. It's like, 'No, no, no. Get in that wonky punch. You can't look like you're a street fighter, because this is the first punch of the movie.' So, we took them from their average actress selves to badass fighters. And it really helped that a lot of them had a dance background. They knew how to use their body and were conscious of their partner's space. Because I didn't want any of these punches to connect with the face, you know what I'm saying?
Was there anyone who especially surprised you with their badassery?
Kaia Gerber did, absolutely. She was just so lovely, and I'll be honest, I didn't know who she was. So, I asked her where she comes from, what's her background, and she's like, 'I'm from Malibu.' And I'm like, 'Cool. What do you do for a living? Are you in college?' She's like, 'No. I'm a model.' And I'm like, 'All right, whatevs. Cool. Good for you...' I did not know. I honestly did not know! So, I was very impressed with this model from Malibu who could punch.
I was also very impressed with Ruby [Cruz], who has a gnarly fight with a dude. She probably had to do the most work, fight-wise, and the most rehearsals, and she did great. I got the vision of how gnarly this fight was going to be right away, but having not met Ruby yet, I wasn't sure if we could pull this off. You have to be honest about, how much can we do? How much is she in for? And she was in for all of it. She was fabulous.
Ayo and Rachel are known for their improv. How do you keep that energy of anything could happen alive while also knowing that everything with stunts has to be planned ahead of time for safety?
We had to talk about that! Because they can bring the comedy, and they can bring their words, but when it comes down to the punches, we can't be doing improv, girls. There's no improv in the punches. No one gets surprised. So, they were really, really cool with the rules of the fight club. But they kept us cracked up, seriously. They were great. They were all great.
Do you remember your reaction the first time you read the battle sequence at the football game and saw how insanely bonkers it gets?
Yeah. I had to reread it, because I wasn't sure what I read. I was like, 'Pineapple juice? Okay, let me go back.' I remember my first reaction on my first read-through was like, 'I need to read it again!'
With the sequence in particular, how do you go about translating what's on the page into the stunt work?
We had a lot of previs days. Emma, our director, and Maria, our DP, they knew what they wanted. They had storyboards and exact moves they wanted. And I always said, 'I will do my best to deliver, but these are my stunt performers doing the previs. Once we get our actresses in there, we'll see what we can do.' I always gave that asterisk, but that asterisk went away when we met the girls and they were so gung-ho. Emma and Maria came more prepared than I've ever seen a director and DP with the exact vision they wanted. They choreographed some numbers in storyboarding, and then we brought it to life.
This is way behind-the-scene, but when we were filming and doing our previs on the football field, we had to stop in the middle because there was a tornado coming our way. I was like, 'This is the most nuts day of my life. Are you kidding me?' And there was a huge tornado that happened in New Orleans, and I've never seen stunt pads fly as much as they flew in this tornado windstorm. That was just an interesting day. Before we even started, we had a tornado in previs.
The other bonkers part was just looking at the schedule. I was like, 'Oh my God, these girls are going to be rehearsing in the morning and on set at night, and it's just a lot for them to take in.' I had concerns. My stress level was a little high, because these women are punching each other very close to each other's noses, and all I need is one of them to have a broken nose, and it's going to be my fault. So, I was like, 'Oh, this is beyond stressful.' But they all did great. There were no broken noses. How's that? Spoiler alert: no real noses were broken.
Were you able to shoot most of the fight club set pieces in order, so that the football battle came towards the end of filming?
Yes, the fight club moments in the school came first, and our very last day of shooting was the finale.
When you wrapped on that very last day, and no noses have been broken, and you've pulled this off, what were you feeling?
I remember we did night shoots, so it was 6 in the morning, and it was stressful until that last second. Because the sun was coming up and they still hadn't gotten one shot. And they were like, 'You gotta do it now.' It was the shot where they hit the other quarterback — that bloody, slow-motion shot of his chin — and the stress of seeing the sun creeping up and knowing you gotta get this shot, because this is the last scene before we got to call wrap, it was so stressful. And also, there's no time to hurry because it's stunts, but also get the shot quickly, but don't hurry, you know? So, besides tiredness, [I felt] absolute joy.
With Bottoms, it's not on-screen that these girls and these queer people are kicking ass. Your stunt department was largely women. What did that mean to you?
It meant a lot. I got to bring on Michelle [Andrea] Adams, who was helping me every day. She helped teach the actresses while I was supervising everything and helping Emma design some stunts, so Michelle was in charge of rehearsals sometimes. And it was just really cool to bring empowerment to the next generation and start to let other people take the reins. It was a great experience all around.
You've been working in the stunt world for many, many years now. In what ways have you seen the industry change over the years?
Just the fact that female stunt coordinators exist — which by the way, shouldn't be a term, but here we are. I had been working since the '90s in stunts, and the first time I ever worked for a female stunt coordinator was 2019. So, I had to let these ladies know how rare it was. But what I also got to witness is a lot of these ladies are really young in the business, and this is their first experience, and all they know is a female stunt coordinator, and how cool is that? Like, you don't even realize this is rare. I love it.
By John Boone