Meet the Filipino-American Who Helped Coordinate All the Stunts in The Batman
Filipinos have long been integral to the behind-the-scenes magic of Hollywood—from Ronnie del Carmen, the Cavite-born animator behind Finding Nemo, Up, Coco, Toy Story 4, Inside Out, and more, to Dan Inosanto, the martial arts legend who taught Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee, and Denzel Washington. The latest Filipino-American talent getting our attention is The Batman’s supervising stunt coordinator and second unit director Robert Alonzo.
With a 25-year career in Hollywood stunts, the Filipino-American has helped coordinate stunt scenes in everything from Brad Pitt’s Ad Astra and Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood to action-packed movies like Deadpool and The Tax Collector. His latest point of pride? The Batman, where he trained Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz for their fight scenes in Matt Reeves’ new dark knight DC film.
Pattinson has only good things to say about Rob: “[He] has a great style. You learn certain signature moves, which you can build into different patterns really quickly.”
And long-time friend Zoe, who he trained in Taekwondo when she was only seven, showered Rob with praises: “Rob Alonzo and his whole team are just incredible people. He was really concerned about everything feeling grounded and being motivated by emotion and that’s really great.”
Courtesy of Warner Bros., we’ve learned just how much Alonzo enjoyed working with director Matt Reeves, actor Robert Pattison, and actress Zoe Kravitz. From training Pattinson in Arnis and kickboxing to training Kravitz in Muay Thai and Savate, Alonzo was crucial to the fight scenes of this dark DC film. Here’s what the supervising stunt coordinator had to share about his experience working on Matt Reeves’ The Batman.
Question: How did you land the dual roles of Supervising Stunt Coordinator and Second Unit Director for The Batman?
Robert Alonzo: I landed the dual roles of Supervising Stunt Coordinator and Second Unit Director when I was called by Dylan Clark, who I had worked with previously on Oblivion starring Tom Cruise. On Oblivion I also served as the Supervising Stunt Coordinator and Second Unit Director. Dylan and I had previous experience working together so he called me to team up again, this time with himself and Matt Reeves. Matt and I then hopped on the phone to discuss the project and we both hit it off creatively. He said that he wanted a raw, grounded, and visceral approach to this iteration of Batman. I then said that although I am able to design action for various different types of genres (sci-fi, thriller, comedy, western, fantasy, superhero, etc), I gravitate most to designing and executing action that is based on reality and abides by the laws of physics that we as humans clearly understand. Matt’s version of Batman is also the version of Batman that I wanted to see most as a fan of the franchise. His take was so interesting… It was a great match and I’m so grateful that Matt and Dylan believed in me and gave me the opportunity to be a part of this team.
Q: How did you design the action to execute Matt Reeves’ vision?
RA: Matt’s vision was to have the action raw and real so that the audience feels every punch, kick, fall, hit, and crash through the emotion of the characters, whether they are enduring extreme amounts of pain or experiencing pleasure and satisfaction while doling it out. With that, I studied each character and their respective journeys throughout the story so that we can design movement based not only on their physical attributes but also on the emotional state for each specific moment. Every move had an objective and we strayed away from inefficient action that was “action for the sake of action.” By taking into account each of the varying character personalities, it helped me design distinct styles of action per character for their fighting, driving/riding, and improvisational adaptability to the moment as well as the environment. This way Batman’s objective can remain clearly distinct from the objectives of Catwoman, Penguin, and the Riddler. This meant that I also had to train the cast in their respective styles of fighting.
For example, the goal of fight training with Rob Pattinson was to allow the jeopardy to come in much closer than he’s used to in order to eliminate anticipatory movement and heighten his close proximity reactivity. With this as a primary goal, we trained him in FMA - Escrima/Kali/Arnis, Penjak Silat, Muay Thai, Jeet Kune Do, Boxing, and Kickboxing. For Rob, we avoided kicking and used more hammer fists, elbows, and knees, while also drilling with sticks that would later enable him not only to improve his reaction time in closer pockets of engagement but also to pick up anything and use it as a weapon.
In contrast to this, the character of Selina Kyle/Catwoman felt like she kept everyone at a purposeful distance and was always beguiling in her personality. With that as an overall character focus, we complemented her physicality by training Zoe Kravitz in Taekwondo styles of TKD, Hapkido, Capoeira, Boxing, Savate, and Muay Thai. Her style was focused more on speed, agility, footwork, feinting, and evasive movement because it requires her comfort level to be much more distance-oriented.
Q: How was Matt Reeves as a collaborator?
RA: Matt is fantastic to work with. He cares so much about each character, each moment, each frame. His attention to detail is amazing and he always pushed towards creating a very real world where the audience can believe that Gotham and its characters actually exist. Every time we would review a stunt or action sequence, we would always discuss the emotional perspectives of each character to keep everything grounded for each individual character in each specific moment.
It’s so rewarding working this way because we were always striving for the consistency of authentic character emotion while matching it with their respective character physicality. It was such a wonderfully challenging experience.
Q: What's it like working with Robert Pattinson?
RA: Working with Rob was such a fun experience. He came in and was fully committed to the approach. He was a sponge and wanted to learn everything from a place of developing and understanding his own character. He was very interested in “why” he would do things rather than simply learning choreographed moves without understanding the purpose. This desire helped me focus Rob’s training on learning real world-practical techniques, and we focused a lot on the strategic side of fighting in order for him to learn the advantages and disadvantages of being in an attacking, defensive, or neutral position. We discussed the pros and cons of each position so that he can understand things from an applied methodology rather than a more surfaced approach focused on aesthetic form. He loved it… And so did I.
As a former martial arts instructor, I’ve always had a passion to develop training programs for actors with this approach. And it has always been my hope that the actors I train would continue to pursue some type of training on their own beyond the film. I always believe that if you practice with a passion, you will always have the passion to practice. And Rob definitely exhibited these traits. It was such a rewarding experience.
Q: We heard that Zoe Kravitz has practically known you all her life, ever since you taught her Taekwondo at age seven. What is that dynamic like? Having been her teacher back then and now designing action scenes for her?
RA: Yes, it’s true. I’ve known Zoe for such a long time. She was one of my students that took regular group classes and also did private lessons with me on a regular basis. She was really good and was so driven and focused, even at such a young age, when I noticed a lot of kids were so easily distracted. I recall the moment she first came into the dojo with her dad holding her hand. I found it hard to contain my excitement at the time because I am a huge fan of Lenny Kravitz. Let Love Rule is still one of my favorite albums of all time. But I remember pulling myself together as I looked at the little rocker girl by his side. I noticed that Zoe already had a presence back then. And it was once she stepped on the mat with her uniform on and I saw her doing drills and forms that I realized how special she was going to be. I remember saying to my fellow instructors back then, “watch out for that one…she is going to be a force when she gets older.” And it came true. So when I finally heard the news that she was cast as the iconic Selina Kyle, I was super excited. Then when she showed up to our first training session, we hugged it out and took a stroll down memory lane with an already established level of comfort and trust. She even texted me a picture of us back then that her mom took of us in class together. It brought back some pretty cool memories.
I’ve trained actors before, but I’ve never trained an actor that used to be my student. It was something I’ve never experienced. And once we began training it was electric hearing the gunshot smack on the mits and pads, feeling the power of her kicks and punches once again. But this time her focus and intensity had elevated to a whole other level as she quickly recalled her understanding of the practicality and strategy of the movement. It was so great because it felt like we were picking up right where we left off. However, the challenge ahead of us was that we had to train in more complex movements that reflected her character through line. In some instances, it was movement that she had never done before. But as she did when she was younger, she picked up quick… It was so gratifying seeing all that training from when she was younger come full circle. Designing her sequences was one of my favorite parts of this journey because it was very challenging to make sure her movement was strong and fierce while maintaining the power in her femininity. We talked a lot about that and it helped that we were on the same page with her intentions from moment to moment. It was such a great experience directing her action scenes because I knew how to tap in and get the best out of her performance because of the comfort level that was established over 20 years ago. I can’t wait to see all her hard work on the big screen and what she does with this character in the future. It will definitely be something special.
Q: Where is your family’s roots in the Philippines?
RA: My mother and father were both born and raised in the Philippines. I believe my father was from Cagayan while my mother was from Tarlac. They both spoke Tagalog and my dad also speaks Ilocano. My brother was born in Baguio and I was born in Manila, but we were both raised in the US, having lived in San Francisco for five years until my parents finally settled down in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, though, my brother and I were never taught to speak in Tagalog or Ilocano. One thing I wished I would have learned growing up.
Q: When was the last time you visited? Where did you go and how was your stay?
RA: The last time I visited the Philippines, I think I was 13 or 14. I went to Manila and Cagayan and spent two months there when I went, but I haven’t been back since. I’ve always wanted to go back and even had an opportunity to work there on The Bourne Legacy when Jeremy Renner asked me to go because he wanted to fight me on screen. We became friends when we trained together for Mission Impossible 4. He loved to train and we worked out together almost everyday. I would have loved that opportunity to go back, but I already had committed to working on Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise so that never panned out. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to go back and learn more about the islands, people, and heritage that I’m so proud to be apart of.
Q: We heard that your next goal is to step up into directing and writing your own films. What stories would you like to bring to the screen? Which genre are you drawn to?
RA: Yes, making that next step into the director’s chair has always been the goal. But for me, it is so important to find the right project with the right people once I make that jump. So on the road to taking that next step, I relish any opportunity to collaborate and learn from all the great filmmakers out there. I’m so grateful for all the knowledge that has made me the filmmaker I am today and plan to utilize all the tricks I’ve picked up along the way once the right directing opportunity presents itself.
I hope to start my directing career in the action genre because that is what I’m most comfortable with, but I look forward to a time when I would get the opportunity to potentially direct a crime thriller, a historical biopic, and even an animated feature since that has been my first artistic passion since I was six years old drawing flip pages. I was even fortunate enough to work on Incredibles 2, which was an unforgettable experience working at Pixar with Brad Bird and the rest of that team. It was a satisfying feeling to know that the filmmaking tools I learned in my college animation classes were very much applied on some of the biggest features out there. Hopefully one day soon I’ll be able to command the emotions of an audience as a director in the same way the auteurs I have worked with have done it so brilliantly in the past.
Fingers crossed, my time is coming soon.
The Batman is now showing in cinemas across the Philippines.