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Stephen Amell: I've Become Skilled in the Martial Art of Fighting Onscreen

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(Image credit: Unknown)

Stephen Amell is a man who takes his superheroism seriously. While other actors are happy to assemble their superhero bodies in the weights room – mostly via endless curls and industrial quantities of chicken – Amell has spent five years and four seasons of Arrow (seen on Sky One in the UK) turning himself into a back-flipping, box-vaulting, salmon-ladder-scaling parkour machine, pairing bodyweight exercise with heavy weights to chisel himself into heroic shape.

For his first major big-screen role, he’s playing cop-turned-vigilante Casey Jones in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, swapping arrows for hockey pucks. But before we get to that, there’s one important question...

Let's get this out of the way first: who’s the best Turtle?

[Long, thought-filled pause] Michelangelo. Because your favourite as a kid remains your favourite forever.

That's fair. OK, you play Casey Jones in the new film. Does that mean you can fight with a hockey stick now?

I can! It’s not as hard as you might think. Ultimately I would have chosen a baseball bat, but the hockey stick is kind of the iconic part of Casey Jones, along with the mask, so I was happy to use the hockey stick in this instance.

Our follow-up to that was going to be what item of sporting goods you'd want to take into a fight…

Yeah, probably the baseball bat. I mean, you could always take the blade off an ice-skate, but this is a family film.

Have you been learning to fight for the film?

Yeah, and the nice thing about it is it’s a very unrefined style of fighting. He’s not a trained martial artist, he’s not a boxer – he’s a brawler. If he was ever in a fight in his life it was probably in a hockey rink or in high school. He’s had some basic police training, but mainly he’s just a brawler.

Do you train in martial arts in your regular life?

No. Working on Arrow, I feel like I’ve become skilled in the art of fighting onscreen. If that was a martial art, that would be my martial art. There are specific elements that go into making it look good – intention, for instance, because when you throw a punch you want that intention there.

RECOMMENDED: Types of Martial Arts to Get You Fit

You do a lot of freerunning too…

I wish that I could do more of it. When I'm in LA I go to the Tempest Freerunning Academy. Those workouts are fantastic because you have a blast and the next thing you know it’s 90 minutes into the workout. You’re dripping with sweat and you’re exhausted, but you’ve been trying new things.

One of the fun things about freerunning is that when you try new things for the first time, you typically fail at them. It’ll be like, hey, swing on this bar, release it and try to grab the next bar. Maybe you’ll do that at four feet, but then it’ll be try it at six feet, or try it with one arm, or add a flip or a twist. You have to challenge yourself mentally as well as physically, which I think is a great way to work out.

Is that something you’re keeping up while you’re in London?

I wish. I've been going nonstop with some form of exercise since July 2014, because I went from the third season of Arrow to Turtles and back to Arrow with literally no downtime at all. So I have enjoyed the past four weeks – I have done literally nothing. Once the movie premieres and I’m done with this press tour, I will get on a treadmill and start building myself up very slowly for the fifth season of Arrow.

Do you have an on-the-go workout for when you can’t get to the gym?

Push-ups, chin-ups, handstand push-ups, handstands in general, a bit of treadmill – just never the elliptical. I would rather starve myself than go on the elliptical.

RECOMMENDED: Push-Up Home Workout for Big Arms

There’s been a lot of talk of you going on Ninja Warrior. How’s that going?

Well, they always ask me to do it, and… I could definitely do it, I'd be allowed to do it, but I want to win it. When those guys train, they train the different elements of the course. Could I get through all those elements? Absolutely, but I need to take three months to get good at the different elements of it, and I have no idea when I'm going to do that. But if I'm going to do it, I need to do it soon, because I just turned 35.

Us too. Last question: do you have a salmon ladder in your house?

Not yet…

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows is out Monday 30th May

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.