Denzel Washington in the beheading scene of ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’

SPOILER WARNING: Don’t read unless you’ve seen Apple and A24’s.”Macbeth’s TragedyNow showing in select theaters and streaming on Apple TV Plus.

In “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” a famous American actor plays Lord Macbeth – a Scottish nobleman whose power ultimately led to his downfall.

In addition to remembering Shakespeare’s powerful pleas (“Is this a dagger that I see in front of my eyes, hand in hand?”), the Oscar-winning actor and many in the cast, including including Corey Hawkins (Lord Macduff) and Alex Hassell (Ross), also asked to hone his dueling skills for the production, was adapted and directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Joel Coen. (Coen also produces the film, alongside Oscar-winning Frances McDormand, who plays Lady Macbeth.)

Neither Washington nor Hawkins were master swordsmen prior to their roles in the Apple and A24 films, but Hawkins had previously trained in stage combat and Washington handled long knives in “The Book of Eli” 2010.

“My sword is a little rusty,” Washington quipped, detailing his battle preparations in an interview with Diversity.

If you know your Shakespeare, you’ll recall that Macbeth and Macduff go head-to-head in a duel at the end of the story. In the days leading up to the head-to-head shooting, he and Hawkins tweaked the choreography to perform the tough fight separately. The filming of this scene marked the first time they fought each other.

Washington has described it as “a sweaty day”, explaining that, with all the leather suits the actors wear while performing over and over again, he “lost a bit of weight in that day.”

Hawkins sweats for a different reason. “It was a bit stressful [fighting Denzel]. I just kept thinking, ‘Oh my god, please don’t hurt him.’ Because I’m a clumsy guy. I only see headlines in my head,” he said with a laugh.

“But I’m lucky enough that, the way he works, we get through it the same way we beat through the scenes. So it was easy and so much fun,” continued Hawkins. “That’s what we did as kids, boys running around playing with swords and stuff. Now, to do that from an icon, a legend, is unbelievable. “

The fight scenes themselves are quite symbolic. When two men clash – Macbeth, smug in the belief that “none of the women born” can kill him, and Macduff powered by spirits to avenge his family, those who were executed by Macbeth – Coen continued to escalate tensions every time they met. At the climax of the showdown, Macduff knocks Macbeth’s crown off his head – and when the king bends down to pick it up, he is beheaded.

“The way Joel describes it is really funny,” Washington said, chuckling as he recounted the story. “He was like, ‘Well, you just have to put your hand down to get it, and that’s all we see, you’re reaching for it. … We’ll see your hand, and the next thing you know, you look up, and your head flies to the side. ”

It was a shocking moment for audiences, but Hawkins noted that the scene tells a lot about who Macbeth became at the end of the story.

Hawkins explained, loosely quoting Bible Proverbs. “[Macbeth] made this decision to go and put the crown back on his head, in the midst of a battle for his life. That made it very clear to me who he was and what this was all about. ”

Hassell called the choreography of the scene “a work of genius” on Coen’s part.

“What I loved so much about what he did in that moment – it reminded me of the end of ‘No Country for Old Men’, which is you don’t see Josh Brolin’s character die,” Hassell explained. Liked to refer to Coen’s 2007 Best Picture Oscar Winner. “In [‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’], the camera pans away as soon as Denzel’s head is cut off, so you don’t really see it. It’s too shocking – it’s in the corner of the screen, so you don’t prepare for it, because the camera didn’t prepare for you. ”

To create the prosthetic head that appears in the film, Washington had to cast plaster and 360-degree scans of his head. Prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyke has shared photos of the finished product on social media, showing off the exquisitely designed tripod in all its impressive details.

The Vincent Van Dyke Effects team collaborated with Washington’s personal makeup artist, Oscar-nominated Carl Fullerton, throughout the design process, as Fullerton also created the scars the actor carries in throughout the movie. The post explains that expert Manny Lemus designed the head to be as weighty and “lifelike to hold” as possible, using different silicone densities, internal structures and weights. Van Dyke and artists Daniele Tirinnanzi, Gwen Ramsey, Jason James, Sasha Camacho Van Dyke and Megan Sinclair combined shots on prosthetics to create a perfect replica.

On-screen, after Macbeth is beheaded, Hassell’s Ross presents Malcolm with the decapitated head. [Harry Melling] as proof that Macbeth has been defeated and that he is now King of Scotland.

Hassell admitted seeing the head and even a stranger trying to keep it was “quite weird”. Since the severed prosthetic head weighs about the same as a real human head, there was much discussion about how heavy Hassell would be carrying the stand for filming.

“The first thing I had to do was put my hand right up to his esophagus, so it was pretty nervous,” Hassell recalls. “It’s pretty awful.”

The head box was kept closed most of the time on set, but Hassell eventually approached the Oscar winner with assistance to see his reaction to it.

“He found it pretty bizarre, like all of us,” Hassell said, adding, “I don’t know how many people have held their hands in Denzel Washington’s esophagus. But I’m likely on the shortlist. And I’m proud to be on that list.”

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Alex Hassell (Ross) and director Joel Coen on the set of “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”
Courtesy of Apple Denzel Washington in the beheading scene of ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’

Olly Dawes

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