During the pre-production phase of SAS: Red Notice, Sam Heughan had to contact Andy McNab, former Specialist Airline Officer, the source material for the film and the inspiration for Heughan’s character Tom Buckingham. The actor wanted to discuss the psychology behind a few key scenes before heading to Budapest.
“I called him and he happened to be with the Royal Marines doing maneuvers in Wales,” Heughan tells the Men’s Journal. Although the highly decorated McNab retired from the military after 17 years of service, he has remained an active member of the community and has written a number of best-selling war thrillers including Red Notice. “The guy climbs through the mountains with a full backpack, does exercises and at the same time gives us instructions for the script. I was impressed.”
These interactions influenced Heughan’s own specialty training for the film, which included gun work and Krav Maga. That was all on top of his usual training with longtime coach John Valbonesi of Everyday Athlete. We chatted with the Scottish gentleman about hanging out with McNab, studying tactics, and his SAS-inspired workouts.
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Men’s Journal: Why did you want to be part of this project?
Sam Heughan: First off, I think we all love a good action movie, and this one came with a great character study. It also gave me the opportunity to work with Andy. I found him incredibly fascinating, especially the fact that he considers himself a “good psychopath”. I enjoyed spending time with him, both over the phone and in person. The first time we talked was when I first signed up and he flew to Scotland to have dinner with me. I learned of Andy’s time as an undercover agent in Africa and Ireland – the fighting he faced when he was captured and tortured in Iraq. It has been used on a variety of missions behind enemy lines. There is a lot of dialogue and even some of the situations in the film that are pulled straight from his life. In the film we hear Sophie (Hannah John-Kamen) [who plays my girlfriend] Let’s say when their cat died, Tom puts the cat in the freezer to keep before they go on vacation. Andy actually did that.
What elements of McNab’s personality did you incorporate into the character of Tom Buckingham?
I wanted to shower the film with little clues that Tom might be a little different, and one of them is that he can’t read emotions. That was something Andy shared with me. Psychopaths don’t blink much. They can be very charming because they put a lot of effort into learning how to be social in situations rather than having that natural ability.
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Did Andy share anything else with you that was helpful to the project?
I was able to meet with him in Leeds, where we got in touch with one of his local police contacts. We got to see some of the tactics they are working on out there and how they would carry out a drug bankruptcy. I also had to train a lot with guns with Andy – learn how to clear out connections and buildings myself. I found it important to be able to move naturally through a field with a weapon. What I noticed was that, despite the frenzied activity, everyone in the service or in the SAS is always so controlled. They are in these very stressful, sometimes life threatening situations, and their voices may be raised, but it is never out of excitement; It’s just to make sure commands are heard.
Did you do any special fight training for the fight sequences?
I did combat training with Etienne Ferreira who has a Krav Maga school in Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve learned a lot from working with him, and he actually trains the NYPD and people who work on SWAT teams, not to mention the Israeli special forces, so he was perfect. The kind of training he does with these soldiers is focused on being useful, and it’s terribly physical. All they do is under high stress and pressure. We would do our training to the point of failure and then immediately move on to gun work. You have reached that point where you can no longer walk, then they throw a gun in your hands to perform tactics to keep your heart rate rising all the time. I also did a special program with my trainer John to film.
How did you adapt your training with trainer John Valbonesi for this project?
I had just finished filming Bloodshot before starting this film, and at least for myself I had built some muscle. However, I wanted Tom Buckingham to be a little slimmer. If you look at a lot of the people at SAS, they aren’t extremely tall. They’re incredibly fit and have amazing stamina, but that doesn’t mean they’re plump all over the place. You must be able to walk long distances and be able to carry a sufficient packing weight. So we adapted my training to that. My goal was to cut back a little and our work in the gym was changed to get such results. The exercises we focused on were more about raw strength and endurance than traditional weightlifting. To mimic some of the physical challenges soldiers go through in the military, we’ve added a lot more weighted cardio, like weighted runs and weighted stretcher.
Most of this film takes place on a train, but what are some of your favorite locations?
I love getting out in the world and this film was another opportunity to do that in the best possible way. We shot a lot in Budapest, but we’ve also been to Paris, London and Spain. It was so much fun doing a project like this. I think the scope was important as a lot of the movie is in those tight, tight places on the train. As people will see when they see the film, we end up in Spain, and there we get a hint of a possible sequel. I really enjoyed playing Tom Buckingham and hope we get out again.
‘SAS: Red Notice’ poster courtesy of Image
The military-inspired training that Sam Heughan prepared for SAS: Red Notice
Directions: Do three rounds of this three-exercise stretch, with a 45-second break between rounds. Then move onto the strength area.
Air Bike: 15 calorie pushups (with your hands on the dumbbell handles): 20 repetitions Bear Crawl x 20 meters
Directions: Complete the indicated sets and reps for varying weights of the dumbbell press, rest 60 seconds between sets, then move on to the next cycle.
1.Dumbbell Bench Press (Heavy Weight) – 2 x 8 reps: Sit on the front end of a flat bench with a row of heavy dumbbells in each hand, resting just above your knees. Lie on the bench and position the dumbbells so that your palms are facing each other. Kick your knees up to lift the dumbbells with your arms shoulder-width apart. Keep your feet on the bench so that you don’t overstretch your lower back. Rotate your wrists forward so your palms are facing away from you, then lower the dumbbells to your chest. Exhale, then press down on the dumbbells, locking your arms up, and squeezing your chest.
2. Weight bench press (light weight) – 3 x 25 reps
Directions: Complete three rounds of this round with three moves, pause for 45 seconds between rounds, then move on to the next round.
1. Pull-ups x 10 repetitions: Position yourself under a pull-up bar. Grasp it with an underhand grip and keep your hands a little narrower than shoulder width apart. Bend your knees and cross your ankles. Keeping your core engaged and your back straight, pull your weight up until your chin is level with the bar and focus your gaze on it. Take a short break, then slowly return to the starting position. Keep your arms slightly bent to maintain tension.
2. Banded Pull-Apart x 20 repetitions: Hold the ends of a resistance band with both hands. When standing tall, bring the band to chest level with your arms outstretched. Spread your arms to your sides, which will increase the tension in the ligament. Continue until the band is taut against your chest with your arms wide. Take a short break, then slowly return to the starting position.
3. Plate Pinch Farmers Carry x 20 meters: Choose a pair of plates that are challenging but manageable in weight. Hold one in each hand with just your fingers. Keep your back straight, core engaged, and shoulders down and back as you travel the specified distance.
Directions: Finish three rounds of this round with two exercises and rest for 45 seconds between rounds.
1. Power Cleans (110 lbs) x 10 reps: Stand directly behind a weighted barbell, feet hip-width apart. Bend at your knees and hinge at your hips to lower and grab the bar. Dig your heels into the ground, dig into your core, and maintain a flat back and proud chest as you push the weight up. Once you get into the deadlift position, instead of hitting the lockout, keep your knees bent and straighten through your hips. Shrug vigorously to keep the bar moving, then drop under the bar, extending your elbows outward, until a natural hold is achieved on the front of your shoulders. Stand up all the way with your back straight. Bring the bar back down in a safe manner.
2nd step sprint x 200 meters: Find either large outdoor stairs or a stair machine and run for the specified distance. Be aware of your form and keep your knees up to maximize cardio. If available, use a weight vest to make the sprints more challenging.
SAS: Red Notice is now available on RedBox. Also check out MyPeakChallenge, the fitness event where Heughan worked with trainer John Valbenosi to raise funds for a number of worthy charities.
Train Like the Special Forces with Sam Heughan’s ‘SAS: Red Notice’ workout first appeared in Men’s Journal.