“They even yellowed our teeth, the attention to detail was unbelievable!”
Jordie Fike looks almost unrecognizable, dressed to perform as a Special Skill Extra, or SSE, for the highly acclaimed movie The Revenant. But as an accomplished chuckwagon driver and lifelong horseman, it wasn’t just his ability to look the part that secured Fike a position with the production filming on location in Alberta last spring.
“Chuckwagon drivers know how to take care of horses, that’s what we do.” says Fike, who also acted as a Wrangler for the shoot, adding “It’s the reason we were there, we know how to read their cues and react in any situation.”
The Revenant is nominated for 12 Academy Awards and has already won three Golden Globes with its dramatic action and striking scenes, many of which involve horses. It is based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a trapper attacked by a bear and left for dead. The film follows Glass as he struggles to return to civilization and seek revenge on those who abandoned him.
If you are a chuckwagon fan you’ll want to watch closely, as Jordie Fike is not the only extra in The Revenant you may recognize. Three Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby Champion drivers were involved, with Jason Glass playing the biggest role. He filled in on horseback as the Stunt Double for the film’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio. Troy Dorchester worked as Head Wrangler for much of the filming, and retired driver Buddy Bensmiller acted as a Wrangler and SSE. Three Stampede Champion outriders, Chad Cosgrave, David Bensmiller and Shawn Calf Robe, also lent their considerable talents to the production.
“They were pretty long days, sometimes 16 hours,” says Calf Robe, adding that his experience on other sets prepared him for the long hours as an SSE and Wrangler. What he wasn’t expecting was the extreme cold they faced during the first part of the filming.
“I tried to get one of the warmest outfits,” he laughs, “I ended up with a traditional leather outfit with leggings and fur.” The award-winning outrider also sported a long haired wig for the scenes he was in, including the powerful chase scene which involved many First Nations actors and extras. Through it all, Calf Robe says his focus stayed on the horses.
“They each have their own special characteristics; you just have to figure them out,” he says, noting the horses were calm and easy to handle with all the action on the set. Jordie Fike also found the horses used in The Revenant were interesting to work with, noting similarities to his thoroughbred wagon horses.
The film’s director wanted only natural lighting, so scenes with the horses were often rehearsed through the day and then shot in one take as the sun set. Fike says the equine actors responded much like a wagon team ready to race. “Just like our horses when they start to hear the announcer, these horses would perk up when it was time to shoot a scene. They know their job. It’s really cool.”