Hayfield - fighting fit for the return of BBC's The Village
PUBLISHED: 11:13 12 August 2014 | UPDATED: 15:49 24 December 2014
As the second series of BBC's The Village begins, Andrew Griffiths meets New Mills' Jon Santry - gym owner, martial arts expert... and actor
The two men were breathing heavily and sweat dripped from their brow. Despite their fatigue they remained polite and reserved as Jon Santry offered them a shallow box as if it was a tray at a party.
‘There is raspberry flavour, or vanilla, or plain if you prefer,’ says Jon, as though he was playing host and offering a plate of hors d’oeuvres.
‘I think I’ll have vanilla,’ replies one of the men after some deliberation.
But it wasn’t an hors d’oeuvre that he reached for with his well-manicured finger and thumb, he dipped into a box full of gumshields, the sort that boxers use to protect their teeth. And these weren’t guests at a party, they were ‘A’ list television actors, and Jon Santry, Chief Coach at New Mills Martial Arts gym, was teaching them how to fight.
Quite how a procession of leading actors ended up learning to box in a garage gym attached to the Queen’s Arms in New Mills is wrapped up in Jon Santry’s own story. Jon’s journey began as a young boy, growing up in the small town of New Mills, watching his favourite martial arts films and dreaming of bigger worlds.
‘I have always loved martial arts movies since I was a child,’ Jon told me as we sat and talked in ‘The Queens’ one lunchtime. ‘The movies got me into it more than anything else, really. It was watching Bruce Lee when I was eight years old that inspired me to take up martial arts.’
It wasn’t just the action that appealed to Jon, it was Lee’s sense of ‘self’, his mental approach, and Jon was so enthused that he began a career which saw him win a string of titles in karate, kick boxing, mixed martial arts and traditional boxing.
The path from successful martial artist who fights for real, to the world of showbiz and faking it for the cameras is a well trodden one. Now Jon, a 5th Dan black belt in the real ring, is on the threshold of a career choreographing fights for the same kind of movies he used to watch as a starry-eyed child.
Jon’s first break came with a live action stunt for Manchester’s ‘Wreck My Dress’ Company. Jon had to leap into action as the villain and steal the girl from the hero in front of a live celebrity audience. His next foray into showbusiness was coaching Wayne Rooney how to box for the Galaxy II TV advertisement. Jon had to teach Rooney how to look convincing in a fight with professional boxer Paul Smith.
It was while working on these jobs that Jon met legendary fight choreographer Ray Nicholas, who has choreographed the action for movies such as Gladiator and Braveheart, and TV series such as Penny Dreadful and Game of Thrones. Ray has become something of a mentor to Jon, so when Jon got a call from Ray asking for help to choreograph some fight scenes for the hit BBC TV series The Village, filmed in Derbyshire, Jon jumped at the opportunity.
So during spring this year, stars such as Julian Sands (Lord Kilmartin in The Village) Ben Batt (Alf Rutter) and Daniel Ezra (Ghana Jones) were smuggled up the stone steps into the gym where under Ray Nicholas’s watchful eye, Jon Santry taught them how to box.
Training sessions would often end up in the pub for a well-earned drink.
‘There is something quite surreal about having a couple of Hollywood regulars knocking about in the back of the Queens!’ says Jon, laughing.
He tells me of one occasion when they were discussing the work they had just been doing, when Ray Nicholas suddenly got them all up and started working out moves for the fight.
Christine Conboy was working behind the bar that day and later I asked her what she had thought: ‘Well it was just a case of wondering “What is going on?”’ Christine told me. Adding jokily: ‘It isn’t something you usually see in the pub. Well, not unless it is Saturday night!’
The scene for The Village was finally shot at Hayfield Cricket Club, where the pitch was transformed for the day into a fairground. In the story, Daniel Ezra plays Ghana Jones, a travelling prizefighter and champion boxer, and Jon found himself taking part in the filming as the referee.
‘It is survive a round and win a pound,’ Jon says, finding that Ghana Jones’ role as a travelling prizefighter was something to which he could easily relate!
Indeed Jon has now formed a ‘fight team’ at New Mills Martial Arts, where for a few hours a week, practising martial artists can learn how to fight in front of the cameras. Three of the fight team appeared in The Village as extras, and they are due for another outing in Shameless-star Jody Latham’s directorial debut feature film, Showground, for which Jon will be doing the fight choreography.
However, it is Ray’s guiding hand that Jon really appreciates. ‘What I am really learning from Ray is the art of storytelling in the fight scenes,’ says Jon.
‘I feel that Ray’s style of choreography is missing from a lot of films these days. You get a lot of spectacular special effects, but if you watch one of the old fight scenes, even something very basic such as the Clint Eastwood fights in Any Which Way You Can, you were drawn into the fight because they involved you.
‘You knew about the characters. You have to know how to get the audience emotionally involved in the scene, and Ray knows how to do that.’
The second series of The Village returns to BBC One this month.