My part in the Hol­ly­wood Boks

Cape Town club rugby player THOMAS BOYD was cho­sen to play Spring­bok bruiser Hannes Stry­dom in In­vic­tus, Clint East­wood’s film about the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. He tells his star-struck story to GQ.

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PEOPLE -

‘DO YOU wanna be in the movies?” Th­ese are not words I’d ex­pected to hear stand­ing around af­ter a match, looking rather bat­tered, drink­ing my fifth beer. I’d played two days of rugby in 30°C heat in the Cape Town Tens rugby tour­na­ment. “About what?” I asked the man sus­pi­ciously. “It’s a rugby film, I’m scouting for play­ers.”

No one’s ever cap­tured the pas­sion, the phys­i­cal­ity, the ca­ma­raderie and the skill of this won­der­ful game on film. I was about to de­cline when the scout con­tin­ued: “The movie is about Man­dela us­ing the Rugby World Cup to heal the na­tion. It’s based on the book Play­ing the En­emy by John Car­lin.” My in­ter­est perked up. “Who’s in it?” I asked. “Mor­gan Free­man and Matt Da­mon.” “Yeah? And who is di­rect­ing it?” “Clint East­wood.” All noise seemed to stop, peo­ple froze, as the sig­na­ture tune of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly echoed through the tent. Clint East­wood, the leg­end. “My friend, I am your man!” I said. I found my­self at the au­di­tion a few weeks later – in a stu­dio in Black River Park, Cape Town. They wanted me to play Hannes Stry­dom, the gi­ant Transvaal lock. Now, al­though I have spent 10 years or so run­ning around SA’s rugby pitches, I am a Brit with an ac­cent more Thames Val­ley than Transvaal. But I was itch­ing to be in this film and for the pre­ced­ing weeks I had been du­pli­cat­ing the gut­tural tones of Afrikaans team­mates and not-so-friendly op­po­nents.

I did my best for the cast­ing di­rec­tor, gri­mac­ing at all the right places, growl­ing ag­gres­sively and flex­ing my guns. “Thank you, Thomas, that was good.” The rest would be up to Clint.

Three weeks later I got the part. There had been au­di­tions for the teams of France, Eng­land, West­ern Samoa, Aus­tralia, the All Blacks and, of course, the Spring­boks. The Boks were the only team with speak­ing lines. I had made it from rugby ex­tra to ac­tor.

The bud­get for the film was $75 mil­lion and the at­ten­tion to de­tail was in­cred­i­ble. Pro­duc­tion had taken over a vast three­storey build­ing in Cape Town. Ev­ery inch of the place was cov­ered with pic­tures of the ’95 RWC. It was like step­ping back in time to that tour­na­ment. It was here that the Spring­boks first met and it was im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous who was play­ing whom: there were the spit­ting im­ages of Os and Joost, Balie and Bren­don…

Film­ing would be at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions around Cape Town and Joburg, and at New­lands and El­lis Park sta­di­ums. We were given play sheets and told to learn our run­ning lines and ac­tions on the pitch so we could du­pli­cate the plays in the ’95 matches.

To give au­then­tic­ity to the film, qual­ity rugby play­ers – mostly from Su­per League clubs in and around Cape Town – had been re­cruited. We started prac­tis­ing daily at the Gar­dens Rugby Club and soon looked the part of the ’95 Boks, just slightly smaller. Matt Da­mon is around 1.78m, so we had to be the right scale for him to fit in and play the part of Fran­cois Pien­aar.

We were in our sec­ond week of prac­tice, stretch­ing off in a big cir­cle with the Aus­tralian team, when Matt Da­mon wan­dered over to­wards us in a base­ball hat, T-shirt and shorts. If you want to hear that he was a prima donna or aloof then you’ll be as dis­ap­pointed as a New Zealan­der in ’95. He im­me­di­ately cracked a few gags and put every­one at ease: “I don’t know a lot about rugby yet, but I know a lot about mak­ing movies, and we are go­ing to make sure this is one that you will be proud of.”

Af­ter that he got stuck into ruck drills, maul­ing, sprints, pass­ing and play­ing touch rugby. He’s a small­ish guy com­pared to most rugby play­ers, but he was in good shape and ea­ger to learn. Af­ter a few days, the side­ways glances di­min­ished, play­ers got used to him and the ban­ter and leg­pulling, uni­ver­sal in all rugby teams, be­gan. Our Spring­boks of ’95 started feel­ing like a proper team.

On the first day of film­ing, at the Mount Nel­son, Clint East­wood breezed into the locker room where we were looking through scripts and get­ting ready for a scene. One of the team, Vil­lagers prop Louis Ackerman, play­ing Balie Swart, did not no­tice the di­rec­tor’s ar­rival un­til a shadow fell over him. His smile froze, his face drained of colour and he took off his Spring­bok hat and held it in both hands in front of his chest. Clint East­wood was star­ing down at him.

“Now lis­ten here, Balie,” came the fa­mous drawl, slow and deep. “In this scene you are none too happy about this song you gotta sing, you don’t want to sing it and that has to come out in your lines and in your eyes, you got that Balie?” All big Louis could do was to nod his head fast and re­ply, “Yes sir” in a school­boy squeak.

Mr East­wood, as we called him, or “Boss” as his crew did – some of whom had been with him for 20 years and ob­vi­ously loved him – lived up in all ways to his iconic sta­tus. He knew every­one’s name, no mat­ter how small their part in the film, and he went out of his way to make it a great ex­pe­ri­ence for every­one. He pos­sessed an aura that made peo­ple want to give their best for him. Of­ten, when we were shoot­ing late or had had a par­tic­u­larly tough day – such as when we shot till 2am, cov­ered in mud in the freez­ing rain for the French match – he would be seen drift­ing through the teams, growl­ing hi­lar­i­ous one-lin­ers, keep­ing morale up.

The rugby it­self was the real deal. The first game to be filmed was Aus­tralia vs the Boks at New­lands, be­fore 5 000 ex­tras watch­ing in the stands. You just can’t put real rugby play­ers in na­tional colours in one of the great rugby sta­di­ums and not ex­pect them to go full bore. We had set plays, which were ex­act copies of the moves played in the ’95 games, and then free play when we would play just as in a live match. This was when the hits were hard­est, the ef­fort to­tal and on a few oc­ca­sions the fights broke out.

Ch­ester Wil­liams, the rugby tech­ni­cal ad­viser on set, watch­ing a par­tic­u­larly fiery few min­utes where punches were be­ing thrown, said to East­wood: “I think we bet­ter blow it and give them a while to calm down.”

“Let ’em play on, it’s lookin’ mean,” East­wood drawled with a wolfish grin.

Of­ten I would find my­self be­ing raked at the bot­tom of a ruck and see a cam­era bor­ing into my face with the grin­ning smile of Steve Cam­pan­elli, the award-winning cam­era­man, be­hind it.

Hav­ing shot the scenes we needed in Cape Town, in­clud­ing a mem­o­rable trip to Robben Is­land and an im­promptu visit from Da­mon’s friend Daniel Craig, we were flown up to Joburg to film the fi­nal against the All Blacks at El­lis Park sta­dium.

Jonah Lomu was be­ing played al­ter­nately by the mas­sive Ton­gan in­ter­na­tional Epi Taoni and the New Zealan­der Zak Feau­nati, the ex-Cru­saders and Bath num­ber eight, so the in­ten­sity did not drop. The pro­duc­ers even flew in the All Blacks haka coach from New Zealand, who cre­ated a fan­tas­tic fer­vour in our own All Blacks.

It was ex­hil­a­rat­ing to face the haka on that great rugby ground in front of a scream­ing crowd.

Af­ter a day’s film­ing many of the boys headed out in the evenings for se­ri­ous par­ty­ing and then rolled out again the next day to give it their all. The team play­ing the Boks re­ally came to­gether.

Matt Da­mon en­tered into the spirit, and half a dozen of us had a great evening in the foyer of the Michelan­gelo ho­tel play­ing poker with him. I cleaned him out with a di­a­mond flush on a big hand, but by the end of the evening he had wiped us all out.

Both teams watched the fi­nal again on a huge screen, and the emo­tion and fe­roc­ity of that oc­ca­sion, which I hadn’t seen since the live game, was truly awe­some. We were de­ter­mined to give our all, to bring to life again the in­ten­sity of that in­cred­i­ble day.

Ten weeks later, the in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence came to an end and we packed up and flew home. It was hard to ad­just to not play­ing rugby ev­ery day, hav­ing your clothes laid out and fit­ted, be­ing mas­saged and fêted, hav­ing your meals cooked, bills picked up and hang­ing out in the com­pany of movie stars. I dubbed us The Hol­ly­wood Boks and had some green-and-gold T-shirts made with our names on the back. I have a feel­ing the boys will be dig­ging them out next month.

The full story ap­pears in GQ’s 10th an­niver­sary is­sue, on sale now.

TUN­NEL VI­SION: Clint East­wood, left rear, watches the action dur­ing shoot­ing.

MAGIC MO­MENT: Mor­gan Free­man as Nel­son Man­dela, and Matt Da­mon as Fran­cois Pien­aar in


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