Going into battle with Thor
Some weightlifting tips from Thor helped Ben O'Toole get into shape to play an elite Special Forces soldier.
The Brisbane-born actor stars alongside fellow Aussie Chris Hemsworth, Oscar nominee Michael Shannon and SAG Award winner Michael Pena in 12 Strong, an action drama which recounts the incredible true story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Under the leadership of a new captain, the Green Berets were embedded with an Afghan warlord (future Afghan vice-president General Abdul Rashid Dostum) to take down the Taliban.
The group was nicknamed the "horse soldiers" because horses were General Dostum's preferred mode of transport in the mountainous terrain.
"These men - with millions of dollars in equipment - landed under the cover of night in a foreign country to find they had a $US100,000 reward on their heads and their only mode of transport was horses. Now that's just bad luck," O'Toole says.
"There was so little intelligence in the area at the time. A lot of the things they were doing there were for the first time. It's nothing short of incredible what they achieved."
Hemsworth plays Captain Mitch Nelson, a leader with little combat experience who has to prove himself to both his men, his superiors and General Dostrum.
"It was the first time I'd worked with Chris, although we do have a few mutual friends," O'Toole says
"Within five minutes of meeting him I was like 'This guy is a legend. I'll follow this guy anywhere'. He has a big heart, he's very passionate and a great actor."
The group bonded in the gym, where they spent hours bulking up to portray men capable of carrying 27kg of gear over long distances and into battle.
"We were chasing Chris around like 'What do we do man? Help us out'," he says.
"It was something we all did at the start or end of the day, which was great because team building is such an important thing in a film like this. That camaraderie needs to just be there between two people (on screen) even when they aren't speaking."
12 Strong is O'Toole's third war film following roles in Russell Crowe's The Water Diviner and Hacksaw Ridge.
"The training was very different for this film," he says. "In World War II for example, callisthenics was toe touches. Now it's a different calibre of soldier. These people go through extensive training and it's much more technical. Just knowing your way around some of these firearms is like brain surgery - at least it felt like it to me."
Despite being a capable horse rider, O'Toole wasn't required to spend much time in the saddle for 12 Strong.
"Russell Crowe trained us quite extensively in horse riding (for The Water Diviner), but I'm quite afraid of horses. That raw power I find very scary," he says.
"I didn't have to be proficient in this film because a lot of these soldiers weren't very good at riding horses. I think I lucked out there. I can't pull off the cowboy thing."
His character Scott Black is easily recognisable because of his distinctive glasses.
"They had to strap them on to their face when they were in the field. They're goggle glasses," he says.
"The nickname in the Green Berets was birth control glasses; Scotty Black wasn't falling in love over there (laughs). I came to love them. I started feeling quite naked when they weren't on."
12 Strong is in cinemas now.