Winnipeg man taught Filipino martial arts to Timothée Chalamet, stars of Dune sequel

A man from Winnipeg helped train lead actors Josh Brolin, Timothée Chalamet and Austin Butler in the style of Filipino martial arts, Kali. Joanne Roberts has the story.

If big Hollywood stars like Timothée Chalamet look like they have years of experience during fight scenes on the big screen, there’s a Winnipeg man to thank for that.

Alvin Catacutan was an integral part of a team that helped train some of the biggest actors in the newly released “Dune: Part Two.”

“While Austin Butler, Timothée Chalamet and Josh Brolin were here in Los Angeles, I went to them and trained them one on one to prepare them for their roles,” Catacutan told CityNews.

“My job was to prepare them physically with the skills they needed to get onto set and to learn the choreography that they needed to do as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Catacutan is a Guro – or teacher – of the Filipino martial arts style of kali. He has black belts in kali, Brazilian jiu jitsu, Indonesian silat, shudokan karate and black belt equivalents in jeet kune do and jun fan.

Martial arts instructor Alvin Catacutan gives private lesson to Logan St. Laurent in Winnipeg Sept. 24, 2023. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

For “Dune: Part Two,” he spent around one month with each of the three lead actors, training them in knife fighting.

“You adjust the technique so that number one, you’re safe, you’re not getting injured,” Catacutan explained. “And two, you look like you got hurt. So, it’s acting. It’s performance as well.

“Every element of stunt performing has danger because you are putting yourself at risk for the entertainment of the audience, like being thrown or slammed into the floor, into a table. Our number one priority when training performers is safety.”

MORE: Winnipeg martial arts teacher with Hollywood credentials shares heritage with Filipino community

The movie’s fight coordinator Roger Yuan, who also starred in Denis Villeneuve’s two Dune films, contacted Catacutan in early 2022. From there, the Winnipeg man was sent fight choreography prior to training the actors.

The real work started in May 2022 when Catacutan began training Butler. He then trained with Chalamet in June and Brolin in July.

“That is ideal. You get to prepare the actor, especially when they’re as talented and hardworking and really generous as these actors were for me, every day. Get in there, two hours a day. Get ready, learn as much as you can. And these are very busy individuals, they’re at the top of their game.

“They were doing interviews for films they had just finished and travelling for that and then coming back and training. And then training in other things for the next film they’re working on, so they’re juggling schedules. For someone like me, I had to make myself completely available for them so that I could fit their schedules. Then they go off to the set and learn the (choreography).”

Catacutan describes the actors as mentally tough and physically disciplined.

“Before I got to him at eight in the morning, Austin had already trained with his personal trainer to bulk up for the role. So he was already physically exhausted by the time I started training him for two hours straight.

“All these actors have these very busy schedules and complicated lives and things that are pulling at them all the time, and they’re getting ready for this film. It is all-encompassing. They have to be athletes. They have to prepare their roles as artists. My part of it is just a component and I’m there to serve them, to give them as many resources as they need to accomplish their goals.”

Filipino culture in film

Catacutan, who has also worked with stunt performers in hits like John Wick and Black Panther, says it’s huge for him that his culture is making such a big impact in Hollywood.

“My heritage, our heritage and culture, is a part of world culture through entertainment, through film and television because we’re involved,” he said.

“The Filipino martial arts is directly involved in Dune. It has been given credit by Jason Momoa and all the other stars who have trained and prepared for the first movie, and now for this movie saying, they trained in kali, they trained in Filipino martial arts with a Filipino martial arts instructor, and all of that gets translated into knife fighting in space.”

Hollywood is a dream come true for a man who was born in Manila and grew up in the North End of Winnipeg.

“Thirty years ago, when I was at the University of Winnipeg, it was a very different landscape for Filipinos in film and television,” he said. “It was very difficult for me to see myself actually on camera. Now, it’s taken a long time… I get to make films and express myself creatively as a filmmaker.

“You don’t know where you’re gonna end up but if you just stay focused on the things you love and start aiming as high as you can, you end up in places you never dreamed of.

“What I say is, it doesn’t really matter where you’re coming from or where you’re starting. A lot has to do with how far you want to go and how many risks you’re willing to take and what sacrifices you’re willing to make to achieve those goals.”

And while Catacutan may be physically far from Winnipeg when he’s in L.A., Manitoba’s capital city is always near and dear.

“I left my hometown, my families,” he recounted. “My mom and dad are still in Winnipeg. A thousand miles away from them. I started my own family here, became a U.S. citizen, but I still do appreciate where I come from and that I want to come back to Winnipeg to share what I’ve got. You bring treasure back home.”

Catacutan is currently training Winnipeg actors and stunt coordinators through weekly Zoom classes, and frequently comes back to Winnipeg to host kali classes.

“My hope is that there will be more interest in the cultural heritage and the Filipino martial arts in Winnipeg.”

—Alvin Catacutan

He says he hopes he can help people join the industry the way martial arts instructor Guro Inosanto helped him. Catacutan calls Inosanto, who is well known in Hollywood for training actors such as Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, a big influence in his life.

“Because there are people doing it, it means someone else who’s just starting out or has dreams of achieving that, has a model and can say someone, that person’s doing it and so can I,” Catacutan said. “We have this in common. We’re both of the same heritage, the same culture or ancestry. I can do this.”

Catacutan says after waiting two long years for the movie to be released, he’ll be seeing “Dune: Part Two” on opening weekend with the people he trains with at his martial arts school, Pamana Kali.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today