EXCLUSIVE: Trainer Mario Donato Talks About Training The Amazons For WONDER WOMAN

One of the most authentic things about Wonder Woman was the look of The Amazons. Trainer Mario Donato recently sat down with CBM to talk about training the Amazons, freediving, as well as future projects.

Part of Wonder Woman’s success has been thanks to the scenes on Themyscira as well as The Amazons. Not only did Paradise Island look like…well, paradise, but the women that played the Amazons looked the part as well.

Getting the ladies in Amazon shape was no small task, and was ushered along by Mario Donato. Most probably don't recognize the name, but he specialized in training superheroes for the big screen.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Mario and chat about his work on Wonder Woman, as well as what he has coming up for the future. He has also been kind enough to give us some behind the scenes photos of training, and from the set. Mario is extremely passionate and cares about what he does and he’s just an all-around good guy.

If you are interested in following Mario, check out the CMD Gym website, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Vero.

Image credit Mario Donato/CMD Gym
I read that you got into swimming and aquatic type activities at the age of ten. Can you speak to that, and your comfort level with the water?


Absolutely. Well, my mom is from England, my dad is from Italy. So, they actually met in the Bahamas, my dad was getting a hotel going, so I was born in the Bahamas. I don’t remember learning how to swim; do you know what I mean? It was just kind of always there, and then when I got into the breath holding and the free diving I started very young with my dad. I would go to the bottoms of boats with a scraper, just cleaning the bottoms of boats in the marina. The other way I started getting into it was we would go on boat trips with my father’s friends, these older guys. They would be drinking all day on the boat, and spearing fish. Obviously the drunker they got, they got better at spearing fish, but they couldn’t swim down to get them, and would send me down to bring the speared fish up. I was kind of a mule, and that’s how I got into it.


After that did the diving turn competitive for you, and were there competitions that you did?

No, not really competitive. I just kind of got very lucky and continued to fall in with the right people that took me to the next level. I was never looking to become competitive. It’s just like when I got to a certain level, I just kind of met someone even better than me and they got me better. That’s just the way it went, I just fell into it that way and kind of went with it. So it was never like, “I’m going to get into this sport. I’m going to do it,” I’ve just been doing it my whole life. It wasn’t until I started getting older that I realized there was actually a sport in it.

Who were some of your mentors once you realized this was something that you wanted to persue?

You know, a lot of freediving records have been set in the Bahamas. So I would end up meeting some guys that were competitive. People I’ve always looked up to are people like Umberto Pelizzari, the pioneers of free diving, Enzo Maiorca, those guys. And the guys that are my age now William Trubridge, Martin Štěpánek those have been the guys that I’ve been around and have learned from. And they’re basically the Jordans of freediving.

Your personal record freedive is 95M (305ft), what’s going through your head as you’re going that far down, and still have to come back up?

The thing is, it’s a really slow process to get to that depth. So by the time you get to it, you’ve been doing it repeatedly over and over and over again. You only get a couple of meters every month if you’re lucky. It’s not like you jump in and do 60 feet, jump in do 80 feet, and then jump in and do 200 feet. It’s a day in and a day out process. For me, it turned out being a psychological thing. Because for the longest time I would just continuously hit about 20 plus meters, and one day I was diving in Dean’s Blue Hole, a place in the Bahamas, and at about 100 feet, there’s like a crescent, a rounding, it’s hard to explain, and I always knew I was getting close to 100 and my ear would start hurting, and I was like I don’t know if I can do it. So psychologically, I was psyching myself out and then one day we were diving in shit weather, and I couldn’t see the shelf, and I went right past it. So that’s when it kind of opened up to me that it was more of a psychological thing, but it’s a really slow process. People get into It, and they do really well, and the deeper you get, in my opinion, I mean I’ve been out of it for like seven or eight years now, I still freedive for fun, it slows down. Because the pressures get deeper, and then you need divers to assist you, you need people to look out for you once you get past a certain depth, it’s just not fun anymore, it becomes more technical.

It sounds like it’s very much like any sport you get in to where practice makes perfect, and you just got to keep at it.

Yeah, and I believe that anybody can do it. It’s your environment; I was raised around boats, swimming, surfing, and paddle boarding, so it’s just your environment. People are like, “oh my god, how did you hold your breath for eight and a half minutes?” And I’m like, “Well yeah, I was brought up around it, and I stuck with it.” I don’t find myself as something unique or freakish or anything it’s just being in that environment.

Image credit Mario Donato/CMD Gym
You said you’ve been out of diving for seven or eight years now, what got you into weight training and just training in general?

I think that talent only takes you so far, and then you have to get serious about it. You have to get more technical, and take care of your diet. I pretty much got to a point where I had hit a wall with my freediving, and one of the guys was like, “dude, you have to take it seriously now. You got to watch what you eat; you got to actually train out of the water.” And that’s how I got in to lifting weights, and stuff like that. Just some basic light weight work. And then I fell in with some people that taught me all of this functional movement and stuff. Again, the right people came along at the right time, and then as I slowly started to get out of freediving, it made sense to make that transition. The job I ended up getting in the Bahamas, was I became a fitness instructor, and then I was around a lot of celebrities and hedge fund people at a club that I use to work at. So I was constantly training people, and that’s how I kind of got my feet wet with the celebrity and the movie stuff.

Transition to that, what was it like to get the call that they wanted you to come in and work on Wonder Woman, and how does that feel when you get something like that?

I always feel blessed, because I sincerely love what I do, and I love seeing the process. I love seeing someone do well, and I love seeing someone transition into looking a certain way. That was really what got me excited. I’m a big comic book fan too, so I’ve trained with Edward Norton a little bit, and I trained with Paul Rudd a little bit, and those guys are like The Hulk and Ant-Man so it’s always been pretty cool. So, I was excited because it’s a big production, and it’s great to see the finished product I guess you could say.

How far out did you start preparing the actresses, what was your schedule like?

They all came pretty fit, and when I got there they were getting out of the strength phase, putting on muscle, and they were getting more into the more cardio based functional moving, moving heavy weight fast, things like that and cutting the diet. That’s when I got there is when we started trimming up, and getting everyone looking more the part. But then again, in their defense, they all looked good to begin with, some of them just needed to be tightened up. I mean we definitely gave them a drastic change, but there was nobody completely off the map that we couldn’t make look good. There was no one hopeless there in any way, shape or form.

Image credit Mario Donato/CMD Gym
I also saw that you had very minimal injury when you were training, what kind of pride do you take in being able to push somebody to get in shape, but also not push them so hard that they injure themselves?

That’s actually a really good question, I think that when you do something like this long enough, and you actually care about the people, everyone has a tell. Even if I got into a room full of eight people, or ten people you get pretty good at seeing how far you can push someone by looking at them. There’s a difference between pushing someone to make them work harder, because they’re not working hard, opposed to pushing someone that you’re going to hurt them physically. I’m not against hurting your ego, and that might be a good thing. You know, we can hurt the ego all day, but when it comes to injuries, that’s a major no-no. Some of the ones that popped up were just irritations of what someone already had. And that was really good, because you don’t want to hurt somebody in this business. I definitely believe in working hard and pushing the limit, but injuring yourself is nothing to brag about.

In your blog you mention that bulking up and putting on muscle, but also keeping them looking feminine was a priority for you. How did you go about keeping that balance and accomplishing that?

A lot of their frames helped. We slowly cut the diet down as the weeks went on to production and filming when we went to Italy. It’s just a fine line. You don’t want to loose everything you put on, but at the same time, we were going for they look like they could do something, but they weren’t like guys in wigs. (laughs). It was more of slowly cutting the carbs, but keeping the proteins and the fats high, so they didn’t loose the muscle that they had, but it also got that layer of skin a little tighter, give them a little more definition too.

Image credit Mario Donato/CMD Gym
Now obviously people have different body types, how do you strike the balance of working with somebody that needs a little more work with somebody that doesn’t, but you’re still training the same group.

We were lucky, because 95% of the women were on the same page the entire time.  I had made jokes a few times, I said, “ladies, you’re going to be on a huge HD screen, let’s get cracking.” So, they all leaned on each other, but some of them did need extra work. Some of them needed to pump down actually, they were doing too much cardio. But it’s been one of the first projects I’ve worked on where they were all willing to do what had to be done, and they really did listen. They really did a great job, and that makes my job easier.

Now, I’m married, so how did you not get taken out and get beaten up when you reminded these ladies that they were going to be on a big HD screen?

Well, I built a really good rapport with them weeks ahead. They get my mindset, and they knew that I love them and that I wanted the best for them in every way, shape and form. It was done tactfully, but I did hear shit in a funny way. We would always give them a hard time about it, just being funny. I think when we started cutting the carbs out and doing the diet is the hardest part for the girls. I really did feel for them. I ended up doing it to myself to a certain point to show them that, hey look, I’m in this with you. I was a little bulkier when I got there, and I really leaned out towards the end of production.

Image credit Mario Donato/CMD Gym
Speak a little more to the closeness that you developed with the actreses. I read that you developed a real tight bond with the ladies, and some of those relationships you probably took with you after you were done working on the film. With Hayley Warnes (who plays "Aella" one of the Queens Guards) especially, I read that you guys really developed a close bond, and you guys were able to really have some great conversations while you were working out.

Yeah, I mean the thing is we all wanted to succeed. But you definitely made good friends, because we were working together, we were, and I mean this figuratively, bleeding together and we were working for something bigger. You’re just going to get good friendships; I mean I became friends with a lot of people over there. A lot of the girls there. The reason I brought up Haley is she was just a clown, I feel so bad for her boyfriend (laughs), and I tell her that all the time. She’s a go-go person, and her mentality was just so positive. She was probably one of the most positive, willing to do whatever she had to do to get it done besides Connie (Nielsen) The Queen.

That’s another note that I have is that you’ve said that Connie set the standard for what you were looking to do, can you talk a little more about that?

Well she already had the mentality, because she had a trainer in LA that was already helping her out before she got to us. Whenever she would go home, he would take care of her. So she already knew the game, but when she came to us she was always game. She was always professional, always did what she had to do. A lot of people started checking out towards the end of the project, mentally and physically, they were exhausted, but her and I and a few other women in production were there until the last day. And she was still getting me up in the morning at like 5 A.M. to get ready, and it just impressed the hell out of me. I mean she was the queen, that’s the best way I can put it. She was just a really hard working women, and just a great, nice, giving attitude. You couldn’t ask for more in someone to train.

Now I know you dealt with Connie and the Amazons, but were you able to work with some of the main cast?

Robin Wright I helped train quite a bit, most of the Queen’s Guards I did quite a bit with. And then Chris Pine, I moved around a little bit with him too. Gal (who worked with her own trainer for most the film) got to the point most of the time that she was just doing her stunts and sword work and she was doing so much filming that she was just like off and on.. But Chris Pine, and the rest of the guys I helped out with quite a bit.

Image credit Mario Donato/CMD Gym
How did training shift once you started filming? With different filming locations and times, it’s going to be a little bit harder to work in what you guys do as trainers and keep them in shape.

Absolutely, really good question. When we were in Italy we moved around every two weeks, to like three or four locations. So, we had a gym that we had to break down, a portable gym, we set it back up, and then with the training schedule, they were still getting the work in, but it was at various times, because they were filming, and then we would get put on hold, and some people didn’t need to be filmed. So, the gym just stayed open, and I grabbed everyone that I could. So like, Robin, Chris, and Connie would always come in, in the mornings and get their stuff out of the way, and then the Amazons would trickle in through out the day whenever they could up until seven or eight o’clock at night to get it in before the next day would begin. So it was still structured, but it wasn’t like I had nine o’clock, 11 girls, ten o’clock, 11 girls. It was just like through out the rest of the day, they came in and out whenever they could, and that’s the way we maintained them.

So what did that put your schedule like? I imagine it’s one of those, up at 6 A.M. got to bed at 3 A.M., and get that three hours of sleep. Something weird like that.

Oh absolutely! You know I’ve been asked that, but I was having such a good time, and the energy was so high that it wasn’t until after the production was done that you get home and then you crash. When I say get home, I mean you fly back to your bed. But while you’re gone you’re just going, it’s a blast. You just put your head down and do what you gotta do. But I think when you’re that busy it’s good, it’s healthy. It doesn’t catch up with you.

So you end your work, the movie comes out and it’s a great success, what’s it like sitting in that movie theater waiting for the credits to roll, and seeing your name pop-up in there?

Well I didn’t get to go right away, so I had friends sending me photos of my name, and it was pretty funny. It was great to see the movie, I truly enjoyed it. But what happens is, when you see the movie, it’s chopped up. Because you’re like, ‘wait a minute,’ we didn’t film that at this time. Like I said, it’s a great experience to see it. It’s pretty surreal.

Image credit Mario Donato/CMD Gym
So moving forward, did you work on Justice League? With your background did they contact you about Aquaman? I know you’ve done some stuff with Jason Mamoa.

It’s actually really funny, because I was helping train Jason a little bit before we left for Italy (for Wonder Woman) for Justice League, because it was overlapping. He’s a really good guy; I had a really great time with him, just a really nice guy. We actually had dinner one night, and I told him, because he knew I was freediving, ‘look I’m a fan of Aquaman. Don’t Fu** the movie up.’ He started laughing, and I’m like, ‘seriously don’t Fu** it up.” (laughs) Australia (Aquaman’s filming location) didn’t work out scheduling wise, but I’m actually slated to do some Marvel stuff next year.

*All Image credit Mario Donato/CMD Gym

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