Actress Emilia Clarke is known for her badassery as the Mother of Dragons on Game of Thrones, but unlike her male counterparts on the HBO hit show, her power comes from steady delegation — not from the swinging of a sword. But in her latest starring role, the British actress trades in a gentle leadership and a cool demeanor for blunt, gun-toting action. And her transformation into the fearless protagonist that is Terminator Genisys' Sarah Connor is in large thanks to weapons trainer Michelle Cannon. "I had the opportunity to work one on one with Emilia for three weeks at a private shooting range in Los Angeles," the former police officer says. "Drills included weapon hand-off procedure, four point draw from the holster, malfunctions, multiple target engagement, shooting on the move, magazine changes and reloads all with live ammunition."
And while Clarke looks whole-heartedly convincing surrounded by high-tech weapons and large firearms in the film, there were certain challenges on the road to getting her to an expert state. "Large handguns, like the P226, are harder for women with small hands to manipulate. I was able to show Emilia different techniques since we are similar in size," Cannon explains. "For instance, the initial trigger pull on a double action pistol is difficult because it takes lots of strength and pressure to get that first round off." Despite these possibly troublesome elements, according to Cannon, Clarke was a natural. "I was very impressed by her because she had no prior shooting experience or formal training. Emilia had no fear and was a natural shooter. She followed all instructions and picked up the training quickly." Clarke's training included safety, training on the Colt M4 Carbine rifle (semi/full-auto) and the Sig Sauer P226 handgun, establishing a "basic skill set that is used in a combat type environment" and the aforementioned drills to create muscle memory.
As someone who has never fired a gun, let alone touched the sort of weaponry Cannon is so adept at handling, the prospect of such intensive training seems a bit, well, scary. But Cannon assures that proper safety techniques will ensure a successful and stress-free training. "Although we did initial training on the range with live ammunition, blank firing weapons are only used on a film set — unless it’s a show about shooting — and their use is extremely controlled and choreographed," she says. "You have to take into consideration the proximity of the weapon to others around you — crew, actors, etc. As an armorer, you have to insure everyone understands firearm safety and has respect for the weapons on set. Thankfully, there are no horror stories to report."
Like the beloved franchise itself, the field of weapons training is an often male-dominated arena. But Cannon assures that this reality is one that doesn't faze her. "As a former police officer and stunt performer, I have always worked in a male-dominated industry, so I don’t get intimidated very easily," she says. "For the past nine years, the majority of my work has been providing military training support for special operations all over the country. Initially, it was difficult to earn their respect, but as time goes on they see your abilities and knowledge."
But the trainer, who boasts an impressive professional resume, admits that there are occasional challenges because of her sex. "Sometimes I do feel a little scrutinized, and occasionally I will run into a caveman. But I just work through it and eventually they realize I know my job and they let me do my job. Of course there is some anxiety, just like showing up to the first day at a new job, but it diminishes with time, and professionalism, training, and confidence takes over," she says. "Plus, my husband, Russ Cannon — a retired Marine — and I have our own firearms training business and the majority of our clients are men."
Cannon's expertise and knowledge of firearms extends past the realm of film sets. "A woman should always have situational awareness, armed or not," she advises. "She should be aware of her surroundings and take extra measures to identify and avoid a dangerous situation. If a woman chooses to own a firearm for home defense or to carry on her person, then some basic safety and training is necessary."
Through experience as a reserve animal control officer, a police dispatcher, a police officer, a production assistant in Hollywood, a police technical advisor, and owning her own company — Mission Support Specialists, Inc. — Michelle Cannon is the utmost expert in her field. And the best part of her job? "Traveling and getting paid to shoot guns!" she says.
See how Cannon's hard work has paid off when Terminator Genisys hits theaters on July, 1.
Images: Paramount; Tumblr; Michelle Cannon