When Georges St-Pierre retired from mixed martial arts as the reigning UFC Welterweight Champion back in 2013, one of the first places people saw him pop back up was in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where he portrayed the merc known as Batroc. He even got to mix it up with Captain America early on, putting St-Pierre’s combat background on full display, setting the tone early for one of the most acclaimed Marvel films, ever.
Now fully retired from combat sports (St-Pierre returned to the UFC in 2017 before stepping away for good in 2019), St-Pierre’s focusing on the world of acting, which has brought him back to the MCU with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. St-Pierre’s Batroc wastes no time, mixing it up with Falcon (Anthony Mackie) in the first episode. It’s pretty damn intense.
During a conversation with St-Pierre weeks prior to the premiere of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, the 39-year-old Canadian speaks on returning to the role of Batroc in the MCU, the similarities between mixed martial arts and the world of acting, preparing for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and how his work as an actor has helped him learn more about life.
A lot of people consider Captain America: The Winter Soldier the best Marvel film. Do you get a sense of pride being in what’s considered the top Marvel film?
I feel very lucky and very privileged to have the chance to play with all these guys and that the opportunity [came] to me. When I first did The Winter Soldier, I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was because I was focusing on competing in mixed martial arts. Now that I have a chance to do it again, I know how big it is and it’s very important for me. So as much time I used to put in training for a fight, now I put it into preparation for acting.
A lot of the things that I’ve read about Disney+ and Marvel series specifically is that they’re treated more like movies. Did it feel similar to being on The Winter Soldier set when working on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?
It's very similar. It’s a movie that stretched for six hours, so it was very similar to me, and a lot more screen time this time. I had to be better prepared than I was last time because now it’s a full-time thing for me.
When did you get the gig, and how far into that did you know that it was going to be a much larger role than what had happened in The Winter Soldier?
It all started about two years ago, but because of COVID, everything got delayed. But they’re the best in the world—Disney [and] Marvel [are] as big as it gets, so they were able to keep rolling and keep the shoot going.
Did you find it was harder to prepare for a larger role like this, especially given that you come from a combat sports background?
There is a lot of similarities between a professional fighter and an actor. Every time I was walking towards the octagon for a fight, I was terrified. I was extremely nervous and extremely uncomfortable. However, every time I was acting like I was very confident, happy to be there and excited. Because I didn’t want my opponent to know the truth. We have this thing that we say, “You fake it until you make it.”
In terms of preparation, it’s very similar. It’s a lot of repetition. When you get ready for a fight, it’s a lot of different scenarios that you repeat, repeat, repeat. But when you get into the fight you quickly realize that you’re opponent is never as good as you think he was. And he’s never as bad as you think he is. He’s always different. And when you get ready for a scene, when you get on sets, you realize that everything is different. The setup is different than you imagined first, the reaction of the actor with who you were playing could be different.
In fighting, we’re very good at reading the body. Before my opponent throws a punch at me, I have some cues that indicate to me what is coming. In acting, it’s the same thing. What I found out is that when you start working in acting, you get good at reading people’s bodies and emotions. Now, I’m not watching a movie like I did before. In life, you get better at reading people because of it and I thought it was fascinating.
The more you understand about acting, the more it opens up the world and what’s really been going on in life around you.
I’ve never asked an elite actor about that, but I wonder if they can say for certain that they know because everybody is acting in life. If you don’t act you’re never going to go far. I really wonder sometimes if the best actors in the world are more aware of when people are acting or not. I’m pretty sure they are.
What are some goals you have set for yourself as an actor?
I’m aware of that it takes a lot of work, I’m not delusional. Maybe I start in the business with one step ahead because I come from a professional sport, so people will maybe hire me because I’m popular in terms of I’m a professional athlete, but I still have to do the job correctly. It’s been two years that I’m intensively training for it. I’m training really hard now, and I’m trying to learn from the best. The same journey that I did in training for martial arts, I want to do the same in acting. Learn from the best, so it will make my confidence grow and my skill grow in the same time so I’ll be able to deliver.