As kids we grow up playing imaginary games of high speed-chases, jumping out of burning buildings, or fighting enemies with swords, but these stuntmen and women get to do that as their job.
Take a look behind the scenes of the life of stunt doubles as they talk about their unique job to do all the things we wanted to as kids.
Are they all daredevils?
While it seems like they would be, the short answer is no. Of course there are the groups of Evel Knievel–inspired adrenaline junkies, but you also get those who have a long history of practicing martial arts and are simply talented in certain specific areas like driving cars, snowboarding, or football.
Grant Koo, a stuntman and precision driver grew up practicing martial arts and now works in major films and television shows doing those amazing racing scenes. He told Mental Floss, “I have studied karate since I was 7 or 8 years old. I used to watch all of those cheesy kung fu movies on a Saturday—and beat the living crap out of my couch!”
Koo has worked for some major films like Transformers, Rock of Ages and HBO’s Ballers.
However, it doesn’t always go that way, as Vera Lam explains in the same article, “My parents never let my brother and I participate in sports when we were younger. They were afraid we’d break an arm. I’m certain I failed my fitness test in grade school except for the flexibility portion.”
However, it didn’t seem to hold her back, as her resume includes stunt work on Daredevil, Gotham, and Luke Cage.
A lot of them were actors first.
Dominic Preece is probably one of the busiest stuntmen in the business. However, if you asked him 20 years ago what he would have been doing, he would have said acting. In an interview with GQ, he said, “I went to drama school, and one of my actual drama teachers said, ‘You ever thought about being a stuntman?’ Apparently my acting wasn’t that good. But I said, ‘No, no, no, I want to be an actor.’ Even when I did First Knight, I actually went into it thinking, ‘This is the way to be an actor.’”
It seems to have worked out in Preece’s favor as he has won awards for stunt work in Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight, and Harry Potter. He has over 78 credits in stunt work to his name.
You can see Preece in the new installment of Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume II, or perhaps on the streets of some foreign country driving an Aston Martin, like he did for the Bond films.
In a tough business, connections help.
Jennifer Lamb was working bit parts as an actress and got a role in a The Big Lebowski where she maybe only had one line, but on set she met stunt coordinator Danny Aiello III who recognized her toughness and small frame, and thought she’d be great for stunts.
She took the job (getting thrown off a balcony) and has now worked as a stuntwoman in over 90 projects, while her acting resume only has four credits, but Lebowski is on there. Aiello III had over 130 credits to his name in the world of stunts and got his start as a director and producer.
Sometimes they use women for men and men for women.
You have to be okay with any role as sometimes they’ll switch genders up. Like when Jennifer Lopez was filming her music video for “Follow the Leader” in Acapulco, Mexico, they had a male stunt double doing her work, wearing black leggings, braided hair, and all.
In a film called Cymbeline, Dakota Johnson has a male stunt double for her scenes while driving a motorcycle.
A lot of times women do stunts for children as well since they could fit the sizes more.
They sometimes get seriously injured.
Jadie David has a big stunt career from the 1970s to the 1990s until two major injuries made her give up the stuntwoman gig and go into safety coordinating.
She had gotten her start by being a good horse rider in Burbank next to the movie studios and was put in a few things, and as her career grew, so did dangers of the stunt work. The first of her serious falls was for the movie Rollercoaster where she was supposed to jump from a derailing roller coaster.
In an interview with The New York Times, she explained what happened: “They built a mock track on top of a building and pointed the cameras into the air. When I jumped, I remember seeing the ground and thinking ‘Oh, this is going to hurt.’ I broke my back.”
Her second major fall was for a remake of the game show Truth or Consequences. “I was supposed to do a high fall from a building, and I miscalculated. I broke my back, and it took nine hours of surgery and a year in a body cast. After that, I decided to leave stunting, but I worked for years as a safety coordinator for sets.”
They usually have a specialty.
Sometimes they can do a little bit of everything, like how Grant Koo describes himself as a utility player, or a well-rounded performer skilled in all aspects of stunts. While he may be able to do it all, he still enjoys certain aspects more than others saying, “I like to do the fights, the falls, and the driving.”
Mack Kuhr is a stunt performer and body double for Keanu Reeves. He was worked as Reeve’s double in both John Wick and John Wick: Chapter Two, and his means of expertise is with military-grade firearms, which is as cool as it sounds. He has a bit of a military upbringing as his father was in the military, and his studies in exercise and conditioning at Virginia Tech got him an opportunity to do some training with Navy SEALs at Virginia Beach.
His big stunt break was on The Dark Knight Rises, when director Christopher Nolan needed someone who could handle a HK G36 submachine gun (one that would fire real blanks).
You can follow him on Twitter where he posts a lot of behind-the-scenes photos of him on set in action.
It’s a team effort.
Not many people realize the work that goes into making film and television, yet alone to coordinate a day of stunts. Then you throw in an A-lister and the pressure is raised through the roof.
While many of today’s actors like to do their own stunts, they often can’t because of insurance policies, so it’s up to the stunt crew to work together so they look good, and the actor looks good as well.
As Dominic Preece explained to GQ, “That’s the job: You’re looking out for yourself, but also for the actor in front of you. You’re constantly looking around to make sure everybody is safe and sound and okay. You’re a team. If there’s one bad apple in there, you don’t want to be there, because it’s gonna cost everybody—the actor and the stunt performer. You can’t be a prima donna. It’s a team sport.”
He goes on to mention that Daniel Radcliffe would be an amazing stuntman and that Matt Damon basically is a stuntman—though he did bring James Corden on set to play his Jason Bourne stunt double. Take a look: