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High-speed car chases, battle scenes, jumping off high buildings, blood, sweat and tears, we’ve seen it in all in the movies, but how does it get from set to screen? Read on as we discover what stunt doubles do and how to become a stunt actor!
Stunt doubles are daring individuals, adrenaline junkies who also are very athletic and have to adhere to very meticulous choreography. A stunt actor is a person who performs physical sequences for television or movies that may be too dangerous for an actor to carry out. Furthermore, stunt doubles also serve the practical purpose of preventing the actors from getting injured. This would delay filming and plans for a long time.
Some actors and actresses have multiple stunt people. This can be in case the main stunt double gets injured themselves! But not all stunt doubles are used for dare-devil stunts. Some are used as body doubles or even special skills that the actor may not have such as playing a musical instrument or certain sports. Stunt actors will also need to have a similar physical appearance as the actors themselves to make the transitions seamless when cutting between actor and stunt double.
Stunt work may involve high falls, horse tricks, stunt driving, fire burns and all forms of martial arts, weaponry and hand-to-hand combat. A professional stunt double is usually highly skilled in a variety of physical abilities, such as karate, gymnastics or climbing, that can help ensure his or her safety when performing stunts.
Stunt doubles can make anywhere between $50,000 – $200,000 a year. This can be dependant on a variety of factors such as the movie you are doubling in and the scale of the stunts. The more dangerous, the more money you get!
The first step towards a career as a stunt double is to develop the right skills for the job. Aspiring stunt professionals need to piece together their own education in the field and build up their portfolios to land the right roles. The more strings you have to your bow, the more opportunities you will be able to aim for.
For starters, you’ll need qualifications and skills across at least six different sporting areas in some of the following groups: driving, agility and strength, fighting and falling. You can cover some of the basics with classes and courses specialising in martial arts, stage combat and gymnastics.
Other skills and knowledge requirements for the job are attaining knowledge of acting, having high concentration skills, the ability to work well with others and plenty of tenacity and determination.
In order to get started on your journey as a stunt actor, you can approach existing stunt crews to see if they have any openings. Begin to mix with film industry contacts and make yourself a portfolio and demo reel to send out to film companies and agencies. Your portfolio should contain photos and a fact sheet that contains your personal information and relevant skills. Like any industry, it can take a while to fully break into but try to put yourself out there and meet as many people as you can to get your foot in the door.
Most actors will have the same stunt double throughout their careers. Some examples of top-tier stunt doubles include the Rock’s stunt double Tanoai Reed. The pair are almost identical in appearance, this is probably helped by the fact they share a gene pool – Reed is the Rock’s cousin!
A-list actor Tom Cruise will often do his own stunts. He has spoken on how he doesn’t like to lie to his audience by having a double doing his stunts in his place. He’s performed many stunts, some really dangerous ones for which he had professional training. Cruise did however break his ankle when filming Mission Impossible Fallout in 2018, shutting the film down for several months while he recuperated.
Not to dissuade any budding stunt actors out there, but there has inevitably been a few tragedies in the world of stunt acting. Harry Potter stuntman, David Holmes was paralysed from the waist down after was rehearsing a flying scene involving an explosion for Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. He slammed into a wall before plummeting to the ground and losing all feeling in his legs. Marc Mailey took over from Holmes in the remainder of filming for Harry Potter. He even had to perform the same stunt that Holmes was injured from. Marc has said David has remained in his mind since and has gone on to be a stunt coordinator in films such as Justice League, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, and Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.
Let the incredible female stunt women not go amiss. Some of the most notable females in the stunt industry are the likes of Sophia Crawford, best known for doubling Sarah Michelle Gellar on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The series had a lot of continuous action in it and there was relentless rehearsing involved that Crawford nailed.
Sophia’s doubled stars including Renee Zellweger, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate, and Sienna Miller. Imagine being a Buffy stunt double… cool right?! Also, there is the immensely talented Zoe Bell. With a background in martial arts and gymnastics, Bell’s roster contains doubling in Xena: Warrior Princess, Catwoman, Kill Bill (Vol.1 and 2) and Thor: Ragnarok to just name a few!
Think you’ve got what it takes to be a stunt actor? It can be one of the most exciting and profitable careers to embark upon so we wish you all the luck if this is the path you are going to run, drive, fall and karate your way through!
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