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In 'The Fall Guy,' stunts finally get the spotlight

Ryan Gosling plays stunt man Colt Seavers in the new movie <em data-stringify-type="italic">The Fall Guy</em>, a new take on the 1980s TV show.
Eric Laciste
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Universal Pictures
Ryan Gosling plays stunt man Colt Seavers in the new movie The Fall Guy, a new take on the 1980s TV show.

At the Hollywood premiere of the new movie The Fall Guy, motorcyclists popped wheelies along the red carpet, one stuntman took a dive off a 45-foot crane outside the Dolby Theater, and Ryan Gosling's stunt doubles were ripped backwards through a movie poster. Three performers smashed through a window for a lively staged fight scene.

The movie's storyline and its massive global marketing campaign are all about giving credit to Hollywood's behind-the-scenes action stars. In every appearance, Gosling lavishes praise, noting he's had a stunt double since his 1990's TV show Young Hercules.

"I kind of had a stunt double my whole life," he explained at the premiere at South By Southwest. "It's always been this strange dynamic where they come and do all the cool stuff and then they go and hide, and you pretend that you did it. And it's not cool...it's about time that we recognize that they've been making actors into movie stars for a century."

A stunt performer at the Los Angeles premiere of <em>The Fall Guy. </em>Outside the Dolby Theatre, another stunt artist jumped from atop a 45-foot crane, while others showed off a staged fight scene.
Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A stunt performer at the Los Angeles premiere of The Fall Guy. Outside the Dolby Theatre, another stunt artist jumped from atop a 45-foot crane, while others showed off a staged fight scene.

The Fall Guy is an action movie within an action movie: In the film, Ryan Gosling plays Colt Seavers, a stunt man trying to win back his film director ex, played by Emily Blunt. When the movie star for whom he doubles goes missing, Seavers is sent on a mission to find him.

Gosling did a few of his own stunts for the movie, including falling backwards 12 stories from a building. He did a fight scene inside a garbage bin spinning through the streets, and he surfed on a metal plate dragged by a truck on the Sydney Harbour bridge.

But Gosling's stunt doubles did even more daring tricks.

"I got pulled back maybe 20 feet into a massive rock while on fire," recalls Ben Jenkin, a parkour specialist who stood in for Gosling's character as he was set on fire over and over. "I did the 'fire burn' eight times in one day. That was actually one of the ones that hurt the least."

Throughout production, Jenkin took more than a few punches.

"The car hit wasn't fun," he told NPR. "I mean, it was fun to do, but the pain! It definitely hurt my leg a little bit when I smashed through the front windshield and landed on the road. That was a thumper. You watch the movie and you see the stunts and you're like, 'Oh my god, that's crazy. That must have hurt.' But you don't see the prep that went into it."

The new movie <em>The Fall Guy</em> is an update of the 1980's action TV show of the same name starring Lee Majors, shown here in 1981. Majors makes a cameo in the new movie.
Walt Disney Television Photo Archives / Getty Images
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Getty Images
The new movie The Fall Guy is an update of the 1980's action TV show of the same name starring Lee Majors, shown here in 1981. Majors makes a cameo in the new movie.

Pulling back the curtain on stunts

The movie was directed by former stuntman David Leitch, who spent 20 years doubling for A-list actors like Brad Pitt and Matt Damon before making such action films as Atomic Blonde, Bullet Train, John Wick and a Fast and Furious spinoff.

For The Fall Guy, Leitch says he wanted all the stunts to be old school and practical — using real people, not AI or CGI.

"We did high falls out of helicopters. We lit people on fire multiple times," Leitch told NPR. "Cars flipping, crashing, fight scenes, bottles broken. A lot of stunts. We really put everything into it. Honestly, we knew we had to make sure we did right by the stunt community."

Posing as Gosling's character in the movie, aerialist Troy Brown took a backwards 150-foot fall out of a helicopter to land onto the same airbag his legendary stuntman father Bob Brown once landed on for a movie.

Stunt driver Logan Holladay jumped a truck over a 225 foot-wide canyon. And for another scene, he broke a Guinness World Record. Driving 80 miles per hour on a wet, sandy Australian beach, Holladay maneuvered a modified Jeep Grand Cherokee. A blast from an air cannon under the SUV propelled it to roll over itself eight and a half times. (The previous record for cannon rolls in a car was seven, held by Adam Kirley for the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale.)

Ryan Gosling, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ben Jenkin, Logan Holladay, and Justin Eaton, along with director David Leitch on set.
Eric Laciste / Universal Pictures
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Universal Pictures
Ryan Gosling, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ben Jenkin, Logan Holladay, and Justin Eaton, along with director David Leitch on set.

"Logan gets out of the car and gives us the thumbs up, and we know he's okay," recalls the movie's stunt designer, Chris O'Hara. He and his team had carefully calculated the density of the sand and the speed.

"It's definitely a science," he told NPR. "It's not just, you know, go crash a car; We're really doing our due diligence to make it the perception of danger while eliminating all the risks so that in the end, we can make something super exciting."

David Leitch says all of the stunts in the movie are also there to serve the story. "There's a lot of math, there's a lot of physics, there's a lot of physicality and performance," he says. "But there's also this artistic design and creativity. Like, how is this sequence going to move the character forward? How is this sequence going to be more fun? How are we going to make them laugh? How are we going to make them be scared?"

Emily Blunt plays Judy Moreno in <em>The Fall Guy. </em>
Eric Laciste / Universal Pictures
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Universal Pictures
Emily Blunt plays Judy Moreno in The Fall Guy.

Campaigning for an Oscars category

Unlike costume designers, hair and makeup designers, and soon, casting directors, the Academy Awards have never had a category for stunts. But The Fall Guy stars Gosling and Blunt made a pitch for one at this year's Oscars ceremony.

"To the stunt performers and the stunt coordinators who help make movies magic," Gosling said onstage, "we salute you."

That support is appreciated by stunt performers like Michelle Lee, who doubles for Rosario Dawson in the Star Wars spinoff series Ahsoka. She hopes this effort helps people understand discipline and sacrifices stunt performers make to entertain audiences. "Sometimes, you pad up and you're like, 'Oh, this one's going to hurt,' but this is what I'm here for and I've practiced," she says. "You know, pain is temporary, film is forever. You have that cool shot forever."

Mike Chat and Neraida Bega train Hollywood stunt performers at a center run by 87 North, the production company run by The Fall Guy director David Leitch and his producer wife Kelly McCormick. They say that for years, stunt performers have campaigned for the Academy to honor their work.

"People have petitioned, they've gone out and picketed," says Chat. But that didn't work, says Bega.

"The fear was that people were going to make the stunts more dangerous and bigger and bigger for them to win. But that is not the goal," Bega says. "There is so much discipline, they work so hard and they have to be always ready."

Chat has been in the business for more than 20 years. He and others hope The Fall Guy may finally convince the Academy to award an Oscar for best stunts.

"They have taken the initiative to say, 'OK, we're going to educate you, we're going to earn it, we're gonna prove it and show you why it's deserved.'"

And for that effort, he says the stunt community around the world is giving The Fall Guy a big thumbs up.

Copyright 2024 NPR

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.