I came across this picture the other day and I thought, wow this guy’s a mess, who is it? It turned out to be Jake Gyllenhaal, I thought, wow what happened?!’ Apparently this is him in good shape! He did weeks of working out with trainer to the stars, Simon Weston, for his role as a sword swinging warrior in the movie, Prince Of Persia : Sands Of Time. Maybe he’s doing his own stunts I thought, well only if you call taking your shirt off a stunt.
It’s become quite the thing for serious actors to use that most enjoyable method of getting into character. Eating. Rene Zelwegger of course, Charlize Theron, George Clooney, and Robert De Niro. Then there’s the actors who use the other enjoyable method of getting into character. Not eating.
Michael Fassbinder lost 33lbs for his role as Bobby Sands in Hunger, much to the distress of his worried mother. Christian Bale’s mother always thought he was weird and didn’t blink an eye when he told her he was losing 63 lbs for his role in, The Machinist. The only stunt he had to do was to remain standing every day.
But Bale and a number of other actors do do their own stunts and spend a lot of time getting fit for just that. Bale did all his fights and a lot of stunts on the Batman movies, even though no one could see it was him. Seems like his mum was right. Shia La Boeuf did most of his stunts in Transformers, likewise Matt Damon in Bourne, Tom Cruise in MI and of course Daniel Craig in Bond…does those he can be seen in. Most actors stand clear of the dangerous stuff though, like Hugh Jackman, I know this as I know his stunt double!
These days though, it’s harder to impress audiences, as in the back of their minds, they don’t see a 200 foot drop, they see a green floor. So the trend is moving back to doing it for real. Indeed, before green screen, doing it for real was easier and cheaper though a little more dangerous, but that was kinda the point, it looked it.
Among the most talked about stunts by stunt people, is Steve McQueen’s motorcycle jump in The Great escape. Or I should say Bud Ekins, McQueen’s friend’s jump, of 60 feet over a barbed wire fence on an old, heavy bike. Seems nothing by comparison to the sewer jump in Terminator 2, but then the Terminator was held up by wires.
Stunts held audiences in awe in the silent days, it was their 3D, and it was probably in this period that stunt drivers discovered how fast your could crash a car before injuring yourself. The stars of the day were Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, who made sure their fans knew they were doing their own stunts. In, Safety Last, 1923, Lloyd dangles above LA while holding onto the bending hands of a clock. But, was there the roof of another building just below him, out of shot?
No tricks in Buster Keaton’s, Steamboat Bill Jr, 1928, when the whole side of a house falls on top of him, except for the open top window which falls around him exactly where he’s standing and he lives! As risky as it looks, apparently there was only two inches between the window and Keaton’s shoulders. Phew.
The most impressive contemporary innovation in stunts, was the introduction of wirework, known as ‘wire-fu’, attracting audiences to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which took the martial arts genre into the fantasy genre as performers fought while flying among trees and over buildings. Also known for the remarkable swordplay featuring actress Michele Yeoh. Hollywood of course, quickly hired the Chinese masters of the technique in an attempt to attract audiences to their own films, but it’s not quite the same.
Serious injury and death are not uncommon, most recently in John Woo’s, Red Cliff, during which one person died and six were injured during a major naval battle. Indeed at this year’s Taurus World Stunt Awards, a grant was awarded to the stunt performer injured while doubling for Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.
Big action movies like Watchmen have a large list of stunt credits, over 60 in Watchmen, but you’d never recognise them, which is kinda the point. And even Christian Bale and Jake Gyllenhaal are likely to appear in at least a few shots where their faces are turned away from the camera.