Necks On The Line

While special effects make it considerably easier to fool an audience these days, a number of actors continue to bravely perform their own stunts – including Alan Rickman, who was recently in town.

“It was the last scene I shot in the film, just in case.”

Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) falling from the Nakatomi tower in Die Hard remains an iconic film image, which didn’t require a stunt double.

On a recent trip to Sydney to promote his directorial effort, A Little Chaos, Alan Rickman told a sold-out crowd at the Cremorne Orpheum in Sydney that director John McTiernan approached him with the idea of shooting the scene with a stuntman from behind. Instead, Rickman offered to do the scene with the camera facing him – meaning he had to do the fall himself.

Many actors opt for stunt doubles for the more dangerous scenes, while others are famous for taking on the risk themselves. Stunt teams practiced dropping Rickman from ten feet, then twenty, building to the forty feet he would have to fall. He had to practice falling in a certain way so he wouldn’t land on his head, and Rickman pulled it off, the theatre veteran surviving his first ever film shoot.

Rickman is not alone – Charlton Heston was clearly visible in Ben Hur’s famous chariot race while Steve McQueen did most of his own motorcycle stunts for The Great Escape. Laurence Olivier was known for plunging on to the stage from high places for various Shakespeare productions and Bruce Willis also reportedly did much of his own stunt-work on Die Hard.

Not all actors are so courageous – when asked if he performed his own stunts, James Bond actor Roger Moore commented, “Of course I do my own stunts. And I also do my own lying.”

Actors performing their own stunts are not so common anymore – CGI making it a little safer for studios who don’t want to pay an insurance premium and for actors who’d rather spend a few weeks out of hospital.

Special effects make it a lot easier to fool an audience, but the viewer still gets a special kick when they know it’s the A-Lister out there risking life and limb. Much of the promotional material for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol featured Tom Cruise hanging off the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, while the first images released for the franchise’s fifth instalment have Cruise attached to the side of a plane.

Christian Bale, Daniel Craig, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion Gina Carano and of course Jason Statham regularly perform their own stunts, though Craig did sit out some of the Spectreshoot following a knee injury incurred while filming a fight scene. Kickass’ Chloe Grace Moretz reportedly trained with Jackie Chan’s stunt team so she could perform most of her own fight scenes for her breakout role.

We don’t expect actors to risk their lives for a good movie and there are performers who will push to do their own stunts and others who will refuse, regardless of how good CGI gets. There’s an extra special something when you know your favourite star pulled it off themselves, and unlike excessive CGI, people want to see it.

On FilmInk