As a professional stuntman, I’m often asked if I get nervous or scared before diving under a rolling transport truck, leaping through a wall of flames, or falling from a tall building.
My answer: Not usually. My years of playing football in the CFL primed me for a career in stunt performing. Plus, A LOT of preparation, focus and motivation for the goals I’ve set go a long way in keeping fear and nervousness at bay.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a stunt guy? In short, it’s exciting and involves a lot of training, preparation and mental resilience.
From football player to stuntman
The transition from playing in the CFL to working as a stunt person was a result of location, friends, and timing. I lived in Vancouver, which has a huge film industry, and I knew a couple of former BC Lions and other friends who were stunt performers. The more I learned about the profession, the more it grew on me.
My very first stunt was on Stargate Atlantis, working with actor Jason Momoa. I had to run through a maze with pyro going off, take an (obviously fake) gunshot to my body, and hit the ground. Falling after you get shot or hit is a big part of the job! Spending all of that time on the ground for football certainly helped me since you’re hired to do a lot of falling when you start out in the stunt world.
Slowly I got to work up to more technical things like being on ratchets (which makes someone look like they are flying after being kicked or punched), using descenders (for falling off buildings) and being on wires (also for flying and falling).
Every stunt is like a football game
Sometimes you only have one shot at getting the play right, and you want to give it all that you’ve got. Depending on what’s happening in the scene, it can cost a lot for each setup based on what they’re using and how they’re shooting it. So I wanna make sure I am on my “A” game and give my best effort every single time. That way, I give the directors, producers and stunt coordinators exactly what they want. You gotta keep your team happy.
There’s definitely a lot to know. I am still learning every day. I am building my skills over time and have gained the trust of coordinators and other stunt performers to do bigger (and scarier) things.
My favourite stunt
I’ve been fortunate enough to do some pretty cool stuff. My favourite stunt was when I doubled DB Woodside on season 2 of Lucifer; it was a big fight between him and the Lucifer character. The grand finale of that fight ended with me being thrown into a bar. This might not sound difficult, but a lot had to go into it to make the shot perfect. I had to be horizontal and land in a specific spot because that’s where all the bottles were, so I couldn’t be too high, and I couldn’t be too low. And it couldn’t have gone better. What a great feeling.
The scariest stunt
There have been a couple of times that gave me pause once the stunt was over. One, in particular, was a big chase scene while I was doubling for Oscar winner Mahershala Ali on a show called Alcatraz.
There’s a big sequence where Mahershala is getting chased. I’m running through all sorts of stuff while getting chased by a detective. The end part of the sequence has a semi-truck driving by, and I have to roll under the moving truck.
The night before, I wasn’t thinking anything of it. When I got there in the morning, there was a MASSIVE semi-truck and one of the best stunt drivers ever, Jeff Sanca, standing beside it. From the time that I saw Jeff and the truck, I started to focus so we could start the rehearsal. First, I had to roll through the truck a few times without it moving so I could see which way I was gonna roll and how I wanted my body to move.
Once I had that figured out, I had Jeff drive by a few times, going about 30 kilometres an hour so I could figure out my entry point. Between my entry point and the wheels hitting me, I had about 2.5 seconds. I was completely focused and dialed in, the shot worked out perfectly, and everybody was happy with what had happened. However, when I got home and had some time to process it all, I was just like, “what did I just do?!”
How I stay focused and calm on the job
Mental resilience and strength are requirements for high-pressure jobs like football and being a stunt performer. It takes focus and the ability to stay calm while doing things that get your adrenaline going. I have a personal philosophy that I apply to everything that I do, and it’s called SHRED. Strength, Heart, Resilience, Efficiency, and Discipline.
Strength: This is about mental strength. Whether it’s walking one kilometre or losing one pound, you have to see yourself succeeding at it.
Heart: The heart is about going all in, not one foot in, one foot out. If you’re going to do something, push yourself a little bit harder and go after it.
Resilience: You’re going to deal with obstacles on your way to your goals. Resilience is about getting knocked off course, getting back up again, and keeping your eye on your goal.
Efficiency: Figure out where you made your mistakes, correct them, and learn from them. You get more efficient every time you learn from your mistakes.
Discipline: This is the piece that pulls it all together. You won’t always be motivated. Even I don’t always feel like training. But I know what my ultimate goal is, and I know that I need the discipline to reach it.
How to mentally prepare yourself for ANYTHING
Whether you’re leading a big meeting at work, meeting your future in-laws, or fighting your way through rush-hour traffic, it’s important to know how to keep a cool head when you face challenging situations or people.
Here is how you can keep your head in the game at all times:
Focus on the goal
The first step is to look ahead to the end result of whatever challenge you’re facing. As a former CFL defensive back, I know that if you’re going to tackle a bigger guy, you need to focus on the big picture. Instead of going for a highlight-reel hit—and increasing the likelihood of getting knocked out of the game—you focus on the task at hand: Make the tackle, stay in the game, and help your team win.
This applies to so many everyday situations: Instead of losing it when the driver in front of you takes up two lanes, for example, stay calm, keep clear of his back bumper, and focus on how nice it will be to get home and put your feet up.
Visualize the goal
This can be applied to our day-to-day lives. One of the best ways to focus on your goals is to visualize the successful end result. In the case of that lousy driver, visualize yourself at home, on the couch with your feet up, a frosty beverage in one hand and some eye candy in the other.
You can picture yourself doing whatever motivates you most: Sitting on the dock with a fat trout on the line, play fighting with your kids in the backyard, watching man’s best friend chase a ball across the park, it’s all good.
Look after yourself
When guys get sick or hurt, we often like to play it tough and ride it out. That’s where the idea of self-care comes in. It’s really important to look after yourself by getting regular exercise, eating healthy foods, and seeing your doctor when you’re feeling unwell or unhealthy.
If you’re feeling achy and your body hurts, go see a massage therapist or a chiropractor. If your car is broken, you bring it in to get fixed, so do the same thing for yourself. We all need adjustments from time to time. Day-to-day life can take a toll on your body. If you don’t take care of injuries, the body remembers, and that injury will rear its ugly head at some point in your life. Stay on top of things when they happen so they don’t get worse as you age.
Meditate to calm your mind
Before performing stunts, I meditate and get into a very calm state. I don’t even hear what is going on around me. I keep my eyes closed and slowly rehearse what I’m going to do in my head. I relax, breathe deeply, and play the scene over and over again so that when the director yells “action!” I’m ready to kick some serious butt!
You can do this too. Sit quietly and simply focus on your breathing. It’s an easy way to regain your focus and mentally prepare yourself for almost anything.
Get your Zs
It’s harder to be properly prepared when you’re tired. Adequate shut-eye has been linked to self-control, focus, and memory, and according to the U.S.-based National Sleep Foundation, most guys between the ages of 26 and 65 need between 7 to 9 hours a night. Mentally tough men make quality sleep a priority by practicing good sleep hygiene.
The mentally tough man’s mantra: “Every problem has a solution.” Being part of that solution, rather than moaning about the problem, is the next step. Every challenge presents an opportunity to learn from mistakes, embrace change, and improve. Then, once you’ve achieved your goal, celebrate your success regardless of how it’s perceived by others. Likewise, if someone else solves the problem, celebrate their success as if it were your own.
Take (calculated) risks
Self-confidence has been shown to lead to more risk-taking. The key, however, is that these are calculated risks based on the proper preparation. For the tough-minded, risk is the flip side of regret. As the saying goes, “It’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried.”
Unless you’re diving under a moving semi truck. Trust me: There’s no room for failure there!
Do you have any questions for me about what it’s like to be a stuntman? Ask away in the comments below!
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