Episode 1: Stuntman

Stuntman legend Rick Avery has been in the entertainment business for over three decades. His first job was doubling John Travolta in the 1981 film, “Blow Out” and he has since gone on to do stunts in films such as “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “Titanic,” “The Italian Job,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” and four “Batman” movies including “Batman Returns” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” Stunt work also runs in the family, as his wife, Joni and their two sons, Brian and Mike (as seen in the premiere episode), are all stunt performers.

Avery grabbed the Screen Actors Guild Cast Award for “Traffic,” in 2000 and picked up the Best Stunt Ensemble Award in a Motion Picture for the “Batman” film, “The Dark Knight” in 2008. The following year, he was awarded the Taurus World Stunt prize for Best Vehicular Work in “The Dark Knight.” Additionally, Avery is a helicopter instructor at Group 3 Aviation and flies for National Helicopters piloting A-Stars and Jet Ranger helicopters.

What does a regular day look like for you as a stuntman?
Rick Avery: Every job is different so preparation reflects that. If I am the stunt coordinator, I will meet with the Director and discuss his vision of the action. My job is to hire the personnel that will best meet that need. Then I will discuss the action with the cast to make sure they are comfortable with the stunts , if they are involved. Safety meetings are imperative so the crew and camera personnel are on the same page. Finally some rehearsals and then we start “Takes.” Days in Hollywood are long. Usually 12- 14 hours are not unusual. Get to sleep late, wake up early and sore and start it all again.

Your sons, Brian and Mike, are also stuntmen. What is it like sharing this profession with them and do you have any favorite memories of working together?
Avery: They have their own careers right now so there’s a lot of work that we don’t do together. But when we first started out, a lot of their work came from me. As a stunt coordinator, I would hire them. Mikey would fit the bill doubling kids, and Brian would double adults. With Mikey, films like “Titanic” comes to mind. He was the only child in the movie that was doing stunts, so of course all 90 stunt people were looking out for him to make sure he was safe. I remember us hanging from the ship when it was upside down, and having his hand grasp my hand. With Brian, I did a double car rollover in a small production called “Running Red” (featuring Angie Everhart and Jeff Speakman), which was his first car rollover.

What do you think is the most misunderstood part of your job?
Avery: We are part of the Screen Actors Guild and we are treated as such. The modern day stuntman leans on the experience of those before us who did many “gags” figuring it all out as they went through their careers.

Today, every scrutiny it taken into consideration prior to performing. A fall down the stairs, a fire gag, or a car rollover. Having a lot of experience to draw on, this makes it easier for the stuntmen and women of today. Computer generated imagery has changed a lot of our profession for some of the gags are over the top and are not as “real” for us performing on the set. I have always said, the actor lives the fantasy, we live the reality as far as doing real dangerous stunts.

It takes a special type of person to intentionally throw themselves down stairs, get hit by a car or get set on fire from an explosion. Screw loose… no, I don’t think so. NFL players, downhill ski racers all have the same “risk” gene. Finally I must say that what is most misunderstood is the stunt persons desire to please the Director, so much so that they are willing to put their life on the line. Especially women who have to do it in a dress.

What does it take to stay in shape as a stuntman? What is your fitness regimen like?
Avery: I do a program called P90X every day and I’ve been doing that for a couple of years. I have been working out for my entire life, so I’m in really good shape all the time because I never know when the phone call comes what I’m going to do. Sometimes, it’s put out with a lot of notice, like a month or two, and sometimes it’s a day or two. I’m a 5th degree black belt and I owned my own schools for about 12 years, so I still do martial arts and boxing as well.

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