The job of a stunt double involves more than just doing stunts — they also have to become one with the actor they’re working with.
At a SCAD Savannah Film Festival panel of professional stunt doubles, stunt actors, and stunt coordinators — some of whom do all three jobs, as well as second unit directing — these athletic performers explained how they do their jobs, and how they connect with and learn from the actors they’re doubling.
Thursday’s “Artisans: Crafting the Stunt” panel also included a live stunt demonstration at the university’s newly built backlot.
The stunt professionals who participated in the panel and demonstration included stunt actor, coordinator, SCAD alum and SCAD45 Award recipient Rachel Gelfeld (The Gray Man, The Walking Dead), stunt driver Regis Harrington (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, The Batman), DGA second unit director, stunt actor and coordinator Adam Hart (Barbie, Thor: Love and Thunder), DGA second unit director, stunt actor and coordinator Mike Massa (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Blade Runner 2049), and stunt actor Dan Pera (The Suicide Squad, Ford v. Ferrari).
Stunt Doubles Give Tips on Embodying Their Actor
Hart, who frequently stunt doubles for Ryan Gosling, explained how having a background in acting is essential to being a convincing stunt double.
“I have an acting background I have a degree in acting, and I feel like that having that is what has helped me to maintain the relationships I have with the actors that I regularly double, because not only they’re playing the part but so are we,” Hart said. “So we have to work with them. It’s their character and their journey, but we need to become them as a stunt double… you have to just become that actor.”
The way that Hart embodies the actor he’s doubling is by mimicking their physical movements with extreme precision.
“You just pay attention to your actor. You learn how they move, you learn how they walk, you learn how they hold a hat, you learn how they just enter a room,” he said. “You also you have to talk with them, work with them, because they’re gonna ask you, ‘Hey, how should I get into this [stunt]?’ My biggest, biggest thing for me is I want them to do it. I want them to be the person that does everything. So the more I can prepare them for it, the better they are.”
Massa, who frequently stunt doubles for Harrison Ford, explained the difference between working as a stunt double, which is essentially taking on a character that an actor has already developed, verses working as a stunt actor, which involves doing challenging stunts, but as their own unique character that isn’t tied to any other actor.
“Stunt doubles, our job is to focus on our actor. Watch how they move, watch every little bit about them. I have certain actors, I mimic their hands, their fingers when they walk,” Massa said. “I’ve done stuff on movies where the actor is not available… you may just be called to come in and be them, walk through the scene or do some kind of movement — but you’re always them. As a stunt actor, you get to be your own character and create what you want.”