To celebrate the exciting release of The Evolution of Stunts, we recently spoke with Hollywood stuntman Damien Walters about his work on some of the biggest recent action films and the courage needed to pull these dangerous feats off.
Damien Walters has pioneered some of the most iconic stunts in cinema history, worked with Collin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service, performed in Kick-Ass, and exchanged punches with James Bond in Skyfall. Damien won the 2010 Taurus World Stunt Award, recognised by the action-community for his prolific body of work, making him one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stuntmen. His YouTube video’s alone have been watched more than 115 million times.
In The Evolution of Stunts, freerunner, stunt performer and former gymnast Damien explosively reconstructs the most renowned stunts seen on screen, in a series of thrilling flights, falls and flames, along with giving fascinating behind the scenes detail of how his kinetic manoeuvres come to life, giving nods to some of the biggest action and adventure movies of all time including Indiana Jones, 300 and The Matrix.
So, The Evolution of Stunts was fantastic…
How did you get involved, and what was it about the project that appealed to you?
Little Dot [the production company] approached me about the project. I’ve worked with Little Dot a few times and one of their creative directors said to me: “I’ve got an idea”, and I really liked it, so we started to develop it and I could add my own little flavour to it as well, so we were collaborating, and it all sort of blossomed from there really.
Were there any stunts in there that really appealed to you? Were there any that you were very keen to do?
It was just the fact that I was going to get to do them all in one place that was appealing! I really wanted to do the Buster Keaton house falling one – that’s quite a famous one from back in the day – so even though it’s a smaller version of that it’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite a long time so that was quite nice.
Were there any stunts that didn’t make the cut when you were choosing what to include that you were sad to see go?
I can’t remember the original ideas were now! Oh, yeah, we wanted to do E.T., but then we decided that the Terminator motorbike was more impressive than the E.T. BMX jump so we did that instead.
How long did it take to shoot?
It was two and a half days shooting, with about three days prepping as well. That was the hard thing – trying to get the timing as it’s all got to be in sync with the background. Trying to get the projected background and the stunts in sync was tricky. The timing of it had to be… it took a lot of planning to make sure all the elements linked up and that the angle we were shooting at was the same as the projection, which had to be from outside. So there were a lot of things that had to line up – it was a nice little challenge for us all!
My favourite two stunts in it are the Buster Keaton one you mentioned where the side of the house falls on you but you are missed by the window, and when you are running and flipping on fire at the end. What is going through your head when you are doing things that dangerous?
Yeahhhhhh… The Buster Keaton thing was… interesting… [laughs] …because you know you’re in the right place and it’s not gonna hit you, but there’s still a little thing in the back of your mind that wants you to move out of the way. But you put your trust in the people you work with and you go from there. You know that everything is all set up properly and in position and then as long as everyone hits the mark then you’re fine.
The fire one especially… fire can always be very dangerous, but that’s why I flew Craig over from Australia because I’ve worked with him before and he’s developed a brand new fire suit. I knew how good it was so I wanted to have that with me as well just to make sure that… with doing the somersault as well – it was a big thing to get all that in place really.
You mentioned “the thing in the back of your mind that wants you to move out the way,” is turning that off or ignoring it one of the biggest parts of doing stuntwork?
Yeah, it is, it is… That is probably the key point – being able to convince yourself everything’s fine, and remain calm in the situation, and do one thing at a time, because that’s when things start to go wrong – when you start thinking two or three steps in front and forget what the next step is, so yeah, I would say that being able to keep everything in perspective is one of the key things, definitely. Especially when you’re doing big things.
How did you get into the business? Was there a film or a stunt that inspired you to want to do it?
No, to be honest with you I never really wanted to be a stuntman. It was kind of by accident. I made a video on YouTube in 2005, when YouTube first came out. Then in 2006 I had a phonecall from one of Jackie Chan’s stunt coordinators who said, “Oh, I’ve seen your video on YouTube”. It was a bit of a shock, and I thought he was joking at first! So I sort of went along with it a bit, and then he convinced me, and I was like “Oh, OK.” Then I went to do that film, and he said “I like the way you work, do you want to carry on?”, and I said “Alright” and did the next film and the next film and the next film. You start talking to people and work hard and there you go. That was ten years ago now.
What’s the scariest stunt that you’ve done so far? Is there anything you’ve done where you have had to overcome a fear that you’ve got?
Yeah, there’s a couple really. There was the one where I backflip over a race car – that was pretty scary. That again was making sure that you have the timing right, down to the millisecond, and you try and convince yourself to stand in the way of the car. That was pretty tricky. But you just have to convince yourself and stand there and jump at the right time.
The other one would be the Leap of Faith I just did for Assassin’s Creed, that was 125 feet – a hell of a long way down. The same sort of thing: convincing yourself you’re in the right place and holding your body shape. I was Michael Fassbender’s double for the movie, so any bit of parkour or flying or stuff like that is… him or me really!
You’ve worked with Edgar Wright twice now, on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The World’s End. How was that and what was it like doing more comedic work?
Edgar is a very nice guy. Got on with him really well. Him, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are all really nice people. I still stay in touch with them. Edgar is very, very creative and he’s a director that you work with and realise that he knows all the edit already in his head. I designed the fights for The World’s End, it was quite nice, it was less martial arts and aggressive fights, and more comedy fights – which was nice to do. It was a different experience designing fights around comedy, which was pretty cool.
And what was it like working with Jason Statham on the film Blitz?
Yeah, Jason is a really, really nice guy. When we first met it turned out we knew a lot of the same people because of my gymnatics background and his diving background we knew a hell of a lot of people in common which was quite nice. He has asked me to do a couple of movies but unfortunately I’ve been here the last two things he did.
The Evolution of Stunts is available to watch on All 4 now.