Stunt performers are long overdue more recognition in the film industry. Without them, movies – or indeed TV shows – wouldn’t be what they are. In action films, much of what provides viewers with escapism are the daring stunts playing out on screen, from the high-speed car chases to the scaling of skyscrapers and the good old-fashioned battles.
While most actors hand the reins over to their stunt doubles when it comes to the more dangerous scenes, there are those who have a more DIY approach. Fresh off a new interview with Brett Beattie, the stunt double who ended up performing the majority of Gimli’s scenes in the Lord of the Rings franchise, we’ve compiled a list running through 13 actors who are more than happy to embrace the stunts thrown their way (and no, John Rhys-Davis is not on this list*).
*nor is Tom Cruise – by now, we all know he can do his own stunts!
Not only does Christian Bale go all in when preparing for a role, shifting his weight depending on what’s required, but once he’s on set, he also likes to take control of his stunt work. So, when you see Batman sweeping through the Gotham night in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, it’s thrilling to know that it is actually Bale under the costume.
Cameron Diaz is currently enjoying her retirement from acting, but it’s worth remembering that she always asked to do her own stunts. In fact, she tried to perform as many as producers (on the Charlie’s Angels films, as well as Knight and Day) would possibly allow her to do. This often led to small injuries and bruises.
Since her debut in 1996’s 2 Days in the Valley, Charlize Theron has established herself as not only a star of successful indie films (winning an Oscar for Monster in the process), but a bonafide action star, also. Impressive stunts in Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde and Netflix hit The Old Guard were all performed by the actor.
Burt Reynolds was a big force for actors performing their own stunts, which adds an element of excitement to his films – for example, knowing he’s the one behind the wheel of the car in Smokey and the Bandit makes the film somewhat more watchable. However, Reynolds was vocal about a time he thought he went too far: in Deliverance (1972), he actually fell down a waterfall, later calling it a “dumb macho thing to do”.
Part of why Daniel Craig might be done with the role of James Bond could be because he’s over the idea of putting himself in harm’s way while performing stunts. The actor has been attributed with bringing a gritty edge to the debonair spy, and his decision to do the stunts for real certainly adds to that aesthetic. In fact, he was so committed to the idea that he shattered his teeth after being punched in the face during Casino Royale.
Perhaps the most prolific living actor to perform his own stunts is Jackie Chan. Among other things, Chan has jumped off a balcony in a shopping centre (Police Story), climbed a clock tower (Project A) and slid down the Willemswerf building in Rotterdam – while 25 storeys high (Who Am I?). He’s suffered a multitude of injuries, the most famous one occurring in Armour of God (1986) when a skull fracture almost pierced his brain.
Since her work as Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill, Zoë Bell has become one of Quentin Tarantino’s regular collaborators. Death Proof saw the stuntwoman take centre stage to perform a breathtaking scene, in which she sat atop the bonnet of a moving car. To make the entire thing more meta, she was playing herself.
The Oscar-winning Angelina Jolie may now be spending more time behind the camera, but she is a very hands-on actor when she wants to be. Jolie performed the majority of her stunts in films Mr and Mrs Smith, Salt, Wanted and, of course, the Tomb Raider films.
Many actors were inspired to perform their own stunts by slapstick icons of the 1920s. One such Twenties star was Harold Lloyd – Jackie Chan’s clock tower stunt in Who Am I? was a reference to a classic stunt by Lloyd in 1923 silent film Safety Last.
Keanu Reeves in the second ‘John Wick’ film
Most Reeves fans would like to believe he’s just like John Wick. And, while this might not be exactly true, it’s cool to know that he’s capable of everything you’ve seen Wick doing – mainly because he’s actually performing those stunts for real (except the driving scenes; that’s Jeremy Fry behind the wheel).
Statham is considered one of Britain’s greatest action heroes for good reason. He typically performs his own stunts, the most daring ones coming in the Crank, Transporter and Fast & Furious franchises. The actor, who previously said he’s inspired by Bruce Lee, has also been an advocate for stunt doubles getting more recognition in the film industry.