Some of today’s top action directors were first doubles for Brad Pitt, Neo and Wolverine.
Increasingly, filmmakers are coming from the ranks of stuntmen and stunt coordinators, whose years of accomplishing complicated shots, managing the risks of cast and crew and working intimately with stars have given them a foundation for the task of directing – especially in action movies.
â€œExtraction,â€ the new Netflix film starring Chris Hemsworth, is the directorial debut of Sam Hargrave. Before Hargrave got behind the camera, he doubled for Chris Evans on â€œCaptain America” and Hugh Jackman on â€œWolverine,” and coordinated stunts on blockbusters like â€œAvengers: Endgameâ€ and â€œHunger Games: Mockingjay.”
Hargrave is the latest in a lineage of stuntmen who have gone from stepping in for actors to directing them. It’s a fairly recent career pathway thanks largely to the success of Chad Stahelski (“John Wick”) and David Leitch (“Atomic Blonde”).
A brief history of notable stuntmen turned directors:
Hal Needham: A trailblazer for stuntmen-filmmakers, Needham performed stunts on films including â€œThe French Connectionâ€ and â€œHow the West Was Wonâ€ before he penned the script to â€œSmokey and the Bandit.â€ He convinced Burt Reynolds, for whom he had doubled, to let him direct. They remained a regular team, with Needham directing Reynolds in â€œHooper,â€ â€œThe Cannonball Runâ€ and â€œStroker Ace.â€ Needham has been quoted as saying: â€œScrew the dialogue, letâ€™s wreck some cars.â€
Ric Roman Waugh: The son of stuntman Fred Waugh, one of the founding members of Stunts Unlimited, Waugh performed stunt work in â€œThe Last of the Mohicans,â€ â€œThe Crowâ€ and â€œLethal Weapon 2.” He transitioned to directing in 2001’s â€œIn the Shadows,â€ and followed that up with â€œSnitch,â€ with Dwayne Johnson, and last year’s â€œAngel Has Fallen.”
Chad Stahelski and David Leitch: A chiseled duo with martial arts skills and stunt expertise, Stahelski and and Leitch have done more than anyone else to raise the profile of stunt coordinators. They’ve been leaders in the field since founding the action design company 87Eleven in 1997. Leitch was Pitt’s stunt double in â€œFight Club” and doubled for Keanu Reeves in â€œThe Matrix.â€ Stahelski choreographed fights in â€œ300â€ and coordinated stunts in â€œThe Expendables.â€ They stepped into filmmaking with the slickly stylized and hyper-violent â€œJohn Wickâ€ franchise (Stahelski directed, Leitch produced). Leitch, himself, helmed â€œAtomic Blonde,â€ with Charlize Theron, and â€œDeadpool 2.â€
Nash Edgerton: The brother of actor Joel Edgerton, Nash has been a longtime stuntman, doubling for Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, and doing stunt work in â€œThe Thin Red Line,â€ â€œSuperman Returnsâ€ and â€œZero Dark Thirty.” But Edgerton also continually made short films, some with his brother, and eventually made his feature directing debut with the 2008 neo-noir â€œThe Square.â€ In 2018, he directed the comedy â€œGringo,â€ with David Oyelowo and Theron.