Each time that the director David Leitch calls Chris O'Hara about doing a movie together, their phone call ends the same way. "David always asks, 'What do you think?'" O'Hara says. "And I always give him the same old tried-and-true cliché, which is, 'You had me at hello.'"

It was no different when Leitch first pitched O'Hara his latest film, The Fall Guy. Loosely based on the '80s TV show of the same name, the movie follows stuntman Colt Seavers (three-time Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling) as he attempts to win back the love of his life by tracking down a missing movie star, thus saving her directorial debut from being shut down. A love letter to stunts and the people who make them happen, the blockbuster is an unexpectedly poignant personal project from Leitch, who spent the early part of his career working as a stunt double for movie stars like Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.

Like Leitch, O'Hara has graduated from his stuntman days and now serves as a stunt coordinator and a second-unit director. (O'Hara previously collaborated with the director on 2019's Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw and 2022's Bullet Train.) The Fall Guy offered him an opportunity to help shine a spotlight on the oft-underappreciated work of Hollywood's stunt community. "It was a no-brainer when he called me about the film," O'Hara recalls. "Working with David and his wife and producing partner, Kelly [McCormick], is like working with family. It doesn't feel like work when you're making movies with them."

For his contributions to The Fall Guy, O'Hara earned the first-ever "stunt designer" credit from the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America. It's a title that he says better encompasses the multifaceted nature of the profession. "It's an honor to be recognized this way," O'Hara tells A.frame. "With this film, we really had the chance to bring what we do to light and getting designated with this title for the first time further helps all of us, because we are designing all of the stunts in a movie."

"Our work is on par with what a production designer or costume designer does," he says. "We are all designing the look of a movie together, and that was especially the case with The Fall Guy, which is so stunt-centric."

Chris O'Hara (center left) with Bob Brown, stuntman Troy Lindsay Brown, and director David Leitch.

A.frame: As a stunt designer, what is the experience like working with a director like David, who came from the stunt world and is so well-versed in everything it entails?

His background absolutely makes the whole experience feel more authentic and thought-through. When we're going through the process of conceptualizing things we want to do, he understands what he's asking of us and the technical aspects of what we come up with. It's really great, because sometimes when a director doesn't understand what a sequence really takes, you'll think to yourself, "I wonder if this will actually happen or not..."

One sequence that really stuck out to me on The Fall Guy is the scene where Ryan is on an Ultimate Arm [camera crane] at the end of the movie. That was something that we conceptualized early on, and I remember talking to David and asking him, "We have all these great ideas, but which one do you think is really going to stick and make it through the pre-production process?" That stunt was one that he said. He said, "Man, you know, I've never seen that in a movie before. That would be really cool, and I think we could have a really fun time with it." He knew what it would take to actually get it into the third act of the film, so having that knowledge, as well as the respect for me and what it takes to pull something like that off, really creates a shorthand between us. It's great to have that level of support, especially when you're trying to create these moments that are a little bit out of the box.

You've said that you feel like "stunt designer" is the most accurate title for what you and your fellow stunt coordinators actually do. Can you explain why?

If I were to point to one specific example from the film, I'd mention the garbage truck chase. That came from me walking around Sydney, Australia, during an early location scout with David. We were looking at locations, and as we were walking around the city, I kept seeing these garbage trucks. That action sequence was originally written with a different kind of vehicle in mind, but I knew that we were going to be setting the film in Sydney as well as shooting there. Once I saw that there were all these garbage trucks driving around Sydney all the time, I thought, "Hey, that'd be a fun place to have a fight." That's designing an action sequence, because it wasn't originally written into the film's script. That came from us developing this idea and having a fun time creating an action sequence around it, and that's what I want people to realize. When they see the end product of all this work in the movie, I want them to think about how it all came together. Moments like that sequence came from me molding them for the movie and making them happen.

What doors do you hope that designation will open to other people in the stunt community?

I hope that I'm just the first of many stunt designers. There are so many talented stunt professionals in this business who are both amazing filmmakers and super talented performers, and they deserve all the credit that's due to them for the amount of work and effort they put into the filmmaking process. We are a part of cinema, you know? We're a huge part of what you see on the screen every time you go to a movie. I think the biggest thing we as stunt performers and designers can do is educate people on what it is we really do. I think people assume a lot about the stunt community and the big stunts they see onscreen. Three questions that everybody always asks me are: Have you ever been hurt? What's the biggest movie you've done? And what's the best stunt you've ever done? Hopefully, moving forward, they'll think to ask me questions like, "How did you do that? How did that one sequence come together? How did that stunt take shape?" I think we just need to educate people more and, hopefully, we'll continue to make forward progress.


There are obviously a lot of stunt-related gags and Easter eggs in the film. Do you have a favorite?

There are so many Easter eggs in the movie. I can't even start to tell you where they all are. In the fire burn sequence, for instance, the guy working the camera in that scene was Paul Barry, who was the first assistant director on The Fall Guy. And then every time Ben Jenkin, Ryan's stunt double, got set on fire, I was the one setting him on fire. I'm the guy you see lighting him up. There are all these moments like that throughout the film, which are super fun.

When we were getting ready to do the cannon roll on the beach, Logan Holladay is who you see in the film strapping Ryan into the car. Then Logan himself drove the car at 80 miles per hour and cannon rolled it eight and a half times. Then when David cuts to Ryan's coverage to show him putting his thumb up and getting pulled out of the car, the guy you see pulling him out is also Logan. So, not only did Logan put Ryan into the car and then do the stunt himself, but he's also the guy who pulls Ryan out in the film. That's one of those cool little Easter eggs that makes the movie seem all the more special to me. That one, in particular, is really special, because I made sure it happened on the day.

On a massive action film like this, how does working with an actor like Ryan — who has such clear respect for the entire stunt team — make your job easier?

Having an actor as physical as Ryan, who we can really choreograph sequences around, definitely helps. He is, of course, playing a stuntman in the film, so we were also asking questions like, "How would we look in this sequence? What would we do?" With Ryan, we could take things like that into account. Having somebody who is willing to champion us and work so much is a major help, and it really took his character, Colt, to a completely different level.

It wasn't just Ryan who made things easier, either. Every cast member went out of their way to speak our praises. I know Ryan had long discussions with his doubles and David about what a stunt double does and how he could really bring that character to life. I myself also had numerous conversations with Winston Duke, who plays a stunt coordinator in the film. We sat down for probably four to five hours at a time going through what I think a stunt coordinator should be and do, because he really wanted to embrace the mindset and make it feel authentic. Like Ryan, he's super physical as well, so it was great to get to choreograph to his specific strengths and weaknesses in his action scenes. Everybody was so great. Ryan and Winston, yes, but also Hannah Waddingham and Emily Blunt! Emily's a rock star. You really couldn't have asked for a more supportive, athletic and talented cast to make a movie like The Fall Guy.

In addition to honoring the work of stunt performers, The Fall Guy also hilariously pokes fun at actors who say they do all their own stunts. What was your reaction to seeing that in the movie's script for the first time?

Everything is from personal experience. We've all been there and seen actors say that they do their own stunts, and we've all talked to their stunt doubles and heard them say, "Yeah, they didn't do that." [Laughs] There are some really talented actors out there who can do their own stunts. I mean, Tom Cruise is the obvious example. He's out there doing the things you see him do, because he's got the natural athletic ability to do it. He also has the resources to do the prep that is required to do those stunts. He's legitimately putting time and effort into all that stuff, and that's built into the schedules of his movies. Those are big-budget, high-dollar things he's pulling off, but he needs a lot of prep to do them. You don't necessarily have that luxury with a lot of other actors.

But he also does have a stunt double who's setting every stunt up for him and working out all this stuff with him. They're doing full-blown dress rehearsals to get up to speed on what's really going to happen on the day that they perform each given stunt. You know, Tom is more talented at this point than probably 95 percent of the stunt guys out there right now. He's really that guy, but he's a bit of an anomaly.


But as you mentioned, even Tom Cruise has a stunt double, and not only that, but a stunt coordinator he works very closely with in Wade Eastwood, too.

Absolutely. Specifically being a stunt coordinator and being in charge of people's safety and lives is— Sometimes you wake up at night and it's hard to sleep, because you feel that pressure. Knowing how someone like Tom wants to push the boundaries and limits of what he can do, Wade then has to find ways to do all that safely and perform all the baby steps necessary leading up to the big moments themselves. But those moments are just that: moments. The potential consequences of them going wrong are very real. My hat is off to Wade, because I know he's probably had many, many sleepless nights working on the Mission: Impossible franchise, just making sure that he's done everything he can to both create the illusion of danger and minimize every possible risk. That's what good stunt coordinators do.

David spent years working as a stunt coordinator and second-unit director before he began directing his own films. Is that a transition you'd be interested in making?

For any stunt performer, the natural progression you think about is going from a stuntman to a stunt coordinator and then to a second-unit director. Personally, I'm really happy in my space right now as a second-unit director. Sometimes, you get scared a little bit of the unknown. Like, if you're a stunt performer and then you make that change to stunt coordinator, there's a moment where you think, "Oh my God, I'm not ready! I'm scared!" Then, all of a sudden, you're a stunt coordinator and you're doing your job really well and, eventually, you move onto the next level. When you make that jump, you suddenly have to think, "Oh my God, I'm now responsible for all these people and making the day and creating great shots and great scenes!"

So, I won't say never to directing. That said, having been around David enough, I've seen how his day never really stops. I'm fortunate to be in a marriage that's lasted 24 years and have three great kids, and I try to pride myself on having a great balance between my personal and professional life. If I climbed up the chain to the next level, I think that might inevitably take away from my personal life, and I'm pretty happy with where I'm at right now.

The Fall Guy isn't a "message movie," but it does offer some key insight into the actual filmmaking process. What do you personally hope casual moviegoers take away from it?

It's a weird film, because it's a movie inside of a movie. It was made by filmmakers on the ground who were doing everything themselves every day. So much of what's in the film is based on a real-life experience that David or Ryan has had working on movies. I hope the audience really feels that, and I think you do when you watch it. There's a moment early in the film when a character comes up to Emily's character, Jody, and says, "I can make this amazing with CGI," and Jody responds by insisting, "No, I want it to be real." You hear those things all the time on a set, and the first assistant director really is always as stressed out as the one in the film. I love all of his one-liners and comments, like, "Okay, we're onto the next set. Time to set a man on fire." That's how those moments really happen. A normal person might hear, "Let's set a man on fire," and think that's strange, but it's what we do! At least, we create the illusion of setting a man on fire.

By Alex Welch


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