The phrase, “Tough day at the office” isn’t exactly in Bobby Holland Hanton’s vocabulary, though he could be forgiven for wanting to put his feet up at the end of the day. The superstar stuntman has racked up some serious hours in Hollywood films, and has more than a few yarns up his sleeve to show for it.
Starting out as a stunt double for Daniel Craig in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, the enigmatic gymnast-turned-professional-fall-guy has advanced his career exponentially, performing stunts for the likes of Daniel Craig, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Christian Bale, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and Chris Pine.
His high-adrenaline stunt work appears in films including Inception, Quantum of Solace, Prince of Persia, Robin Hood, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (both of them), Pirates of the Caribbean, Green Lantern, Captain America … *sips water* … Sherlock Holmes, Snow White and the Huntsman, John Carter, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Spectre, the Avengers series, Star Wars (a few of them), Wonder Woman, Game of Thrones and, his most celebrated work, Marvel’s Thor series, where he works very closely alongside friend and colleague Chris Hemsworth, as one of the most hard-working stuntmen in the industry.
Out in Sydney with Band Aid Advanced Healing last week (a very clever brand alignment, actually!), we sat down with Bobby to talk about how he got started, what a typical day on the job is like, and what it takes to be at the top of the stunt game.
What day did you wake up and decide: “I’m going to be a stuntman”?
I’ve done gymnastics since the age of four—I retired competing for Great Britain when I was 17. I was at a crossroads, I had a back injury and my Russian coach had left the country and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.
I turned my attention to football for two years, then there was an article in the newspaper for a Legoland high-diving show. I thought I’d try my hand at that, and it turned into another live show, and then just rolling onto live shows for three to four years.
I was actually watching Casino Royale, the chase sequence where James Bond is chasing a friend , an ex-gymnast, Martin Campbell, and I found out that he was a stuntman. I thought, “Hang on, this guy used to be a gymnast as well. How do I get into this?”
I made some enquiries and checked out Equity and found out how you become a stuntman. There’s a criteria, you have to be elite at six disciplines from a possible ten or eleven. So I started to train, and then my first job came up–to audition for Bond when I was 23, to double Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace.
I auditioned, and I had four of my six skills at that point, but the stunt coordinator—the boss, and one of the best in the business, said, “Look we need someone who’s acrobatic, who can do some stuff on ropeworks”. I got the job. It was supposed to be five weeks and it ended up being six months. After that movie I went straight into Prince of Persia.
It’s moved on from there and been solid for the past ten years.
James Bond as your first gig though–was that daunting?
Oh, massively. It was my first job, I was 23, I wasn’t qualified yet, I was learning on the job.
I constantly had to be on my toes, listening, focussing on safety. It was a real learning curve and a real chance for me to see it at the highest level and take things from that
Are there stunt men heroes? Or guys in the industry who are kind of legends?
Yeah there’s a lot of guys that I look up to and have been lucky enough to work with as performers. Buster Reeves is Batman’s double for the first two movies and I got to work with him on The Dark Knight Rises where he actually doubled Bane and I doubled Batman. I learnt a lot from him.
There’s also Ben Cook, who’s also Bond’s double on Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall—I ended up doubling as well. Lee Morrison is also a really good friend of mine, Rowdy Owen Roddy.
These guys are all legends in the game, I’ve learnt from them, I look up to them and now I’m lucky enough to work with them.
Is there a major difference between being a stunt double and a stunt performer?
No. I think being a stunt double is … you’re busier. You’re actually portraying the actor as their double. You have to look after the actor. Make sure their pads are where they need them, you rehearse everything with them. You shoot what they don’t shoot.
But as a stunt performer it’s much the same, you take hard hits, bullet hits, reactions, or you’re in the background fighting with a sword—it’s just as difficult. And we all still do that now.
If I’m not stunt-doubling for someone, or I’m not busy, then I can go and work on a movie and be a stunt performer.
Everybody chops and changes and helps each other out.
You’re already in major films, have you ever considered taking up acting?
I don’t know. I really love being able to work on these big shoots with some of the most amazing people in the world, and travel the world, but also just go home to my family and just be me, and not have any stress about not being able to go to the shops. I see that with people I work with and that can’t be easy, to constantly be in the spotlight.
Does stunt work have a generally accepted lifespan, as a career? I can imagine it’s incredibly taxing on the body.
It is physically gruelling. It really depends on the performer. It depends how long you’ve gone in your career, and if you’ve been lucky enough to get away with not having any major injuries. I think it’s inevitable in what we do, along the way, there are going to be injuries. But it’s important for us to always be prepared also, and have the right things in place if we do get injuries.
There are serious injuries, but there are also smaller ones that are part and parcel to what we do every day—cuts, bruises and wounds, and it’s important to be prepared and have the right stuff.
So this is a good point to mention your work with Band-Aid?
Band-Aid Advanced Healing for me works great; the cushioning means that if I get a cut on set, I can cover it and we can reshoot, sometimes four, five, six or so times. The cushion adds a layer of pain protection. There’s also always a risk–if I didn’t have it on–a chance of infection. On set there’s smoke, dust, reapplying of makeup, sweat, so that’s also a great barrier.
It heals easily, and I can get back to jumping around like a crazed idiot much quicker.
What’s the gnarliest injury you’ve copped so far?
I had a couple of bad back injuries. Ruptured and herniated disks. One exploded into my sciatic nerve which gave me drop-foot on both feet. I’ve snapped my groin, clean off the bone, on Ragnarok. Popped a rib out, done my shoulder. Knees have gone before, neck—we take a lot of head reactions.
I want to go back to Bond briefly. Daniel Craig famously said that he’d rather slash his wrists than do another Bond film, specifically taking issue with the physical nature of the role. If he has trouble coping with it, does it only make it harder for you? As the stunt man?
I think Daniel did a great job and he has done a great job in all of them. But he started in 2005. It’s a long time to be that one character and it is physically gruelling and that is the character.
It’s inevitable that he’s picked up injuries along the way, doing these movies. That takes its toll, and you can say, “I’ve had enough of beating myself up”.
You’ve never sidled up to Daniel on set and quietly reminded him that Pierce Brosnan did all of his own stunts?
Haha! No. Definitely not. Everybody on set knows that Daniel is as good an actor as he is a physical stunt guy.
What’s the most dangerous stunt you’ve ever done?
I’ve done quite a few. Going back to my first film, Quantum , I did a balcony jump in the slums of Panama. First ever stunt on camera, no wires, no safety, it was about a seven-metre distance. I was there on call which was at 4pm or 5pm in hair and make-up, and we didn’t do the stunt until 2am.
That’s one of those things that add to these stunts as well. You can rehearse in the nicest environment but when you come to shoot you’ve got a different costume on, it could be two in the morning—you’ve got all these elements that add to the danger; that add to the problems that you may incur by doing this.
But obviously that stands out a lot for me being my first stunt, at 23.
Prince of Persia was my second movie and it was full-on stunts and acrobatics fort five months. Literally every day there was something to do. Dark Knight Rises, I did a 100ft high fall, my first Batman film. And then ended up later on in the movie doing another 85 foot fall out of a window.
Snow White and the Huntsman: Winter’s War I did a 45 foot high jump onto a rooftop which was at a 40 degree angle. At 45 feet. That was all free, no wires or cables. I’m very proud of it. Originally they wanted to do it with wires but I said, “Look, I reckon we can figure this out” and we did it safely.
Safety is the most important thing for us, which is why we spend sometimes between 10-12 weeks to rehearse and to break down the script: it’s to break it down safely to make sure that when we come to shoot it on the day, it’s ready, we know exactly what we’re doing, everyone knows what they’re there to do and that’s important to try to eliminate the danger and not have any injuries.
But unfortunately, it is a dangerous game and there are injuries and accidents—no-one ever wants that.
Is it a tight knit global community? The stunt performer scene?
Yeah 100%, though it is a small community if you like, a lot of stunt performers know each other; it’s a brotherhood, it really feels like everybody’s out to look after each other, because it is such a dangerous thing and no one wants anyone to get hurt.
Everyone looks out for each other—looks after each other. And actually in that respect it’s such a small community because when you work on big shows and you work with these people, you generally work with them again on the next big show or wherever you’re taken as a team. I think in the UK we’ve got 500 stunt performers. In the US there’s 15,000. In Australia I think there’s even fewer.
Everyone is a stunt performer in Australia!
That’s what they say in America as well!
Getting out of bed is dangerous here.
Haha! Yeah, but you can see the difference between the US and back home in the UK, and that’s why it’s so busy in London. So, performers get to work in London, and get to learn the craft first hand. It works well in London.
I’m just admiring your sleeve tattoo… When did you get that done?
I started that about three years ago, it’s had three different artists work on it. Only because I was having to pay cancellation fees because of work commitments. £250 each time! Because I’d be working on the Friday night and they’d say, “We need you to come in tomorrow”. This happened four times, so I ended up getting a friend to fill it in, and it eventually got finished.
Speaking of losing 250 pounds, and this is the cheesiest segue I’ve ever used, I’d like to talk a little about your diet and training regime in between films. Obviously you need to be strong to do your job, but what about when you’re doubling for somebody who’s smaller, or significantly larger in real life? Does your weight fluctuate?
Yes. I’m 6”1’ at best. Chris is 6”3’, in full costume he’s 6”4’. So I have to wear 2-inch lifts to get to 6”3’, and it feels like I’m doing stunts in high-heels. I’ve had injuries because I’ve been wearing them to the point where Chris has said, “Look man you don’t need to wear them, you’re going to get injured. Just wear them when you need to, and take them out if you’re doing a heavy stunt.
And he’s naturally a bigger guy than me anyway so it’s difficult to double for Chris because there’s a lot of work that goes into it to get anywhere near his size, and I still don’t get there, but I get there close enough for it to work, and that’s what he cares about.
With a film like Thor, which is so filled with action and stunts, many people might not realise how much is actually you on screen. Do you know what percentage of the film is actually you that the audience is seeing?
It really depends, I mean with Thor, Chris does a hell of a lot himself. Purely one, because he can do it, and he probably does it better than anyone else. Second to that, the way they shoot things is they want the actors to be seen as doing this stuff. Maybe if Chris wasn’t as good at doing what he did then you wouldn’t see him so much. Sometinmes I have to pull him up and say: “Let me do something!”. But on a serious note, the things that are dangerous and the things that are difficult for production companies is they don’t want to risk injuring the actor and not being able to film.
It costs them a lot of money, but it also injures an actor that needs to come back to shoot again. So that’s where our place is there, we come in and do the stuff that the majority of the time Chris could do, but it’s not worth risking him getting injured.
So we know what our job is and I know what I’m there to do. You know, to be honest, Chris does let me do a fair amount. He trusts me, he trusts the way I move—we’ve worked together for about six years solid, so we’ve got a good trust, we’re like a family now, so yeah. But the man is capable of doing it all himself. He’s a great athlete.
The whole family. They’re all so talented. And I find that they can do it easily. They’re just really good at what they do.
Has there ever been a stunt you’ve had to say no to? Or one which had to be completely reworked because it was too much of an ask?
Not to date. There have been stunts where we’ve all though it was a bit hairy, but we’ll break it down. The most important thing for us is being able to talk to our bosses and our coordinators and our team and say, “I’m not comfortable, can we change that”? Best thing about those guys is that of course we can —let’s change it; let’s make it safer.
No-one wants anybody to get hurt and that’s the most important thing—to be able to speak up and if you’ve got a concern you have to voice it. Otherwise, that’s’ how people get hurt.
So, there hasn’t been one , but there’ve been stunts where I’ve been like, “Oh shit, this is a big one”, and the fear quickly turns into adrenaline. It’s hard to explain where I get that buzz from. And I think that’s what keeps me coming back: it’s that buzz.
From memory, Batman: The Dark Knight Rises—that 100 foot high fall was my first on camera and I’m not going to lie, I was shitting myself. But, once I’d done it and got through that bit I was like, “That’s what I love”
Do you do horses?
Hate horses. Can’t do horses. I have enough trouble being in control of myself, let alone being controlled by a beast. So I stay away from that—it’s not my game.
Lastly, do you ever get to the pub with your mates afterward and say “You won’t believe what happened at work today”?
It’s so funny, I had a friend come out to LA to see me while we were doing Dark Knight Rises and he knew what I was doing, he’d seen me in Panama but he’d never seen me in costume as Bond or whatever.
But he came out to LA and I was in my rehearsal gear, just a tracksuit, and I saw him then had to leave to get into costume. When I walked out I was Batman. I walked past him and said: “See you in a minute dude”.
He was like, “What the hell is going on?!”
Batman, Bond, Thor, Captain America. Those are iconic superheroes that I’ve been–I’ve had the privilege to double, so it’s pretty cool. I’m looking forward to when our little one gets older and I have grandchildren and telling them.
The great thing about film stunts is it’s on camera forever. The live shows that I did, I loved them and appreciated them, but after three or four you’re bored of them and you forget it. But if you do a big stunt on film I can go back and be proud of them.
Bobby Holland Hanton is a BAND-AID Advanced Healing ambassador. BAND-AID Advanced Healing helps heal faster, reduce pain & decrease chances of scarring.