4 out of 5 dentists agree. We didn't believe it either.
DNM recently got the chance to talk with stuntman Chris Webb. In part 2 of our interview we talk about some of the work he’s done on popular TV shows and movies.
DNM: Do you have a favourite project, or specific favourite projects that you’ve worked on?
CW: This last one that we were just working on – for me it was just a blast: I was hanging out of a Twinstar helicopter with an M60 machine gun chasing my friends on snowmobiles for 4 days! It was awesome, way up in the mountains! It’s going to be a neat scene, I think it’s going to look really good. Obviously I love Smallville too, and I really like Tom Welling, he’s a great guy. At the end we had an easy working relationship. I wouldn’t say we ever got really super tight, we didn’t hang out or anything like that, but I just really liked him. He was a decent human and that goes a long way for me. There’s a lot of other people on that show that were great too. I liked Justin Hartley, great guy, we still text every now and again. Erica Durance, she was lovely. She’s just a tough little farm girl. She’s cool, and really easy to get along with and work with. I liked the other stunt people I worked with on the show too.
DNM: That has to be huge, right? To have that kind of relationship with the team?
CW: Absolutely. The girl who doubled Erica for the last couple of years, Maja Stace-Smith, they (she and her fiancé, Jeff Ong) live near me now and I always laugh with him, “I’ve stared into your wife’s eyes more times than you have!” because I would rescue her and it’s always Lois Lane and Clark Kent staring at each other! We recently worked together again, I was doubling Alexander Skarsgard, who people know from True Blood, and she was rehearsing for another girl who was going to do the work and it ended up with me rescuing her again. Jeff said “Oh god, not this again, do you guys realize I’m right here?” Jeff and Maja are both really great stunt people.
DNM: So Smallville was pretty special then.
CW: Definitely. Hot Tub Time Machine, that was all skiing. We basically just had 15 days summer camp up on Mount Seymour! They closed the whole thing for us. We had the whole resort to ourselves and I was up there teaching Rob Corddry how to ski, showing the guys around. We did this crazy wipe out sequence, a high fall off the cliff which was lots of fun.
DNM: Recently you’ve been working on Once Upon a Time?
CW: Yeah Once Upon A Time is really good. Jennifer (Morrison), the lead on that show, is a really nice person, she’s a real sweetheart. Big Time Movie was actually really fun! It was a Nickelodeon thing, there’s this boy band called Big Time Rush, we just had a blast. I played this dumb, bumbling security guard for this gigantic 6’10” guy, and my friend Trevor Duvall was the lead bad guy in that show. When I first came to town he was a theatre actor, and we met when I used to help at the theatres. Years later we end up working on this movie, he’s playing the classic bad guy. Inception, obviously, it was really nice to work on something that was awesome – it turned out really well. We filmed up in Canmore at Fortress Mountain and that was a blast. It was just skiing, snowmobiles, and snow cats, and all on a big massive set on the top of the mountain. Most of the set in the movie was at the top of the mountain. There was some CG added to it, but the majority of it was actually there – they blew it up and it actually came down the mountain. It was insane, we had such a good crew of people there. We had all the cowboys there, Brent Woolsey and Guy Bews, Jason Glass, it was great, all these guys from Calgary. We had a bunch of the skier people from here, even the riggers and all the people we hang out with outside of work ended up working up there together; we just had an awesome time. I did a Bud Light Superbowl commercial that was fun.
DNM: Oh, which one was it?
CW: I don’t know if you remember, there was a smooth skier who does a real fancy jump, and another skier comes down and they start drawing trees in front of him and he hits the trees and tumbles down and he goes through all the tables. I was the guy who wiped out and went through the picnic tables.
In Underworld 2, I got to do a pretty cool gag in that, that’s the scene that opens my demo reel. I was doubling the Craven character, which was pretty neat because that was my first big ratchet and a bit of a high pressure situation. Actually I, Robot, too, that was awesome. That was fun, Will Smith is a wonderful guy. He was like a Fresh Prince of Bel Air in real life! My God! He was charming and funny and easy to get along with. He had a big speech at the beginning, before we started filming he sat us all down and he said “You know, we’re all here, we want to get the work done and go home. We’re all getting paid good money, some of us more than others…” Right! He was making $30m I think on that movie! But he said “If we have any bullshit from anybody including me, I want you to talk to this guy here-” (the first AD was an older gentleman who kind of dressed like the character Woody from Toy Story, so because he was older we would call him Papa Woody!) “-so you have to talk to Papa Woody!” I was animating one of the robots, walking around in a silly green suit but you know, it was a good experience. We all did pretty well on that movie, too, but it wasn’t just that. It was the fact that the lead really set a good tone, made sure everybody toed the line.
DNM: It’s about making him accessible in a way, you want to work harder for someone if they put their heart into it as well.
CW: (Nodding) And he just made himself out to be a regular guy who has a lot of charm and got really lucky. He didn’t put himself above us, which kind of makes you feel free to be more creative, to get your ideas heard which is fun, and you get praise from people. A lot of times in our lives we don’t get a lot of satisfaction from many of the things we do. Because everyone’s so busy, nobody really wants to take a stand on anything; but then you have a scenario where everyone feels like it’s okay to say “You did a good job” or “You didn’t do a good job, let’s fix that”; it makes the communication and the working environment easier. It’s not always like that, that’s for sure. Actually X-files too, I enjoyed working on the I Want to Believe movie – I doubled (David) Duchovny on that. We did a kind of a long foot chase with some free running stuff but they were really conscientious. They didn’t want Duchovny’s character to look overly athletic because he’s not supposed to be, he was just supposed to be a bit of a bumbler, right? So maybe that’s the reason they got rid of some that. That’s the other thing, too – you do all of this work and you never really know what’s going to make it and what’s not going to make it or why. You don’t really know why most of the decisions are being made.
DNM: Yeah you just go and do your thing and then see what happens. It’s a very impressive resume, to me, an outsider!
CW: I guess! I understand, I understand. I guess you have to see things that you’ve done from someone else’s eyes sometimes.
DNM: Well it was funny, I watched Just Friends yesterday and I saw your name at the end!
CW: Oh yeah, that was fun! We did that in Regina. The funniest thing in that was my friend Mike Carpenter tackling me onto a home-made gingerbread house in a church in front of a bunch of kids! I felt so bad! We landed in front of the kids and they’re all cheering us on…I don’t think that’s ever happened in a church before! That was a fun movie to work on. I liked the stunt coordinator for that, he’s a fun guy to hang around.
DNM: On Stargate Atlantis you worked with James Bamford?
CW: Bam Bam, as we call him, I’ve worked with him on several other projects too. I recently worked on Arrow and he’s fight coordinator on that. I’ve known Bam Bam for a long time. They have a neat thing going on over there, too. They have a different structure, they have a stunt hierarchy. They kind of run the stunt department like any other department is run: they have JJ (Makaro) who is the head, and then Bam Bam who takes care of the onset work and coordinates all the fights and they’ve got a couple of guys who help him, John Kralt and Colin Decker, and then you’ve got the doubles. So they have this whole team, it’s kind of unique and impressive that they pay for that. They’re getting good stuff so we’re hoping that maybe that sort of permeates the rest of the environment as well.
DNM: That’s definitely one of the things that stood out on Arrow, the fight scenes.
CW: I like working for Bam Bam, he’s a good coordinator and he’s very precise about what he wants. You automatically know at the end of the take if you’ve done something properly, or if you need to tweak it. He definitely expects you to throw down if you need to but he’s not an unreasonable person – he gives you the information that you need. The same as with a show called Motive, the coordinator is Jeff Ong – he’s very much like that too. He gives you the information, he tells you what the story is supposed to be, so when you’re out there and you’re doing your physical acting you know what you’re trying to convey. A lot of times people don’t give you that information and then they go “What are you doing? The guy’s got a broken leg, why are you running?!” You don’t know, sometimes you turn up on set and you don’t see the script. Or the character is crying and you don’t necessarily know why you’re doing what you’re doing. These guys will explain it to you so you can do your best to emulate the actions of the character. A lot of what I do, doubling people, is partly because of my size and shape, so you don’t get to see yourself on
camera that much, or even be able to tell it’s you. That’s the whole thing, though – if I see a scene that I’ve done, say, in Smallville – if I can’t tell when it’s me and when it’s Tom, then we’ve done a good job together. It’s not like you get to be the guy standing there with a perfectly lit profile in the sun as you do something amazing, but there’s a different kind of satisfaction. You’re standing on set and you’re watching the person how they stand and how they move, do they step forward with their right foot first, or do they have their hand on their hip, or whatever it is they do, and you try and pick it up. I try to pick up a couple of things that are kind of like their ‘tells’, their physical things that they do. If they slump, I try to emulate that and do it when I’m around the set, and people come up to me during the day and they’re confusing me for them! If you do that, then when you get on to your performance you don’t have to think about it too much. A lot of the time you’re a similar size and you move in a similar way to the person you’re doubling, but not all the time. If they run weird but you look like an Olympic sprinter, then people will get confused. You either have to say “I’ll run all the time because you look really dumb when you’re running” (I’m not going to say who it is, but one of my friends runs for someone on set all the time because they can’t run), so you have to find out if that’s supposed to be part of the character and you have to emulate it or you say in the nicest way possible (depending on who they are) “Let’s go and practice a little something. I know you’ve probably been doing it a long time but it’s weird!”
DNM: You were talking about working with someone like James Bamford, that he directs you. It sounds to me like he directs you as a director would direct actors – he gives you the motive and where you’re at in the scene. Is that something you just sometimes just don’t get?
CW: Sometimes, and there are two schools of thought on that. Some people like to be very precise because they have an exact idea in their mind of what they want. Other times, in different scenarios, if you’re too precise it ends up looking like a high school play. Some people say as a stunt coordinator “I don’t run a stunt school, I hire professionals, so when you come here you should know what the hell you’re doing. If there are certain things that you need to do I’ll tell you.” So, you know, I think being one way or the other is kind of okay, but it’s being caught in the middle where sometimes you’re given lots of information and the performer says “Well I’m being told what to do” so they kind of shut off their thinking a little bit. Next scene you don’t really know what’s happening and people get a little stilted and awkward. Part of being a professional is knowing how to fill space too, so you don’t end up, as we call it, having egg on your face, standing there waiting for something to happen. There’s a guy here, Brent Woolsey who was the Canadian coordinator on Inception. That’s his thing, he’s “I don’t run a stunt school, if you come here you should know what you’re doing. You know what you’re doing? Yeah? Well go do it.” Which is fine too, because then it puts the onus on the performer. Certain other people, in the case of a fight when someone’s designed the fight, they design it in a way that things are there for a reason that you don’t know. Maybe they went to the production meeting; maybe the director talked to them and said “The tone of this is ultra-violent” or “It’s not violent, it’s a passive thing.” So in those scenarios you don’t necessarily have enough information to make good decisions. There are always things on the day where there’s something in the way and you say “I know you wanted this here, but can we do something different? Instead of smashing through the table, I was thinking about back rolling over it and then hit the wall, and tackle the guy the other way.” You always have to make room for things that get changed – everyone’s got their own style.
You know what else was awesome? Here I am talking about new things, Elysium (which is a movie you are definitely going to want to see when it comes out). It’s directed by Neil Blomkamp – it’s in post-production now and it’s going to be really cool. You can look on imdb.com, you can find it under Baja Dunes, that’s its working title. It’s got some of the same people from District 9, some of the same actors. It was shot here and in the slums of Mexico. And that’s one that I think will going to go down as an Inception.
DNM: It’s going to blow people away?
CW: I think so. I just have a feeling. And Neil was cool – he’s another person that involves you with the artistic process. Even there as a stunt guy, I played a homeland security officer and animated a droid, but the work was mainly the security officer. He would, in the middle of a scene, say “I need you to say something there” and I’d be like “Oh I’m not supposed to be talking, is it okay if we talk?” (all these union guidelines and whatnot), and he’d just come up to me and ask me what I would say. “I’d say…blah blah blah”. “Okay, that’s great but can you say this instead of that?” “Yep.” “Perfect.” So then you just feel like you’re free to try something and it’s ok to screw up. I mean, actors do that all the time right? They try “I’ll say it like this. Oh that was stupid, I’ll try it again.” But with stunt people most of the time you don’t have that luxury because of time, because you’re not the star you don’t get to call the shots. That was kind of refreshing there, he really accepted and kind of pushed the artistic process on stunt people and the actors and everybody who was involved in it. That was cool, I think that’s going to be a big thing when the movie comes out.
DNM: I see Fringe on your resume?
CW: Yeah I’ve worked a few episodes of Fringe. Rick Pearce, awesome guy, he’s the coordinator over there. I played one of the translucent people last season, who jumped through a window across an alley and into another window. He gets caught in the warehouse, and he trips and smashes through the window – that was me. I also doubled Greyston Holt on another episode, in the one where the guys were floating away. He needed to wear the gravity boots and everything. He floated up and Josh (Jackson) jumps off the top of the overhead gantry and tackles me, and we smashed into all the meteor rocks and everything. I haven’t even seen that, I’d actually like to see how that looks. That was neat. I’ve done some cool stuff for Rick.
DNM: You’ve worked for Lou Bollo?
CW: Yes, but only for one day, on Supernatural. My friend Todd Scott (I’m pretty sure) is still doubling Jensen over there, and Todd couldn’t go so I went and doubled Jensen on – I think it was called something to do with Shadow? That was a long time ago.
DNM: There is an episode called Shadow.
CW: I think that’s what it was. I don’t really think I ended up doing that much. I think I tackled somebody or something…I probably got tackled, knowing my luck!
Part 3 of our interview with this fascinating man is on its way soon. Stay tuned!