In the 3rd and final part of our sit-down chat, Chris Webb talks a little about his interests beyond his work.
DNM: So moving away a little bit from stunt work. You mentioned you’d done some travelling after school. Do you do extreme sports when you are travelling?
CW: On that particular trip (after I finished school), that wasn’t my motivation. I mean I am a surfer and I did want to go surfing, but my whole thing this time was I wanted to go meet people and see how things work. I went to London and I hung around there a little bit, got on the train went up to Reading, took a bus to Bath. I got to Bath and stuck out my thumb and I started hitch-hiking, went around Cornwall. Then I flew to Johannesburg – I have family friends there, and hung out with them
for a week or so. I did a bunch of trips around South Africa, then I hitch-hiked around 10,000km in Zimbabwe. I did Harare up to Victoria Falls, and up to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, which is the 2nd largest ruin site in Africa, behind the Great Pyramids in Egypt. I met up with a doctor from Australia, Joanna Black and she wanted to travel some and was a bit worried to do it by herself, so we went north, to Zambia. We went to Lusaka and then caught a bus across towards Malawi, south of the Luangwa River where I got malaria and almost died! I’m 190lbs right now and I went down to 130 or so, and she helped nursed me back to health. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t sleep, it was 40C, and we were beside a river full of crocodiles so I couldn’t go in the water to swim. Finally I gathered up my strength to leave the tent we were in, which was on a game reserve in the off-season, so there was no one there. I finally walked out to the dirt road; we sat out there all day and not one single car went by. We were walking back to the campsite through these little villages, and I was probably looking like a drunk! This young kid comes up to me and says “Can I carry your bags” and I said no, because I didn’t want to seem like one of these white tourists that I see making local kids carry my bags. But he said “No I think I should help you”. So he’s carrying my bag and we find this big old plantation house with a grungy looking pool in the back of it; I was so hot and disoriented that I just fell into the pool. I was lying in the pool and this old fella walks over – I don’t even know to this day if this was an apparition or not – but he looked over at me and he says, I think he says (laughs) “What’s the matter with you, kid?” I said “I think I’ve got malaria”, and he goes “What do you want on your tombstone, because we’re in the middle of nowhere!” I don’t know if he was making fun or being funny, but that was it – I never saw him again. I got out of the water, I was soaking wet but I had a bit more energy. The next day I was able to get up and hitchhike out on the back of a sugar cane truck or something. When I got to Malawi, I tried to get a bus back to Johannesburg, but I didn’t really have any money. I bought a bus ticket with like 75% of my money but it didn’t leave for 6 days. I was virtually camping in the city, and buying fried potatoes in the park and some water if I could find some. Got on the bus eventually, and finally got back into South Africa. I met my friends, and I was coughing, and looking like I was going to die, so I spent a couple of weeks there just felt like I was nursing
myself back to health. I felt good and I had plans to carry on so I got on a plane to Sao Paolo. I didn’t speak Portuguese, it’s a very difficult language; I finally found a bookstore where I found a Portuguese-English dictionary. I got into this really shady part of town looking for a place to stay, and I found what probably was a really nice hotel – looked like a Mardi Gras hotel with those big doors and everything but now it’s basically a cat house, or a flop house – full of pimps and prostitutes and drug addicts. I got a room up there, and all of a sudden I just started getting really sick. So much so that I felt like I was dying or something. Back in Africa, when I’d started feeling better, I ran into this woman who was a ranger. She gave me these pills, these anti-malaria pills that had been outlawed because they had a really high instance of doing brain damage to you. It was probably 98% fine but by consumer standards it wasn’t good. Apparently, though, it was very effective, so she gave me this stuff and said if you feel like you’re going to die, take it because what’s the worst that can happen?! I took the little pamphlet out and I read it and it said it was 8 to 10 times more effective if it was taken with a greasy meal! I managed to find this German guy who spoke a little bit of English, I gave him some money and asked him if he would go downstairs and get me a hamburger or something. I took a pill and ate a hamburger and went to sleep. About 6 hours later I woke up, took another one, went to sleep. 18 hours later after the 3rd pill, slept another 6 hours, woke up, felt like a million bucks! I grabbed my surf board went down to Rio and just started eating 6 meals a day, putting weight back on. You can literally just feel the weight falling off you when you’re sick like that; it was weird. I finished that trip, stayed down there another 6 weeks or something like that, then flew to Toronto and came home. That was the trip during which I was trying to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but right after school I went to New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii; I’ve travelled into Europe a fair bit and Mexico even more. I drive down from here and race in these off road races in Mexico. Baja, I just love Baja. And I’ve driven to Cabo a couple of times besides that.
DNM: Do you have a favourite? Mexico would be a favourite?
CW: I love Baja. I don’t know what it is. I love the ocean and desert and the people.
DNM: You find that, I think, that there are certain countries that just get to your soul.
CW: Yes, and Africa as a whole, too. It’s been almost 10 years since I went to Africa and I think of it, honestly, almost on a daily basis. I’m still in touch with the friends I made over there. Hopefully I’m going there in the spring. My friends have Land Rovers that are fully kitted out for safari and they basically said before we sell this other one, come down here we’ll give you the keys.
DNM: I was just in Cambodia last year. That was the one that touched my soul.
CW: It’s funny how places can get to you like that. Zimbabwe was like that for me. When I was there it was 18 or 19 years from the revolution when they had tried to model the country after Canada for education and healthcare, but Robert Mugabe’s an idiot. He’s just a power monger. He’s a blight on the whole country. When I was there it was such a…I was hitchhiking and I would literally get picked up by a black school teacher and then I’d get picked up by an East Indian engineer and then a white farmer. People were friendly and invited you to dinner and they were proud of the country. I was really upset when he threw the country into chaos again because it really was a jewel and it was set on the right path, people were set on the right path. They all spoke 2 or 3 languages, they all understood about the world. Even when I was there he was pulling the tricks with controlling the newspapers and firing the editors. He was just the wrong type of person to be running a beautiful resource rich country.
DNM: It happens everywhere and it’s frustrating. I find you get caught; as someone who wants to be a responsible tourist, I don’t necessarily want to go to the big all-inclusive resorts. I want to experience something different, like Cambodia or Zimbabwe. So you go to these countries because you want to give back to them but then are you making them feel like they’re doing something right? Someone like Robert Mugabe, does he believe people are still going there because of what he’s doing? It’s really hard to be a responsible tourist these days.
CW: Oh it is, I mean, let’s be honest – taking a jet anywhere is not a very responsible way to do anything. I think that’s something you said there about being a responsible tourist. Probably the most (ecologically) responsible thing any of us can do is sell our cars and not go anywhere. Trying to find that balance between wanting to experience all these wonderful things the world has to offer without ruining it all is definitely a hard thing. I just went to my first all-inclusive in my life, I’m 38, almost 39 years old, I had a wreck on my motorcycle getting ready for a race and I hit my head pretty hard; I wasn’t working, so I just kind of needed to get away. We went down to this place just outside of Puerto Vallarta and spent hardly any time in the resort. We rented a car because I felt like I had to get out of there. I can’t say I had a bad time because I love Mexico, but at the same time I didn’t enjoy the wastefulness of it all and they didn’t want you to experience anything you didn’t experience at home. The whole point of it is you go somewhere else and you never get taken out of your comfort zone. Jeez, you might as well watch the Discovery Channel or something! There are certain things that you want to see, say, if you’re in Egypt, you want to go to Giza but you don’t necessarily have to walk on the same trails in between you know, you can zig-zag. I was in Zimbabwe and I’d never heard of the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, and I’ve still yet to see a picture of it since I left; it’s not that you’re not supposed to find them, you’re just not likely to find them on a tourist map or anything.
DNM: Did you say you went to New Zealand? Did you do all the extreme sports there?
CW: Oh yeah, that was pretty much the reason I went! I was in New Zealand a long time ago, I was only 18, so I didn’t have the funds to do it all; we did what we could. I was there to surf and then we went to Queenstown and did the bungee jumping. The Shotover Jet was cool, you bungee jump and then you got plucked off the bungee cord by a jet boat!
DNM: I watched people bungee jump! But I did do hang-gliding.
CW: Oh really? I’ve never hang-glided. Hang-gliding is a neat thing, I have lots of friends that do it, like parapont, or paragliding, but not many that have hang-glided. In fact, in Right Kind of Wrong, on a ranch out near Pincher Creek, Alberta, there’s a scene that my friend Leif did with a hang glider; he’s on a big rig because he doesn’t actually fly a hang-glider. He comes down, kicks a pig on a spit that flies up in the air and hits me, and he almost crashes into the house and then flips over and lands on top of me. That’s an SNL type move. Some of the cast from SNL are in it – Guy Bewes, the stunt coordinator, is a neat guy. His dad was (I think) a 5 time all-round Canadian rodeo champion, and trained all the top rodeo guys for years, neat family.
DNM: Do you do stunts on horses?
CW: I’m not really a horse guy, not a cowboy. I leave that to those guys. I can ride a horse but if someone called me and said “How are you on a horse?” I’d say “Meh”! Depending on what you want me to do – do you want me to just ride it or do you want me to do some fancy riding? I don’t see the point in saying that you can do something that you’re not really that good at, because I think it does your reputation more harm than good. Especially when I can say “Well, there’s a guy in Alberta called Chad Cosgrave (who is the several time world outrider champion for chuck wagon racing), he’d probably be a better choice if he’s available!” We look like brothers and he’s a lot better on a horse than I am! It depends what you want. If you’re on a show and you’re doubling a guy and one day he’s on a horse, that’s one thing, but if it’s something awesome, let someone awesome do it! There are some things I’m sure I do better than him, and we all have that attitude, but we all still make a living, and we all still get to do awesome fun stuff.
DNM: Have you always had that attitude or at the beginning of your career were you just taking what you were offered?
CW: I still try and take what I’m offered, if I can make it make sense. I think that’s just kind of part of my personality.
DNM: You don’t have the ego to say “I’ll just do everything”?
CW: I try not to. And honestly, I don’t want to get all deep, but I try not to let my ego ruin my life; I try to run more of the Id side which is fine too. If anything, I have to be careful because I end up not giving myself the credit I deserve, which I think hurts my confidence. I kind of try to get a balance. I think some of the most confident people I know are some of the most incompetent people I’ve ever met. It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently – trying to find a balance because I went a little bit too far to the ‘underselling myself all the time’ side. I just didn’t want to be that person who came across like they do everything all the time. For one thing, I think it’s just pretend, and it’s just not what I imagined for myself; it’s not the image I want to project. To do this job, to be in this business you have to have some ego, because it’s very competitive and you have to be able to tell someone “Yeah, I’m the guy, I’m going to knock it out of the park for you; I’m going to do it and you’re not going to want someone else to do it for you”, because otherwise you’ll never do it. I try to balance that – that’s sort of an ongoing project right now!
DNM: Talking to you tonight I can tell you do seem to have that balance of knowing what you can do and knowing that you can say no and not damage who you are.
CW: I think sometimes it’s just a better choice because we’re all supposed to be professionals, and if you’re thinking of having me or Chad Cosgrave on a horse, you’d have to be an idiot to say you want me and I’d have to be an idiot to demand it is me. The whole idea is that we’re trying to make our community, our small community in BC, look awesome so people want to come here. If I’m not ready, or if I’m not fit or able to do what I say I can do then I make us all look bad. I think that’s important to keep in mind too – that any time we go to do something, most of the money that goes to the people is coming from somewhere else and you’re representing our community. About a year ago, I got voted into Stunts Canada, which is sort of one of the premier stunt organisations around (there has only ever been 80 members since 1970), so I feel that’s given me confidence. There’s one other organization in town called Canadian Stuntmen’s Association, great bunch of guys too, slightly different agendas between the two groups but everyone’s getting along pretty well right now. One of their members, Lars Grant, he’s a great guy. He’s done a lot of cool stuff – he’s famous for the movie Hot Rod. There’s a jump when the guy tries to jump the scooter over the ice cream truck and doesn’t make it, and he hits the ramp. It broke his femur right in half – he fell on his head from like 10 feet and it’s in the movie! You see him come around and he hits the ramp and you just see his leg, just broke right in the middle and he’s tough, he’s strong and you think, how the hell did you break Lars Grant’s femur! He’s done a lot of other stuff other than that – he’s awesome on a snowmobile, which is why he was just with us up in Smithers (filming a pilot). People always say “That’s not real!” and I say “I know the guy who did that, and that was definitely real!” It looks like a rag doll, like a dummy going over the truck, because his leg just bends at 90 degrees and that just doesn’t happen. You heard it right from the source, that really happened! Lars Grant really broke his leg.
DNM: What do you have going on next?
CW: Right now, I am foot loose and fancy free! I’m supposed to do a commercial for Target in early 2013. I’ve actually been working lots since August, I have been super busy. The beginning of 2013 looks slow, which is alright. I’m talking about building a house so I’ve got lots of stuff to do, lots of work. Right now I’m just building the most red neck car in Vancouver! I’m building a new stunt/slide/drift car. I have an old Chevy Caprice that I practice with, but it’s a total creeper car; I feel so embarrassed in it…I mean it works good but it’s just, it’s no fun really, except to just do the stunts. Driving it around is just embarrassing. So I’m building this sort of hot rod-old school-stunt car, that’s my project right now. I’m planning on doing some more Baja racing this year on motorcycle, which actually caused me to miss some work this year! When I was pre-running for it on my motorcycle, I had a head on collision with these 3 guys on quads in the middle of nowhere. It’s a long story but they sort of started getting aggressive with me. I don’t know if I was knocked out on the ground for a little while but I got up and (it’s a bit fuzzy for a time there) they ended up following me and had this lynch mob. They wanted to get money for the quad because the guy had been borrowing it. He’d been driving the wrong way on the wrong side of the road and my motorcycle was all torn up and I didn’t know what was going on. I’d hit my head and I had to go find another one of our competitors who told me where to go to meet his wife and his wife loaded my motorcycle onto our truck. Four days later I got on the motorcycle and raced because I thought I was fine, I honestly felt fine.
My first leg on the race was around 100 miles and I raced it really well, it was my fastest average speed ever in one of those races. I was right up there with some of the fastest guys, the guys who actually do that for a living. I hand off the bike to my friend Cody and he goes up over the mountain and down the other side and he goes over the handlebars at 70mph. He severely dislocated his shoulder – tore all the nerves and muscles – that was 13 months ago and he’s got other surgeries coming up, and he still doesn’t have the use of his arm properly. We had to go and drive around like mad people, Julie (my girlfriend and crew chief of our super macho team, the big boss) drove the truck around and picked him up out of the desert. We had to put another guy on the bike who didn’t necessarily know where he was going. We got way behind because of that, and we had to take Cody to the hospital. This is a 1000 mile race and by mile 160 we were in 21st position and one guy was in the hospital. Anyway, we managed to come back to finish 4th in our class but you know, Cody’s arm’s messed up. It’s just such an addictive thing, these Baja races; it’s like every time there’s a race down there, the whole city shuts down for the race and you’re signing autographs and giving the kids stickers. You come across these little towns and little kids are coming out and are literally on their hands and knees saying “Please, please, please stop, sticker”. You give them high fives, they invite you to their house. It’s an amazing atmosphere, and especially when you get down there on the motorcycle. A motorcycle, I think, is still the symbol of man versus machine versus the elements down there. We race against guys who have $600,000 trucks and spend $1,000,000 on a race (which is fine if you have lots of money) but when you’re on motorcycle, and you’re doing 110mph through the desert, you’re just out there. I just think about it all the time. I went down there on a whim with my friend Mark in 2006; it was a bummer because every time we went down there it was just a wing and prayer, and in June of 2011 we went down there just me, Cody, and Julie, and we still came 2nd in our class. The team that beat us had 20 helpers and 5 riders, so we were really proud of that! The next time we went down there I’d picked up a trailer and we had it all decaled up; we had sponsors, 5 riders for the 1000, and a bunch of helpers. We rented 2 houses, had 3 trucks – basically had everything we could need, and like I said by mile 160 Cody was lying in the desert.
DNM: It’s just a level playing field at the end of the day, right? Have you read Charley Boorman’s book on the Paris to Dakar? It’s really interesting.
CW: That’s one of the reasons I started racing the Baja because I’d like to do the Dakar. It’s now in South America because Algeria was trying to keep everyone out, they don’t like the French! Anyway, they have a new category – I can’t remember what they call it in French, but basically the translation is The Man and His Box, and you get this 4′ x 3′ x 4′ case that has to hold all your stuff. They transport it to every bivouac for you, but you have to make your meals and you have to make your tent every night. They bring your stuff and they provide you with food and water – maybe food, definitely water, maybe you have to make your own food. There are usually only 15 or 20 people a year that do this, and I would like to. I want to be competitive, I’m not one of these people that do these things and try to come in last or just finish; I don’t have that switch, whether I’m ice racing or road racing or any time I’m in a race. I’m not pretending that I would go there and beat Johnny Campbell or any of the real racers, or even be in the same neck of the woods as them, but I want to do well for a privateer. That’s why I’ve been practicing, and hoping that some way I can work out the financing to do the Dakar. It’s hard from here because people don’t know what it is, while in Europe as you know it’s huge. To get someone to sponsor you from here, they’re like “Why would I do that, it gets 5 minutes a night on NBC.” Anyway, that’s my ultimate thing. There’s a particular racer that I look up to (not everyone loves him), his name is Robbie Gordon, and he’s won everything under the sun. He was the first American to win a stage of the Dakar, and he’s finished 3rd overall in his truck. But he finds ways to make things happen, and I really admire that. He came from a racing family, he’s won the Baja, he’s won in Nascar; he’s almost won the Indy 500, he’s won in sports cars. He used to drive for Red Bull, Monster, and because they weren’t going in the direction he wanted and they weren’t providing him with what he wanted, he basically created his own sports energy drink just to fund his adventures. I just admire that in someone; he’s not always super popular because he’s a hard-nosed guy, but I’ve met him several times and we’ve raced together in Mexico. I was expecting him to be a bit of an asshole, actually, and he’s never been remotely like that to me; I think he’s just opinionated. He’s someone who does those types of things, just finds ways to make things happen, and I really admire that in somebody.
DNM: Sounds to me though, from your beginnings, that’s you, too. You wanted to be a stunt man so you found a way to do that.
CW: I suppose. I guess you just tend to admire people that are similar to the way you think and do the same things you do, but take it to another level. I’ve never really been a joiner; the fact that I’m part of a stunt team (I told them the other day I didn’t really know about it at first), it’s been good for me because it kind of forces me to be social. It’s taught me that I like people more than I thought I did! I was joking around obviously, because I tend to just go out in the shop and tinker, but if I have a team that I’m sort of accountable to it forces me to be a part of it.
DNM: Look at your resume, you made this happen!
CW: I guess so – it’s a long way from a logging camp in Gold River! Actually, when I was first starting and I was being a photo double or stand in on Andromeda, all the stunt guys would be coming through there and I thought “I can do that.” I was training really hard and not getting any work, and I was sitting there at lunch one time and (if I’m honest) I was kind of pouting! Sitting at the back of the spaceship and my friend Jeff Plecas who was key grip on the show comes around and says “Hey Webb, what’s the matter with you? What you doing, are you okay?” And I said “Oh yeah, I’m just seeing all these guys and some of them are really good and some of them aren’t very good.” He said “Where were you last year?” And I said “Probably working in some logging camp” He said “Now you’re in space! You’re going somewhere, don’t worry about it!”
From working in a logging camp to working on major productions like Inception and Andromeda, the story of his achievements is inspirational. My conversation with Chris Webb was definitely eye-opening, and I certainly won’t look at stunts the same way again. With current credits on Arrow and Once Upon A Time and soon to be seen in the sci-fi action movie Elysium, watch for his name in the credits, and take a second to appreciate everything that stunt performers do for our entertainment!