EXCLUSIVE: Stunt Coordinator Andy Armstrong Talks 'Thor' and 'The Amazing Spider-Man' with High-Def DigestPosted Wed May 4, 2011 at 01:25 PM PDT by Luke Hickman
With Marvel's 'The Avengers' landing on the big screen just one year from now, two of its main players have yet to debut on the big screen. Iron Man and The Hulk have been well established; this summer we meet Thor and Captain America. Following the lead of Christopher Nolan's 'Batman' films, Marvel has set their superheroes in the realistic world. To better achieve a realistic tone, the filmmakers hired accredited stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong to bring 'Thor' from the Godly realm of Asgard to the believable reality in which we are grounded. HDD's own Luke Hickman spoke with Armstrong about his work.
Luke Hickman - HDD: Hello, Andy. You sound extra far away. Where are you right now?
Andy Armstrong: I'm in New York doing 'The Amazing Spider-Man.'
HDD: How is your shoot going?
Andy Armstrong: Very, very well. We are trying to re-invent the character, take it to a new place. It's a whole new adventure. We're going very retro. In lots of ways it's very similar to 'Thor.' We are trying to go [way] back - so old that its new again. Real stunts done by real people, as opposed to CGI. Particularly the main actor [Andrew Garfield is doing most of the stunts], just as Chris Hemsworth did in 'Thor.'
HDD: It was pretty awesome watching 'Thor' and seeing Chris do everything himself.
Andy Armstrong: There's a whole new breed of actors out there now that bring a lot to the table physically - none more-so than Chris Hemsworth. It was a pleasure to do the movie largely because of Chris. He was such an athlete. He is the real deal. There's probably one percent of the action in ['Thor'] that is not him - and even that wasn't because he couldn't do it, it was because the studio wouldn't let him do it.
HDD: It's astonishing to see Chris' different look just from 'Star Trek' to 'Thor.'
Andy Armstrong: He put himself through amazing physical [training]. But it wasn't just for the show. He is really physically fit and tough, well coordinated. He's had fight training. [Chris is] a very well rounded guy with a positive attitude. He was quite tremendous.
HDD: Were there a lot of challenges that came with making 'Thor?' Was there anything that you were specifically proud of achieving?
Andy Armstrong: There are a lot of 'Thor' fans just like the Trekkies that are very particular about the way the hammer should be swung, held, and used. [But] on the other hand you want to make it fresh and new and different, not just a big guy with a hammer going around clubbing people.
We looked at a lot of images so that we could re-create some of the visceral visuals and images about a powerful guy with a hammer. It's a lot easier in some ways to draw a single frame in a comic than it is to choreograph a whole fight. The whole fight in the beginning [of 'Thor'] was all choreographed so that each actor had his own fight with a Frost Giant, yet they all had to interact with each other like a ballroom dance.
HDD: Were the actors fighting guys in green suits, or was it all simply shot [alone] in front of green screen?
Andy Armstrong: The original concept [for a Frost Giant] was a very big guy in prosthetic suits (but was later changed to blue CGI giants). [The actors] were fighting some big seven-foot guys - really fighting them. They were real fights with a mixture of stunt-people/doubles mixed in with them, but the majority was really just [the actors].
HDD: Andy, you have been working in stunts for a long time, right?
Andy Armstrong: That's right. Many years.
HDD: How has your job changed over the years with technology?
Andy Armstrong: Our job [today] in many ways is the same [as it was back in the day]. I have always tried to embrace every little bit of new technology when it comes along, whether it be some new technical equipment you are going to use or a new visual aid to capture a stunt. You will hear a lot of old school stunt coordinators bitching and moaning about CGI, but I think it's got its place. Sometimes it's over-used and it takes away from some of the energy of a real physical human action. But there are times when [the CGI people] can basically do it better than we can. All it takes is interfacing well so that we both, the visual effects and the stunt people, get the best out of each other. My job nowadays is to learn as much about [visual effects] so that we can know what is possible. Our worlds are certainly intertwined, whether we like it or not.
HDD: Now, in looking up your info online, I see that you were also an assistant director for quite some time. How did that affect your work as a stunt coordinator?
Andy Armstrong: I started off as a stuntman, then I became an assistant director - directing action - and went back to my first love, creating action for big movies. [Having that background in assistant directing] certainly helps. I've done a lot of very big shows with a lot of logistical issues. My son is a stunt coordinator, James Armstrong. I had him work as an assist director also before becoming a stunt coordinator because it's an amazing background organizational skill to have.
HDD: Looking at your credits, you have done some big films like 'I, Robot,' 'Planet of the Apes' and 'The Green Hornet.'
Andy Armstrong: I've kept fairly busy. Like any other industry, I've been very lucky. Whatever happens is because of luck. I had some great people take me under their wings. People like Peter Yates … Burt Reynolds - great masters of action who gave me a great inside view of Hollywood when I was really quite young. I've worked from the extremes of very very inexperienced directors, producers and actors to some of the very most accomplished to have ever put their imprint on film.
HDD: Having done 'Thor' and working on 'The Amazing Spider-Man,' are you Marvel's go-to stunt guy now?
Andy Armstrong: Actually, since 'The Amazing Spider-Man' is still owned by Sony and Columbia, it is its own thing. I am not doing 'The Avengers' because it's already shooting and I'm doing 'Spider-Man.'
HDD: Has there been any talk of a 'Thor' sequel, or it is all 'Avengers' from here on out?
Andy Armstrong: I haven't heard about a ['Thor' sequel]. It's just all 'Avengers' at the moment. I think it will really depend on how 'Thor' does at the box office. It's all about how well the kids respond to him. I think they will [respond well].
HDD: I helped give out passes to the Salt Lake City screening of 'Thor.' So many people wanted passes that they showed it simultaneously on two screens. Everyone was excited and seemed to be loving it. Along with the audience, I was eating it up.
Andy Armstrong: There's a real rock-star quality about Chris. The first time we flew him in on wires with the cape, the wig, the hammer, the whole thing - he is such a big physical presence anyway - [we couldn't] help but think, 'Wow. That's a cool image.' I can imagine that every kid thinks that immediately watching 'Thor.' I hope [they eat it up].
All of the cast was fabulous. Chris particularly, I hope he becomes a very big star. He is such a very very genuine and really nice guy. Very accomplished too. I think there is a shortage of those guys.
HDD: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy shoot to speak with me.
Andy Armstrong: You're welcome.
HDD: And the best of luck to you on the opening of 'Thor' and on your 'Spider-Man' shoot.
Andy Armstrong: Thanks and same to you.
'Thor' opens wide in 3D, IMAX 3D and 2D this Friday, 'Captain America' opens July 22, 2011 and 'The Amazing Spider-Man" is set to launch on July 3, 2012.