Stunt Man Adam Hart Talks 'Captain America', 'X-Men', Spielberg, Cameron, and Nolan

Posted Mon Jun 13, 2011 at 11:20 AM PDT by

High-Def Digest recently had a chance to sit down with movie stuntman, Adam Hart, to talk about all the exciting project's he's been working on. Though Adam's only been working on feature films for a relatively short time, he's amassed an impressive resume working for A-List directors like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Tim Burton, Matthew Vaughn, and Robert Zemekis. Most of you have already seen his work in 'Terminator: Salvation', 'The Fighter', 'Live Free or Die Hard', 'Avatar', 'Alice in Wonderland', 'A Christmas Carol', 'The Dark Knight' and 'Inception'.

And, this summer, you'll be able to see Adam's work just about every month in a new blockbuster, including 'X-Men: First Class', 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides', 'Captain America: The First Avenger', and the next two 'Twilight Saga' installments.

FIRST QUESTION: ASPRIN, ADVIL, OR TYLENOL?

Stuntman candy! No, it's Advil for me.

TAKE US BACK TO THE BEGINNING. HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START?

I grew up in Southern California and I went to all the theme parks and saw all the live stunt shows. Growing up, I watched a lot of movies and the thing that always excited me was all the action. That's kinda what I said I always wanted to do, so growing up, I took martial arts, boxed, wrestled, played pretty much every sport there is. I also had a love for acting, so I started when I was 8 years, and I ended up going to college and getting a degree in acting. Then I went and studied acting for a summer in England, but everyone thought I was crazy there. Every time someone asked what I wanted to be doing 5 years down the line, I would say, "I want to be a professional stuntman."

Anyway, after I graduated my first stunt job was doing the live show at Medieval Times Then, while I was working there, I got hired for the Batman stunt show up at Six Flags. I later got a job at Knottsberry Farm at their Wild West stunt show. While doing that, I went to Universal to work on Terminator and Water World, and also Disneyland. At one time I was doing six lives shows.

HOW DID YOU SCHEDULE THAT?!

I don't know. But on top of all that, I was hustling and lucky enough, as soon as I was able to earn my SAG card, I got a job. From there, it's like starting at the bottom of the hill again.

IS IT COMMON FOR STUNT PERFORMERS TO TRAIN IN LIVE SHOWS?

You know, even a few years ago, people used to look down upon the performers doing live shows, but for me it was great. I got paid to train, to get to do a high fall over and over. For example, when I was at Medieval Times, I did well over 3,000 saddle falls. When I was at Water World, I would do nine 45-foot fire dives in a day. At Batman, you're riding motorcycles. I just think it gives you an awareness about how to perform. Because someone could be the greatest martial artist out there in the world, but maybe they can't perform in the scenes they have to do.

"Performing" is such a big part of stunts, especially when it comes to things like mo-cap. You have to perform.

HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED SINCE YOU FIRST STARTED WORKING AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ANYONE INTERESTED IN BECOMING A STUNT PERFORMER?

Well, there definitely isn't as much work here [in Los Angeles] as when I was starting. I would go out and hustle nine sets in one day, getting up at 5:30 in the morning to go down to get there at the call times the shows I was trying to get on. I would say nowadays, driving through downtown LA or anywhere else, there just aren't as many [productions]. It's a bummer, but there's still stuff out there, still other ways to hustle. The most important thing I would say to aspiring stunt performers is hustling has to be your job. No matter what. Even if you've "made it", and you're working consistently, it's still important to put yourself out there and make sure doing so is your number one priority.

YOU'VE DOUBLED FOR A NUMBER OF HIGH-PROFILES STARS, INCLUDING DANIEL CRAIG, CHRISTIAN BALE, CHRIS EVANS, TIMOTHY OLYPHANT, AND JIM CARREY…WHO DO YOU MOST RESEMBLE?

I would have to say… Christian Bale, who I've gotten to double on 'Terminator: Salvation' and 'The Fighter'. For that role, I had to drop down to 160 pounds --

HOW DID YOU DO THAT?

Not the correct way. I was called three days before I went out [to Lowell, Massachusetts], and I was at about 180. I got out there, they told me, but luckily I didn't have to shoot for two weeks, so I guess I ran a lot, drank a lot of coffee, and -- it wasn't the correct way to do it. I got down to it; it was fun. It's always a pleasure being [Christian Bale's] double because he's such a professional, and good at what he does. Any time I double somebody, it's my job to make that person look really good, and to help them out. Even if that means that they go in to do the gag [stunt], I'm just there to look out for them and make sure they're safe. They're my number one priority.

HOW CLOSELY DO YOU WORK WITH THE PERFORMERS YOU ARE DOUBLING?

It honestly depends on who you're doubling. With certain people, I keep a distance, I only talk about work things with them, but I observe. I watch how they do things, and I change how I would do it to match them. And once you get into the film, you end up developing a dialogue with the actor. Things like, "how do would you like me to land this?" Or say I did a gag, and they go, "so how did you land, where was your arm?" It's goes back to that whole performing thing I was talking about earlier. People are going to carry themselves a certain way, and as a stunt performer, you might have to change the way your run or walk. Sometimes a performer is right handed or left handed. Or if you're sword fighting, and they want to fight a certain way, you have to fight that way too.

I was just on 'Captain America' doubling for Chris [Evans] / Captain America, and he runs differently than I run, so I had to adjust how I ran. Honestly, it's all about communication and being open to changing the way you [the stunt performer] would do stuff.

WHAT'S IT LIKE WORKING WITH THE LIKES OF STEVEN SPIELBERG, JAMES CAMERON, AND CHRISTOPHER NOLAN?

Well, they're obviously all awesome. I've been fortunate enough to work on two Chris Nolan films ['The Dark Knight' and 'Inception'] and he's an absolute pleasure. All of them have this one thing in common, and that is they all come to the table prepared. They have everything ready. They know exactly what they want. The shooting is a well-oiled machine and they are they best at what they do.

When I worked on 'Inception', we had a ton of rehearsal time. We came in, did the shot, maybe three times, if that. He doesn't do a lot of takes; he's very quick, because he's already edited the film in his head.

And I was very lucky when I worked with Spielberg on ['The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn']. He was doing something new. Doing a mo-cap movie where he had a new camera style. It was great. He was just pleasant. [They're all] very laid back. They know what they're there to do.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MO-CAP MOVIES?

Nothing compares to actually doing the real thing, but motion capture… I won't discount it because I think they come up with some amazing things. They way that they can blend reality with digital. I still prefer the real thing. There will never be anything better than doing a real fight, falling down real stairs, getting hit by something. Mo-cap's a lot of fun; you still get to do all the stuff. When I doubled for Jim Carrey on 'A Christmas Carol', we did so much. I was flying around the room. It's almost like performing a play. You're performing for not just that one little lens anymore, you're performing for 10,000 lenses all around the room. It's like theater in the round. I really enjoy motion capture.

I ALWAYS THINK BACK TO THE ORIGINAL 'INDIANA JONES' MOVIES, AND THEY WERE ALWAYS SO EXCITING BECAUSE EVEN IF THE STUNTS WERE ACCENTUATED WITH EFFECTS, THERE WERE REAL PEOPLE DOING REAL THINGS.

That's one of the things with Chris Nolan. He wants to do everything practically. He wants it to be real. Like with 'Inception', pretty much everything on that movie [in terms of stunts] was done for real. The only visual stuff they did was wire removal. It's great when they stay true to the old school.

YOU'RE IN A HUGE NEW MOVIE, PRACTICALLY EVERY MONTH THIS SUMMER. WHICH FILM ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO SEE (OR HAVE SEEN) ON THE BIG SCREEN?

I was pleasantly surprised with 'X-Men: First Class'. Didn't really know what to expect, but I thought that was really great. But honestly, I'm very much looking forward to 'Captain America', of course because I got to double him. Growing up, reading comics, and watching all the TV shows. It was like a dream come true when I put that suit on. I felt like a little kid.

DOES DIGITAL FACIAL REPLACEMENT (IE, PUTTING A MOVIE STAR'S ON HIS OR HER STUNT PERFORMER'S BODY) AFFECT WHAT YOU GET OUT OF SEEING YOUR PERFORMANCE ON SCREEN?

You know, it's funny. Take Chris Nolan for example, Christian Bale does 90 percent of his stunts; maybe even more. Christian's so good, he could be a stunt performer. And Joseph Gordon Levitt did that fight in the [revolving] hallway in 'Inception'. The actors are good. I've been very fortunate to double actors that are that good. They can do the gags after you walk them through it. Now, with digital facial replacement, if that does happen, it's okay. It's still you [the stunt performer] doing the gag. As far as I know, the stuff that I did on 'Captain America' has no facial replacement. Obviously, it's harder to tell when you're wearing a helmet.

DO YOU EVER GET NERVOUS?

Doing stunts is controlled chaos. If you're out there throwing yourself down on stuff and wanting to get hit by cars all the time, in my opinion, you're not doing the right job. Because we're very much like scientists. We work things out. We try to make things as safe as possible before we perform it. With that being said, we're there to do the stuff that people shouldn't be doing. Or we're going to do something that has not been done before.

Take 'Live Free or Die Hard', I did a gag in that where I got thrown backwards down a flight of stairs on an office chair. That's one of those where we really didn't know what was going to happen. It was 17 steps, and I'm in the chair. Bruce Willis' stunt double has me by the throat and we have a line attached to the chair to keep it from falling on me and keep the bottom of it with me as he pushes me along. I remember sitting there, doing the run ups, going back to the edge, and that's about when the heart starts beating a little faster.

A stunt performer has the ability to acknowledge that fear, and channel it and use it, as apposed to letting it control them. They're able to turn that part of the brain off that says "we probably shouldn't do this" and be able to do that. A lot of people talk to me about wanting to do stunts, but you have to be willing to do something that will probably hurt over and over and over again. And not complain about.

WHAT'S THE WORST INJURY YOU'VE EVER GOTTEN ON SET?

Well, luckily, I haven't suffered an injury on set, but I when I was working at Medieval Times, I was jousted in the face. That one hurt. That was a pretty gnarly one. I fractured the inner orbital of my left eye. I have titanium in my skull. And it took about a month and a half before my vision was back to normal. Luckily, I had a good doctor.

IS THAT 'LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD' CHAIR STUNT THE CRAZIEST STUNT YOU'VE EVER DONE?

Well, I was nominated for a World Stunt Award for (Hardest Hit) for doing that gag, and I would have to say, that's gotta be up there. I've done a lot of stuff where I've gotten the crap kicked out of me. Like on ['Terminator: Salvation'], every day I was getting thrown into something. But on ['Die Hard'], you know, it's really funny. Normally, if it's a big gag, people will clap and what not, but [after they threw me down the stairs on that chair], people were just staring at me because they thought I broke my neck.

WHAT'S A STUNT MOST PEOPLE WOULDN'T KNOW IS AS DANGEROUS AS IT REALLY IS? AND WHAT'S A STUNT THAT'S MUCH LESS DANGEROUS THAN IT APPEARS (ALTHOUGH NO ONE SHOULD TRY IT AT HOME)?

Any stunt has an element of risk. That's why they hire us to do it. I couldn't differentiate between one or the other. Because you could go and you could do a stair fall and be just fine. But at the same time, you could be doing a fight and get punched in the face. Or sometimes you could blow a hamstring or something, but you have to just keep running. That's the thing. No matter what you do, you have to have a respect for what you're doing. If you don't, that's when some people realize this isn't for them.

DO YOU HAVE A HOME THEATER SETUP?

I eventually want to have a home with a dedicated theater, but right now I have a 50-inch plasma that's in a lift-cabinet, a Blu-ray player, and a 5.1 Sony surround sound system. I definitely want to get full, giant speakers surround sound.

FAN OF BLU-RAY? FAVORITE DEMO DISC?

'Blade Runner' is awesome. The sound and the picture is amazing, especially considering how long ago it was made. And I'm sure when 'Star Wars' comes out on Blu-ray, it's going to be ridiculous.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT?

I've been really fortunate and lucky to work for some amazing stunt coordinators, and if any of them are reading this, I want to thank them because I wouldn't be the performer I am today without having their help. I started out wanting to do things in movies, and now I'm a member of the International Stunt Association, which is a great, great group of people. Amazing performers. I'm very fortunate to be surrounded by great people.

THANKS TO ADAM FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH HDD. WE WISH HIM LUCK (AND SAFETY) ON ALL HIS FUTURE PROJECTS. SPEAKING OF WHICH, YOU'LL NEXT SEE ADAM AS CAPTAIN AMERICA IN 'CAPTAIN AMERICA', AND HE'LL ALSO BE DOUBLING PETER FACINELLI IN THE LAST TWO INSTALLMENTS OF 'THE TWILIGHT SAGA'.

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