The Fall Guy: David Leitch and Kelly McCormick on Hollywood actor egos, and filming practical stunts

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Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch.
Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch. Credit: Universal Pictures/Universal Pictures

David Leitch wants to apologise to Sydney. The American filmmaker brought Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt to town and in the process of making his hugely entertaining action rom-com caper, The Fall Guy, he shut down a few of the city’s iconic sites.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House steps, even one of the motorways.

One Sunday, half of Elizabeth Street in the CBD was cordoned, with security guards and police redirecting everyone away from the area. They wouldn’t say why but there was only one production that had the budget and pull to do that.

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“I was looking at my Google Maps app and it was just red everywhere,” Leitch tells The Nightly. “I’m sorry, Sydney, we apologise, we’re really sorry. Go see the movie, it’ll be worth it, I think.”

Inspired by the 1980s TV series, The Fall Guy stars Gosling as a retired stuntman who is dragged back onto set when he’s asked to secretly investigate the disappearance of a famous actor.

The film is rambunctious and fun, packed with ambitious and complex practical stunts including a record-breaking eight-and-a-half cannon rolls and a 225-feet jump, and makes full use of Gosling’s goofy comedic charms. And Gosling and Blunt’s character, the director of the film-within-the-film, have crackling chemistry as former-maybe-future lovers.

Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch
Ryan Gosling and David Leitch on the streets of Sydney shooting a scene for The Fall Guy. Credit: Universal Pictures

Before Leitch became one of the most in-demand action directors, known for his commitment to high-octane set-pieces and balletic fight choreography on the likes of John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Bullet Train, he had a two-decade history in Hollywood stunts, including as a double for Brad Pitt.

Versions of a big-screen adaptation of The Fall Guy have been floating around the industry for years but when it landed on Leitch and his wife and producing partner Kelly McCormick’s desk, it felt like kismet.

McCormick says “it would’ve been crushing” if someone else had made it instead of them. “It was important to me, for David to mark his legacy as a stunt performer into directing and be able to have a platform to talk about his art form, and it felt like the perfect way to do that.”

With Leitch’s background, the pair were able to infuse insider experience into a movie that is deliberately over-the-top but personal. Despite its seemingly outlandish story, McCormick says “truth is stranger than fiction on a movie set so there are a lot of anecdotes we can fall back to”.

David Leitch and Kelly McCormick in Sydney.
David Leitch and Kelly McCormick in Sydney. Credit: Caroline McCredie/Universal Pictures Australia

The Fall Guy is an unapologetic love letter to stuntpeople, often unsung and never seen, but who shoulder the risks and take the knocks while the actors get the glory. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character, the star which Gosling’s Colt doubles for, is one of those braggy “I do my own stunts” actors who can barely stomach being in a moving car.

It’s a recognisable archetype Leitch knows well. He says, “There are stories and experiences in Hollywood, where you have these actors that have larger-than-life egos and are self-delusional about their abilities.

“Fortunately, I haven’t worked with a lot of them in my years as a double, but they do exist for sure. There are plenty of anecdotes in the stunt community – ask any of the stunt performers, they’ll tell you.”

McCormick adds, “One of the things that we wanted Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character to do was shine a light on toxic celebrity, and it exists in all different forms and fashions. He takes it to more than 11 and makes it fun.

“But there is some truth to some people extending their entitlement a little bit past what they should.”

Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch
The Fall Guy is in cinemas on April 24. Credit: Universal Pictures/Universal Pictures

You would never find those actors even considering some of the stunts The Fall Guy pulls off. The most complicated one was the 225-foot truck jump over a canyon. The team spent months testing different distances, they had to build the ramps and redo the suspension of the custom-built vehicle.

“It’s a whole science project that people don’t understand, maybe don’t appreciate. They usually just think it’s a ballsy stunt,” Leitch says.

McCormick recalls the production only had one shot and it ended up being “pretty close”.

“I’m not going to lie, he was going a little slower than he thought he was,” she recounts. “The speedometer wasn’t working as we thought it was. If you really watch the movie, his back wheel hits and this set flies up. That meant he barely hit the set and could have slid down, and that would’ve been really bad.

“It was a harrowing stunt to watch.”

Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch
The Fall Guy is inspired by the 1980s TV series. Credit: Universal Pictures

Recognition of the craft and hard work of stunt performers has been a contentious point at Hollywood’s highest honours, the Oscars. The stunt community has for years been lobbying for a category of their own, like they have at the Screen Actors Guild awards, but continues to be rebuffed. This year, the Academy opted instead for an award for casting directors.

When the industry has increasingly turned to expensive but often ineffective CGI and green screens, practical stunts like those on The Fall Guy are even more impressive.

Think about the Top Gun: Maverick and its aerial sequences in which the actors were captured in F-18 fighter jets in the air. Comparable scenes in other films that are shot on a bogus plane on a gimble against a green screen have nothing of that visceral oomph.

Faked action sequences often feel weightless, and it’s why Leitch had the mandate to shoot as much of the action as practical stunts as possible.

“It was a celebration of stunts, so we really had to dive in and do some really big classic stunts,” he says. “You can feel the difference when the stakes are real in front of the camera.

“When you’re on a green screen, generally the stakes aren’t real and I think the audience appreciates feeling the stakes. It’s not unlike a great performance in front of the camera. You feel real love or real comedy makes you laugh. Real stunts make you go ‘aaahhh’ whereas sometimes the visual effects stunts make you go, ‘well that was kind of cool’.”

The Fall Guy is in cinemas on April 24

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