12 Rounds is the latest feature from One Room With A View as we celebrate the talent behind the blockbuster action we see on screen. From military advisers to stunt performers, we’re going 12 rounds with all these unsung heroes to find out their love, life and stories from their profession. Our first entry is a multi-award winning stuntman who has worked with the biggest names in the biggest movies. He’s hammered the Hulk, battled Bane and tackled traitors. He’s Bond, Batman and a blonde demigod. Bobby Holland Hanton is Hollywood’s go-to stunt double and it’s clear to see why.
1. What was your background before becoming a stunt performer, and how did you get into the industry?
My background is gymnastics. I started gymnastics when I was 4. I gave up competing in Men’s Artistic Gymnastics when I was 17, then I started playing semi-pro football. Gymnastics was certainly my stepping stone. [I learned] great physical awareness and how [my] body works, and it’s definitely put me in good stead for what I do now. I was studying Sport Science at college, and then I decided, after seeing an ad in the newspaper, to audition for a live acrobatic, high diving stunt show at Legoland. I auditioned, got the job, and I did a high season, three-month stint. I then auditioned for A Christmas Pantomime as an acrobat, and I did shows all the time after that. I learnt through friends, ex-gymnasts, about the UK Stunt Register, who were also training for it. To be registered, you have to be qualified in six disciplines out of a possible 12 that you can choose from. I found out through the Equity [trade union] what that skill-set had to be and then started training for each of those skills.
An audition came about for someone who was around six feet tall with acrobatic skills to be James Bond’s stunt double in Quantum of Solace. I was like, “Is this a joke?”, because it’s the pinnacle. It’s the job that every stunt performer wants to do. I went through rigorous four or five stages of audition at Pinewood Studios with the stunt team and luckily, I got the job. I think it was supposed to be for a six-week period and it went on for six months. I had a great insight and learning-curve on the biggest and best stunt team, and I had to learn pretty quickly. You get thrown in at the deep end, and there’s no room for error. It’s pretty full on. I learnt so much and that, being my first job, still stands out for me as one of those jobs that’s put me where I am today.
2. For you, who do you admire in the industry? And what on-screen stunt is the most impressive that you’ve seen?
I’ve got a lot of guys that I admire and who are my mentors: Buster Reeves, Ben Cooke, Glenn Foster and Lee Morrison. I learnt a lot from them and worked with them. There are so many stunts we see at work, for example car stunts. Lee Morrison and Ben Collins were the James Bond stunt doubles in the cars in Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. They do some fantastic car stunts; they do speciality vehicle, motorcycle and car stunts, and precision driving.
3. What’s it like to be the stunt double for so many Hollywood A-listers in some of the biggest films of the 21st century?
It’s great. I’ve been very, very lucky to have that luxury in the job and get to work with such amazing people, and fantastic actors. Having such great physical actors is a bonus for us as stunt performers, stunt doubles, and for the stunt coordinator because it can make our jobs a lot easier. They move well and they understand the physicality of each fight scene. I work with Chris Hemsworth a lot; I do all his stunts for him. We’re filming the new Avengers at the moment. I’ve never worked with an actor that I haven’t liked. We spend a lot of time with the actors going through fight rehearsals, stunt rehearsals, and training. We’re on strict diets and strict training regimes, and we motivate each other and keep each other going. We have a great relationship as well, inside and outside of work so it’s an all-round good recipe.
4. When planning a stunt, what’s the most important aspect of it for you as a performer to consider?
It really comes down to not just the stunt performer; it’s about the whole team working as one tight-knit unit. Stunts have got danger in its name. We try and rehearse to eliminate as much danger as possible, but then again, there’s always going to be that danger. As long as we have a checklist of ‘Have we done this? Have we done this? Have we done this?’ and we’ve followed everything that we’ve dummied and the team works together and are very alert and on its toes, and then it comes down to, ‘wait and see what happens!’ We try and eliminate as much danger as possible with rehearsal time and practice. I think that’s the special formula for what a stunt guy is. [You] have to do it not just once, but do it over and over again. Anyone can do something once, but that’s not what a stunt performer is about. [Being] a stunt performer is about being able to do it over and over again, then [getting] up the next morning and [doing] it again but a bit more bruised up. It’s a skill you’ve acquired that allows you to do it over and over again. We get a huge buzz from it. Speaking for myself, the adrenaline takes over the initial fear of stunts and that’s what we crave. We’re adrenaline junkies and you can’t get it elsewhere, so that’s why we love it so much.
5. Describe your training schedule when you’re not working on screen.
When we’re not on set or not in costume, we might be on a stage rehearsing a fight or rehearsing a stunt for a scene coming up. It’s non-stop. The training regime for myself, when I’m doubling Chris, who’s such a big guy naturally anyway, [means] I have to train a lot, especially when training for the Thor character. I have to try and get into ridiculous shape, and that’s a job in itself. I have a strict diet of six meals a day of very good, clean food and then train twice a day as well as work on top of that. The training is very intense. Most of the jobs that I’ve done with Chris, because of his size, have all been done this way, but I’m kind of used to it now. You’re always brushing up on your skills. You can never be too complacent. You’ve got to keep your skills fresh and clean. That is a given. With the training side of it, I try to do what I know best. What I used to do to condition in gymnastics would be all my own upper body weight-type exercises, i.e. chins, dips, press-ups, squats as a circuit. I find that’s what works for me. It’s real strength, and that’s what comes in handy when I’m working, to be able to use that.
I do weights as well because I have to isolate certain muscle groups for certain shots or scenes or costumes. For example, I’m doubling Chris on Thor, and the outfit is sleeveless, so I would then focus on shoulders, biceps, and triceps as an isolation weight exercise. I would still start with my circuits, which I find very important to me and what works for me. I’ve been going from film to film to film, with maybe a couple of weeks of rest between. I’m still fairly young; I was 23 when I did Quantum of Solace. I try to change it up. I train with people when I can or I’ll train with Chris or I train on my own if I have to and have no choice. We try to incorporate training at work as well, if that be at lunchtime or before we get started, so I get time to train with Chris at work, or at the end of the day if I need to get another session in, and then I’ll go to my local gym (Nuffield Health) that sponsors me, which is a great help. I train six days a week, most of the time two sessions a day.
6. For people who want to get into stunt work, what would be your biggest piece of advice?
First of all, have a lifelong background skill, i.e. a martial art, gymnastics, high diving, trampolining, horse riding, or motor sports. To have that skill acquired from a young age helps immensely. You then get an idea of how the industry works. You pick it up quicker if you do have that kind of discipline or skill starting from such a young age. Initially, if you’ve got a passion for [stunt performing] and you find yourself to be quite a physical person and you like the idea of it, then by all means, get out there and explore and find what’s required and see if you’re up to it. [If] they feel it is a passion [and] they want to pursue as a career, my advice would be to certainly go out and explore and find opportunities to do what you want to do, because it’s not easy and it’s a lot different and a lot more difficult than what people think.
7. In your honest opinion, what is the state of the stunt industry? What are the big challenges facing your line of work?
It’s funny you should say that, because in the UK right now, the film industry is as strong as it’s ever been. The amount of films that are coming to London or start in London or there are in the UK, off the top of my head, at the moment, there are eight or nine movies, and by the end of the year maybe 15 all running at one time. It’s never been this busy. It’s been like this, I’d say, for the past three years. It’s certainly a great time for us to be in the industry. It’s hard to actually answer that question because it’s booming right now. The US is suffering with film work. They’re still making a lot of TV but the film industry is not as booming due to the [lack of] tax breaks, but we have the tax breaks here. If you ever want to get into the stunt game, the time in the industry is now. There’s so much going on in the UK and in London; the studios are booked up. Pinewood, Leavesden, Shepperton, Longcross, Elstree etc., they are all chock-a-block. Films are actually being turned away by the studios because there’s no room to make them. It’s super busy here. For example, if Pinewood has a movie on, taking up six of the eight stages, and then another movie has got the other two, a big movie will come in and say ‘we want to make our movie here’ and [the studios] say ‘there’s no room,’ so the production team [has to] go away and build sets and make movies elsewhere just because there is no room in the studios for productions to start shooting.
8. Which actors have you most enjoyed working with/were most impressive to work with?
Obviously, Chris [Hemsworth]. His physicality and his acting skill, [the latter] which I don’t think we’ve got to see yet as much as his people will get to see, as he is a fantastic actor. He really is great; I think he has got the whole package. He’s got it all. [In Heart of the Sea], which is coming out next year, I think people will really get to see how good of an actor he is and not just an action superhero. He can do it all. I’ve just worked with Channing Tatum. I doubled him on Jupiter Ascending. He was an absolute honour to work for. He’s such a lovely guy and, as a physical actor, he is second to none; he’s certainly one of the best out there. He and Chris are the two standouts for me that I’ve worked [with] who have an amazing know-how of the physical side. Channing has got a physical background as a dancer; he likes to do a lot of the stunts himself, and he’s someone else that has got that whole package.
I worked with Christian Bale on The Dark Knight Rises. To don that suit as well, for me, was another dream come true. With Christian, it was amazing to see, and so easy to see, once you work with him, that he’s in a completely different league. He’s fantastic to work with and [is] such a lovely family man. I had to go to his house and practice some fights for the beginning of the movie in LA. I was dreading it as I was still fairly young and didn’t know what to expect, but he was such a gentleman and very professional, and has a great memory to remember the routine that we choreographed. He was telling us about filming The Fighter, and he was just going in and out of character. It was insane to watch because it was ‘Wow! How can someone be this good at what they do?’ Christian was great to work with. Daniel Craig was the first guy that I’d worked with on a movie, and he was fantastic. He’s such a nice guy and very professional, very physical – great actor.
9. Can you describe what it’s like to be a double for actors?
You get to work with such amazing people who are so highly regarded in the industry. You get to see the other side of it, and then you say ‘Wow! This is more impressive than what people see on-screen.’ How they actually do it and portray it and their routine and how they do things for it. It’s amazing to watch, and you get even more respect for them because of it.
10. What is the most dangerous stunt you’ve undertaken?
On The Dark Knight Rises, whilst I was doubling for Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, when he tried to climb out and escape from the prison, I had to do a 100-foot-high fall. I had to jump from one ledge, miss a ledge on purpose, and smash into the wall, fall 100 feet, then swing and hit my back against the wall. That was my first 100-foot-high fall on screen. That was a stunt I was very happy to achieve. Also, another stunt that’s up there is the rooftop sequence chase in Sienna [in Quantum of Solace], whilst I, as Bond, was chasing a character called Mitchell, who was being played by Glenn Foster, who is a stunt guy himself and is a close friend and mentor. We were 130 feet up doing this rooftop chase, jumping from one building to another, sometimes onto a bus, and up onto a drainpipe. That was very memorable for me because it was the first time I’d done something on film, and how big it was. That was an honour for me.
11. How do you train for stunts you’ve never done before and what stunts would you like to undertake?
That comes down to having such a good stunt coordinator and the team around you. Everyone works together; there’s no rushing, and it’s all very planned and worked out. You build up in stages. It’s about taking each step gradually and then moving onto the next level, e.g., ‘Let’s do it without a box, let’s do it without one extra mat, let’s take the pressure up on the ram that we’re pulling you on a wire on… ‘. So it’s about building up to a point where you can say ‘OK, that’s the one.’ Then we film it, show it to the director, the director will say ‘I like that’, and then we do it for real on set. So most of the time in rehearsals, we’re very much padded up and try to get it right before we take it onto a live set. Something I definitely want to do, which I’ve not had a chance to do yet, is a full-body fire burn. Hopefully that will come sooner rather than later.
12. For you, what is the aspect of stunt work that excites you and drives you?
I think it’s the challenge of each day being completely different. It’s never boring, that’s for sure. I get to work in some of the most amazing locations around the world, and some of the most obscure locations that you would never think to go to yourself. I get to work with such incredible people, and meeting amazing people day-in, day-out. Like I said, it’s never the same: for example, when I was doing live shows and performing in front of people, I love performing and I’d get that adrenaline and that buzz from it, but after a while, you’re performing the same shows and that kind of wears off and you’re itching for a new challenge. That was a fantastic learning curve; and it puts you in good stead for film work. The thing I love the most is that each day, you’re filming something different, you’re getting new stuff, and you’re moving onto new things, so it never gets boring and you’re always on your toes. It’s always good to have a challenge. I think that’s what keeps me going; it keeps the love and passion for the job, which I’ve got. I think, looking in hindsight, I’m lucky to have that opportunity, especially in a job that I love, which I think is often overlooked. Sometimes you have to step back and say ‘Wow! I’ve got a fantastic opportunity here and I’m very lucky.’
Bobby is involved with several charitable foundations, namely Poppy’s Path, a foundation set up for his goddaughter who has cerebral palsy, and the David Holmes Podcasts, a series of podcasts presented by David Holmes, a close friend of Bobby’s and a stuntman who broke his neck on set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Follow Bobby on Twitter @BobbyHanton