The ‘Fall Guy’ Filmmakers Have a Cause: Give Stunts an Oscar

The life of stuntmen and women is never glamorous. The job is to take the fall, endure the pain, break the bone, then walk away — unsung, battered and bruised. They usually move on to the next gig without ever seeing the finished product. They rarely get invited to the movie premiere. Oscars? Forget about it.

That narrative seems to be changing with the new action-comedy-romance “The Fall Guy,” the loose film adaptation of the 1980s television show that opens Friday. The movie, directed by the former stuntman David Leitch, stars Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers, a down-on-his-luck stuntman who returns to set after a nasty accident to solve the mystery of a missing leading man (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and, more important, to get the girl (played by Emily Blunt).

The director David Leitch and producer Kelly McCormick said they wanted to give stunt performers their due.Credit…Suzanne Cordeiro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Not only does the film give the best portrayal of the life of a stuntman since Burt Reynolds starred in the 1978 action comedy “Hooper,” directed by another ex-stuntman, Hal Needham, but so much of the promotional efforts have placed the stunt crew front and center, including the newly minted world-record holder Logan Holladay (he rolled a retrofitted Jeep Grand Cherokee eight and a half times) and the high-fall virtuoso Troy Lindsay Brown. They and two others served as Gosling’s doubles in the film.

At the Berlin premiere, the team broke through a brick wall with another double, Ben Jenkin, riding on the hood of a truck. In London, Holladay wheelied in on a motorcycle and Jenkin crashed through some breakable glass.

And on Tuesday at the Los Angeles premiere, Brown tumbled from a 45-foot-high scissor lift onto a blowup mattress and Justin Eaton, another Gosling stunt double, engaged in a three-way fistfight with all of the performers breaking through another sheet of faux glass. Then Jenkin flipped from the balcony of the Dolby Theater onto the stage moments before Gosling took the mic to declare, “This movie is just a giant campaign to get stunts an Oscar.”

Gosling joked, “This movie is just a giant campaign to get stunts an Oscar.”Credit…87 North

Indeed, putting the stunt performers on the very stage where the Oscars are held is all part of deliberate efforts by Leitch, his producing partner and wife, Kelly McCormick, and the marketers at Universal to give these action pros their due. “It’s an important part of why we made this,” Leitch said in an interview. “We wanted to humanize these people. It really does hurt. And yet, we don’t really know what they feel because they’re not supposed to be seen.”

They may become more visible if the couple have their way. The push for an Oscar category is not the subtle subtext of “The Fall Guy”; it is the text. There’s even a moment in the movie when Gosling’s Seavers is asked if stunt performers receive Oscars for their work. “Stunts?” he replies. “No,” then raises his glass to the “unsung heroes.”

“It’s baked into the film,” the screenwriter Drew Pearce said in an interview from his home office. “There are not that many members of the crew who can break their back by going into work that day. The idea that they wouldn’t be acknowledged but me sitting in here on a laptop is, obviously, doesn’t seem just in any way.”

The hit television show “The Fall Guy” ran for five seasons in the early 1980s, and its epic action, including truck jumps and high-elevation falls, proved to be a source of inspiration for the many Gen Xers who now dominate the stunt community. It even inspired those who didn’t make it into that world but found their way to Hollywood, like Pearce (who, as a child, concocted a stuntman course in his backyard only to discover his crippling fear of heights) and another of the film’s producers, Guymon Casady.

Casady first convinced the TV show’s creator, Glen A. Larson, to license the property to him some 20 years ago, only for it to languish in the studio development process, as various iterations, including one with Dwayne Johnson and another with Nicolas Cage, fell apart. In 2019, Casady tried again, reviving the project with Leitch, who was fresh off his success on “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” and about to start “Bullet Train.” Leitch had begun his career as Brad Pitt’s stunt double and worked as a director and producer on the “John Wick” series.

“The big idea from the very beginning was to make a movie where we were honoring the stunt craft,” Casady said. “That was an important idea for David, obviously, given his background, but we thought it was also a really unique character.”

Yet, Leitch and company’s efforts are not new.

Stuntman-turned-second-unit-director Jack Gill joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 1991, determined to get himself and his colleagues recognized. The academy told him it would take three to five years of hard work to add the category. Cut to 2024, and Gill, who has no affiliation with “Fall Guy,” is still holding out hope that this happens in his lifetime. The new movie has made him optimistic.

“It is a great representation of what a stunt person actually has to put up with and what they go through,” he said in an interview from a set in Phuket, Thailand. “I think a lot of the academy members that vote on whether we get an Oscar category are still a little bit in the dark about what we do. I don’t think they realize that most of the action is designed by us. It’s not designed by the writer or the director.”

Jack Gill, with his wife, the actress Morgan Brittany, in his stuntman days. He has been pushing for an Oscar for the profession since 1991.Credit…Parker/Hulton Archive Via Getty Images/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

To drive that point home, Chris O’Hara, who orchestrated the action on “The Fall Guy,” is now the first professional to earn the title stunt designer — a new designation approved by the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America — that establishes a benchmark for the work of a stunt coordinator and better aligns O’Hara’s work with other department heads on sets, including production and costume designers.

O’Hara grew up in the business with Leitch, worked on “John Wick,” and served as his second-unit director and stunt coordinator on “Hobbs & Shaw.” For years he was content to stay in the shadows.

“We knew what we did,” he said. “We weren’t out there to get recognition, accolades and attaboys.”

But that changed when he started seeing his peers in visual effects ascend the Oscar stage. “They are amazing people at their craft, and visual effects are an essential part of filmmaking,” he said, but he pointed out that most of the effects being recognized involved action sequences with stunt performers. “I just think we need to be included. We are part of the film industry. We are part of cinema.”

There are currently 101 stunt performers in the academy. They are part of the Production and Technology branch, which includes colorists, script supervisors and line producers, among others. Unlike other branches, which each have three governors to lobby on their behalf, this branch is headed by one.

Yet Gill, Leitch and McCormick are encouraged by the progress the academy has made, including its decision to laud stunt work at the Oscars in March with a tribute that Gosling and Blunt introduced and that Leitch and McCormick produced.

“I personally think that tribute is a huge step forward,” McCormick said. “If they didn’t want to recognize the stunt industry, they easily could have filled those two minutes with something else.”

Gill is hopeful that the progress achieved by casting directors — who landed their own Oscar category beginning with the 2026 Academy Awards — can be replicated for stunt performers. Yet the academy is remaining mum on if or when this will happen. Its president, Janet Yang, attended the Los Angeles premiere of “The Fall Guy” on Tuesday, but a representative declined to comment on the status of a potential new Oscar.

“Here I am, 33 years later, and we’re closer now because of the casting category,” Gill said. “They opened the door to the fact that, yes, we can create new branches and we can create new categories, which before they had told me was virtually impossible.”

He added, “We’re trying to follow in their footsteps and jump right in behind them. With ‘Fall Guy’ coming out, I think we’ve got a good shot at it.”

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