Some of today’s top action directors were first doubles for Brad Pitt, Neo and Wolverine.
Increasingly, filmmakers are coming from the ranks of stuntmen and stunt coordinators, whose years of accomplishing complicated shots, managing the risks of cast and crew and working intimately with stars have given them a foundation for the task of directing — especially in action movies.
“Extraction,” the new Netflix film starring Chris Hemsworth, is the directorial debut of Sam Hargrave. Before Hargrave got behind the camera, he doubled for Chris Evans on “Captain America” and Hugh Jackman on “Wolverine,” and coordinated stunts on blockbusters like “Avengers: Endgame” and “Hunger Games: Mockingjay.”
Hargrave is the latest in a lineage of stuntmen who have gone from stepping in for actors to directing them. It’s a fairly recent career pathway thanks largely to the success of Chad Stahelski (“John Wick”) and David Leitch (“Atomic Blonde”).
A brief history of notable stuntmen turned directors:
Hal Needham: A trailblazer for stuntmen-filmmakers, Needham performed stunts on films including “The French Connection” and “How the West Was Won” before he penned the script to “Smokey and the Bandit.” He convinced Burt Reynolds, for whom he had doubled, to let him direct. They remained a regular team, with Needham directing Reynolds in “Hooper,” “The Cannonball Run” and “Stroker Ace.” Needham has been quoted as saying: “Screw the dialogue, let’s wreck some cars.”
Ric Roman Waugh: The son of stuntman Fred Waugh, one of the founding members of Stunts Unlimited, Waugh performed stunt work in “The Last of the Mohicans,” “The Crow” and “Lethal Weapon 2.” He transitioned to directing in 2001’s “In the Shadows,” and followed that up with “Snitch,” with Dwayne Johnson, and last year’s “Angel Has Fallen.”
Chad Stahelski and David Leitch: A chiseled duo with martial arts skills and stunt expertise, Stahelski and and Leitch have done more than anyone else to raise the profile of stunt coordinators. They’ve been leaders in the field since founding the action design company 87Eleven in 1997. Leitch was Pitt’s stunt double in “Fight Club” and doubled for Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix.” Stahelski choreographed fights in “300” and coordinated stunts in “The Expendables.” They stepped into filmmaking with the slickly stylized and hyper-violent “John Wick” franchise (Stahelski directed, Leitch produced). Leitch, himself, helmed “Atomic Blonde,” with Charlize Theron, and “Deadpool 2.”
Nash Edgerton: The brother of actor Joel Edgerton, Nash has been a longtime stuntman, doubling for Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, and doing stunt work in “The Thin Red Line,” “Superman Returns” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” But Edgerton also continually made short films, some with his brother, and eventually made his feature directing debut with the 2008 neo-noir “The Square.” In 2018, he directed the comedy “Gringo,” with David Oyelowo and Theron.