Red Notice knows its way around a good stunt
Ryan Reynolds’ former double Bobby Holland Hanton on what it takes to pull off the perfect stunt.
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Hi, I’m Joseph Lew, editor of Netflix Pause, and a sucker for a good action flick. For that reason, I can’t stop thinking about Red Notice, a star-studded heist adventure filled to the brim with thrilling action sequences.
To find out more about what actually goes into these scenes, I reached out to Bobby Holland Hanton. For the past 15 years, Bobby has worked as a stuntman on some of the biggest blockbusters including Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, Quantum of Solace, Black Widow and Thor: Love and Thunder.
While looking at a short scuffle scene involving FBI profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), and tattooed prisoner Drago Grande (Daniel Bernhardt), Bobby reflects on his experience as a professional stunt person, shedding light on the demanding nature of the role.
JL: So Red Notice is a bit of a hectic movie. There’s so much going on at any one time – there’s shootouts and museum heists, prison breaks and treasure hunts in the Amazon. That is to say this is a film that knows how to make an impact, such as this scene you’ve chosen here.
BH: It's a very fun movie. You've got three leading actors – with Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot – and your first thought is, how's that going to work? But the chemistry between Ryan and Dwayne is actually amazing. I mean, they're both very funny. But especially Ryan. I love watching Ryan – I actually stunt doubled with him in Green Lantern, back in 2010 in New Orleans.
In this scene, Daniel Bernhardt comes up and attacks Dwayne after Ryan exposes him as a former member of the FBI. I’m working with Daniel on a film in Prague at the moment and he’s a great martial artist. He’s obviously very skilful – you see him with a spinning back kick – but you think, okay, that fight was over very quickly. But then you realise Ryan set this up the whole time. Later you see a flashback of him taking the guard’s card, and you realise he needed something like that to happen to distract them.
Speaking of Ryan Reynolds, you’ve doubled for a lot of different people. There’s been Daniel Craig, Christian Bale, and now Chris Hemsworth. What’s the process like, transforming for these different roles?
Do you know what? It's tough, but I also take it on as part and parcel of what we do as a job. I take stunt doubling an actor very seriously. I try to study the actors – the way they walk, they run, their characteristics, all of those things. It's important to act as much like the character as possible to sell to the audience that it's them. And I think that in itself is a skill. It's not just about the stunts anymore. I don't think it ever has been.
I've been Chris Hemsworth’s stunt double for 10 years now, and physically, there's no one harder that I've doubled over the years than him. I'd say if he wasn't an actor, he would be one of the best stunt performers in the world because he is a physical phenomenon.
We train a lot, and that is almost a job in itself. And especially if we're doing Thor or Avengers, because of the size we have to put on, we are literally training like bodybuilders do, but then also going to fight rehearsals, stunt rehearsals, actor rehearsals and shoot dates.
Much like Dwayne Johnson who goes from an FBI profiler to an accused fugitive art thief in Red Notice, you’ve also had a couple career changes of your own. How did you end up as a stunt person?
I started as a gymnast from the age of four and retired from the Great Britain team when I was 17. And then I played semi-professional soccer. My whole life was physical, and I didn't want to waste that skill set that I built up over my lifetime.
Gymnastics is undoubtedly one of the hardest sports in the world. The body control that you have, and the spatial awareness is priceless, especially in stunt performing. I didn’t want to waste that, so I got into live-action stunt shows and high diving shows – Legoland in Windsor and Thorpe Park. And then I went to Dubai and France and got a taste for live performing.
I found out that you could actually get on the British stamp register and do stunts in film and TV. And then I kind of was like, okay, that's what I want to do. Here in the UK, you need to be elite at six disciplines – they're almost SAS-esque kind of tests. They're very, very tough. My first stunt job on a film was back in 2007-2008, when I stunt doubled for Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace. It was a pinch-yourself moment at 23.
That’s an insane first gig. Now that you’re in the industry, do you find yourself thinking about all the hard work that goes into a stunt every time you watch a film?
A lot of people don't really know this, but the actual stunt team starts probably sooner than most other departments. Not just location scouts, but also actively getting a script and breaking down the sequences with the stunt coordinator, the assistant stunt coordinator, the fight arranger, the rigging coordinator, the second director, and putting a team together for the requirements for what we see on the page. We sometimes start a movie three months before principal photography to make sure that we are safe and it's where it needs to be.
When I started back in 2007, I was 23 and it wasn’t really a thing for the stunt team to shoot a previsualisation (basically a mock-up of shots and sequences) of what we see on the page. We would rehearse something, and have a show and tell with the director, producer, the lead actor, the stunt coordinator, and second director to explain what the moves are and what they mean. Whereas now, the stunt community has evolved so much where we can shoot a previsualisation, have a team of editors put special effects in, and then we can go, “This is what we think this sequence is or should be”.
Stunt coordinators are now becoming second and main directors. Chad Stahelski, David Leitch, and Sam Hargrave (who directed Extraction) have kind of paved that way. We know how to shoot action, because we've been doing it our whole careers. We know where we need to put a camera for a hit or a punch or a kick to make it the most impactful.
I want to let everyone know that the stunt community are there. Chris [Hemsworth] is always very praising of me and what I do for him and that's very rare. We are a pivotal, massive, part of any kind of filmmaking, especially action. And I think that's not talked about enough. We deserve a lot more recognition than we get. We step in, do the stunt, and if we get an injury, we have backup doubles. We don't want to put actors in unnecessary danger.
I’ve seen some of the behind-the-scenes photos of Red Notice, with the rigging and everything, and it looks insane. What is the risk element like for stunt work in an action film?
Oh, it's an absolutely controlled environment. You have a lead rigger and then he will bring his team that he's worked with for many years, that all collaborate. We usually test a wire rig with a big sandbag. I'm around 90kg, so they'll go and get a bag and they'll fill it to make it 90kg. And then they will fly that sandbag in the direction it needs to go at the right height and trajectory. They'll do that 10, 15, 20 times to make sure it lands or hits in exactly the same spot each time.
We'll then do a couple of tests, much lower in pressure to start to feel the rig. I can only speak for myself in this instance, but once I see something, I have to feel it straight after. Once I feel the stunt once or twice, my body goes into overdrive and it kind of takes over from my gymnastics days. Then when we get to a point where I'm performing the stunt to a high level, it’s about acting out that stunt to make it look as real as possible. We make it look like a really hard, gnarly wreck but it's just the acting side coming out.
Stunt-work sounds like a tough ordeal. Through the physical challenges you’ve just mentioned, and the mental ones in the past, what keeps you going through all of it?
I've always struggled with a bad back because I went through a huge growth spurt for an 18-month period between 15 and 16 years old. I was very small, then I became very tall, and it put a lot of pressure on my lower back – especially on top of my training as a gymnast. It carried with me throughout the rest of my career in soccer – I used to play a game and then be in agony the next day and not be able to walk properly. But my passion and desire would always override the pain and I’d be like, ‘this is what I want to do, I don't want to be told I can't do this. I want to be able to achieve all these things.’
There's been times where I think, if I didn't have the passion and the desire and the love for what I do in the industry, I probably would give up. Because you know, it was disabling at times. I could barely get out of bed, knowing that I had a full day of work throwing myself around. For many, many years, I've been performing in pain. But it was the drive and the mental element; I'm not going to give up because this is what I want to do. And I've come too far to give up. I feel like I've done myself an injustice if I didn't keep going and going. And that might sound cheesy, it might sound silly, but I think that's kind of where my mindset has been for many years: you just gotta get out of bed and get it done. And you feel a lot better at the end of the day.
Bobby Holland Hanton is an actor and stuntman who has performed in 50 full feature movies. He has worked closely with Chris Hemsworth as his stunt double for the past 10 years. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.