Wade Eastwood is one of the film industry's most in-demand and accomplished stunt performers and coordinators, having worked on some of the most high-profile action films of the last fifteen years or so - three Bond films (including this year's SPECTRE), LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER (2001), SALT (2010), INCEPTION (2010), TERMINATOR 3 (2003), TROY (2004), MR & MRS SMITH (2005), X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006), HANCOCK (2008), INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) ...and many more. Originally British but born and mostly raised in South Africa, Wade talked to me about his background, his rise in the stunt industry, working with action giants such as Tom Cruise, Dolph Lundgren and Daniel Craig, his passion and boundless energy for his craft, and what makes a memorable action sequence.
Before you started doing stunts, you had a very eventful life back in South Africa. You were a sprinter and ran for your country in the 100 and 200M, you served in the army, and you were a volunteer lifeguard with Air and Sea Rescue. Where does your love of adventure and exercise stem from?
I don't know. We're all born differently and some people have that sort of personality, and some don't. I don't know if it was genetic, but I couldn't stay in one place, one school or anything. I had to keep moving. I hated feeling trapped as it were. I was always an athlete, always outdoors. I could never connect, which is why I never pursued one particular career or sport. I just wanted to keep moving and keep going until I found what I loved and what motivated me.
Why do you think stunts are such a perfect fit for you?
They encompass everything that I love – athleticism, my passion for film and travel and this gypsy nomad life if you like. It seemed like the perfect fit, to take all my ‘useless' qualifications like skydiving, scuba diving, car racing etc... and put them into something that actually is a profession. Now I can travel and have a career out of it, so it's perfect.
I was doing Air Sea Rescue, and I was trying to get into stunts. I was 19. I had just finished doing my National Service in South Africa. I could have gotten out of it because I was a British Subject, but I didn't want to be one of those guys that did that, so I went and served. A film came to town and they came to the helipad asking''Can you jump out of a chopper into this river for our film?'' There were four of us that did it. It was only when we got there that we realised that they wanted to fly over the ocean and do all this stuff but the chopper pilot had never done a film before. We didn't know what we were doing and we nearly got blown off the side at 500ft. The four of us just worked it out as we went. We did the jump, and they told us they had spotted some crocodiles and they wanted us to do it again. It was a bit dangerous, and they even had parks snipers aimed at the crocodiles incase they came for us. It just went on and on. I guess the buzz of it just sort of addicted me. Then the producer asked me ''Can you drive a car?''. Racing was my passion, so I said yes. We did a rally driving shot with this pickup truck for a shoot through sugarcane fields. Then he said ''Do you mind crashing it?'', and I said ''Yeah, I don't mind.'' It was common sense, I just lay down, grabbed a seat belt from the seat opposite, tucked my head down as far as I could, and rolled the car over. It was down and dirty, and you had to work stuff out. I got out of the car with a big smile, and that was me addicted.
What was the best thing about working on so many films and TV shows in South Africa before you left for England and then the US?
It was the best training ground really. They were all these terrible B movies that went straight to video and were all about explosions and action. In one film alone I could do five or six 100ft falls, four or five pipe ramps, three or four fire jobs, and countless air ram and ratchet explosions. It was like getting paid to train. When I moved to the UK it was such a big shock to me because I saw stunt guys with all these huge credits like the Bond movies. I remember my first day on THE MUMMY (1999) thinking ''This is the big league. I don't know if I'm ready or if I should be here.'' I felt like the underdog. But then they brought out the air ram for the audition, and everybody hated it, and didn't want to do it. There was me and two other guys who did it. It went from 30 guys auditioning to just us three. Their equipment was so modern and beautiful. Back in South Africa we had made our own equipment which was basic and violent to operate. After I got the job I realised that it's not the films that you do, it's the work that you do in the films. I went from strength to strength and joined a couple of good teams with Vic Armstrong and Simon Crane. I picked the people I really wanted to work with and came up through the ranks. The rest is history.
Do you think your time in the army put you in good stead? Did it instill a sense of discipline and professionalism?
Definitely. The army is something I am glad I did, but I wouldn't want to do again. I served during the apartheid era. If you watch the movie INVICTUS (2009), that was my year. It was right during the abolishment of apartheid. I was doing all the township riots. I got to exercise my passion for driving by doing all the armoured car driving. I saw a lot for a kid, especially as I had so much energy. I'd skydive, I'd scubadive, then ''What's next? I'll travel Europe. Then fly across the world, and come back.'' I was all over the place, and I guess the army gives you the discipline to realise that you can't just say no and move on, you have to commit and conform. It gave me good structure.
How did you get on the radar of the James Bond team for THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)?
It was Simon Crane, the stunt coordinator on the movie. I had done THE MUMMY and VERTICAL LIMIT (2000) with him, and he called me down to join his team. He asked me how I was with driving and I told him it was my passion. I did a first day of tests in a jetboat, and I helped come up with the sequence where I took the boat briefly underwater. That came from my jetskiiing. I thought I might try it with a boat. I taped up the back of the engine so it wouldn't sink, but it did sink because I took on too much water. I asked Simon if I could do it and he said ''Yeah, go for it. It's your boat to destroy.'' It turned out well, and he loved it. We came up with a bunch of stuff on the first day.
Ever since I was a young performer I have always put the pressure on myself to come up with something creatively different and unique, something that the audience will always remember. So there was a lot of sitting down trying to work stuff out, not just driving the boat around the river. They used to call me 'Smiler' on set doing the jetboat sequence because I literally could not stop smiling. I was so happy to be doing what I was doing.
Did you enjoy your cameo in the movie as the bodyguard in the bank?
Yes, that was a fun day!
Is the Bond stunt team like a big family?
Yes, I look back and it's fun to see that I'm keeping the heritage alive because, for example, Vic Armstrong's son, Scott Armstrong, is my assistant coordinator now. There are so many amazing families and amazing stories. We're like a big travelling circus really. And Barbara Broccoli is an amazing lady.
Were you a Bond fan in your youth?
I was, yeah, big time. I think the first one that stood out for me was GOLDFINGER (1964), and then OCTOPUSSY (1983).
You came back to Bond almost a decade later with QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008). How do you think you had developed as a stuntman in the intervening years?
It's like racing. Time is invaluable. On that one, I was just performing in the boat chase. Coming in as a performer is easy. You come in with your bag, put your pads on, and off you go. The coordinating jobs are the ones that are stressful because you have to come up with answers for a lot of people. Every movie you do, you learn something. And if you're not, you're doing the wrong movies.
Is it hard to come up with different variations of say a car chase or a boat chase?
Yeah, absolutely. That's the hardest challenge.
What were your duties on SPECTRE?
I did some drifting of the Jaguar (Villain Car) in the Aston/ Jaguar car chase. My part was shot in the UK. It was great. It was a pro type car that was almost a full thoroughbred race car. It had a rock-hard chassis and there was no room for error. The car was very finely tuned, and if you make a mistake, it's going to be a big one. My racing definitely helped with understanding such a finely tuned piece of equipment as opposed to a typically tuned road car.
SPECTRE is about to come out. Is it an exciting feeling knowing a film that you worked on is about to drop?
No, not really. You put your heart and soul into a film then you hand it over to the director, the editor, the studio to do what they want. I don't get too excited because sometimes you watch the film and you get disappointed. Also, I have put so much energy into the film, that I have had enough of it by the time it comes out!!
I try not to be a specialist because it can affect the jobs you get. For example, a motorbike specialist might do a stunt and then go home, but there might not be another motorbike movie for years. I started off doing the B movies and it was a great platform because I did everything – fires, falls, fights, cars, bikes, horses. That's why I was able to have a good working career as a performer. I've learned the most from my driving stuff – trucks, cars, bikes, helicopters, boats, anything with an engine! I obviously have a style with my action but I adapt the style to the character. I'm very character and story-driven. I just did INFERNO (2016) with Ron Howard, and it's not a big action movie so I really had to adapt to suit the characters. I directed a lot of the dramatic scenes as well for Ron, which was great.
Is it as much a thrill for you to do a punch-up in a bathroom as it is doing a car chase?
Yes, everything is exciting. You've got to make it different and bring the character in. If you don't bring the character in, it's just a fight and it's just a car chase. If you look back at some of the old movies, you actually get bored because you're not really into the character. Back then it was acceptable to just do it fast and big, but the lack of character just takes you out of it.
How important is dealing with fear in your job?
You have to respect your fears. My job is to eliminate as much risk as possible but still give it the wow factor. You have to respect the environment that you're in.
Those guys come and go all the time. They're zero to hero and then back again. Good luck to them I say.
How easy a transition was it to become a stunt coordinator?
For me it was easy because I like managing teams, bringing people together and choreographing the action. As a performer I never pitched up and just did my job. I was always about ''Wow! What if I did this? What if I did that?'' I always wanted to create and do more so it was quite a quick and easy transition for me. Moving to directing was more of a challenge because you have a lot more pressure and you have to deal more directly with the studio. Everyone thinks its an automatic transition but it's not because you have to think outside the box and be creative. Your shots can be pretty boring if you don't know what you're doing. I'm not interested in having a title. I just want to be controlling the action. I don't want to hand it over to someone who might see it differently.
Do you alternate between performing and coordinating or directing?
No, I mainly coordinate or direct now. I still do drifting and driving stuff, but mainly in commercials. I have BMW and Cadillac coming up in a few weeks.
What do you like the best about working with Tom Cruise? You've worked with him on EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST NATION (2015) and JACK REACHER 2 (2016).
Cruise is all about action and energy but he really gets it because he is also all about character and story. He really evolves the action with you and it's a great process. He's also a phenomenal athlete and so passionate about his craft and film.
Cruise has a reputation for wanting to do all the stunts. Is that your experience?
Yes, he pretty much does everything himself. He trains very hard. He's a machine.
When does he not actually do a stunt?
I guess if it's too dangerous or if he could cut his face or something, but there's not much he doesn't actually do himself. He basically does everyhing on a film. We were rehearsing going through a plate glass window the other day on JACK REACHER 2, and I said to him ''Let the stunt guy do it.'' He said ''No, I'm doing it.'' He loves it. It's not an ego thing at all, it's purely his passion for his craft.
It really makes the difference to see the actor doing the stunt.
You work with some actors and they say ''I'm not doing that'', which you can understand as not everybody is designed to be an athlete or not be afraid of things that are not considered normal. Some can be lazy and lethargic, which is frustrating, but I haven't worked with one of those for years! And then you go back to Tom, and he's intense, but you miss that energy because he is 100% committed to making the best film in the world ever.
Which actors apart from Cruise have impressed you with their physicality and how well they adapted to the action scenes?
Well, Tom is just on another level, but Hugh Jackman is a phenomenal athlete and Mr. Nice Guy. Angelina Jolie goes for it 1000% and has massive balls. Daniel Craig and Brad Pitt are great. Those are the standout ones.
What were some of the most memorable experiences being Dolph Lundgren's stunt double?
The Dolph days were so much fun. We used to laugh uncontrollably like teeenagers! He was so much fun to work with and be around and we shared too many fun memories to talk about. We still keep in touch and have remained good old friends!
You work so closely training and supervising the actors. Does it entail having a special relationship with them?
Yes, there's full trust and commitment there. If they trust in you and respect you then you can push them beyond their limits. There are actors and actresses who have never done certain things before I work with them. I take them out of their old box and put them into a new box. I completely change the way they think about action and the way they move. They really need to trust you in order to do that and the results are always positive. Its great to see them get hooked also.
Do you ever get starstruck with all the famous people you have worked with?
It's funny but it's just not me. I've never been starstruck. I'm not impressed by titles. I respond to people. I always say you're an arsehole if you're an arsehole. If you're a nice guy, you're a nice guy. It doesn't matter what title you have. If there's anybody I might get excited about, it would be an amazing Formula One driver or an athlete or someone who has pioneered something. As far as actors go, it's just a job. They're great at what they do, but I never get starstruck by them.
Which directors have impressed you the most with their eye for action sequences?
I'm working with Ed Zwick at the moment on JACK REACHER 2 and he is amazing! Ron Howard was a true gent and visionary. To date it was the best experience of my career.
Do you think stuntwork is an art form and should be an Oscar category?
I do think it's an art form, but I'm so non-political. I go to work, do my job, and then hopefully people can watch the film and have fun escaping their everyday lives by going on a fun journey. I go home, see my family or go racing. But saying that, I think it's disgusting and embarassing that the hair, make-up, visual effects, special effects and just about every category on action movies get Oscar nominations but stunts don't even have an Oscar category. On a big movie like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE or Bond the story is written around the action, so how on Earth can the stunts not get recognised? The action is 80% of the film. I get that you don't want a particular stuntman to get an award for a particular stunt because it destroys the illusion that the actor did it, but the coordinator or the second unit director can certainly get an award for creating and choreographing the action. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. It doesn't worry me. It doesn't change my life or the working days.
I imagine you have such a busy schedule that you have missed out on some projects. Which ones do you regret not getting?
The one that I really wanted to do was RUSH (2013). I was offered it, but they didn't have a lot of money and they wanted to do it for nothing. Formula One racing is a passion of mine and I love the Hunt and Lauda story. I'm the only stunt coordinator in the world that races cars in Formula Three and I'm friends with most of the Formula One drivers. So it was disappointing. Due to my work I couldn't do BLOOD DIAMOND (2006) because a film overlapped. I really wanted to go home to South Africa and do a movie like that with those actors. It would have been amazing.
Do you think there's an age limit with stunts where after a certain point it becomes dangerous to do them?
I don't know about that. Age is also knowledge.
How much do you plan your career?
I pretty much take projects as they come and if they interest me. If a great project comes up and I meet the director and like the script, I'll do it. If it's a terrible script and they offer me a trunkload of money, I won't do it. I'm not interested in counting down the days on a job till it's over because you're just counting down life. I want the project that is good and that I feel passionate about, and that we can be creative about and make change with. I want everybody to be proud of their work and to give audiences escapism. There's a lot of guys who will just go for the cash load but that's not me.
I spoke to Wade by telephone on 10th September 2015, and by email the following week. I'd like to thank him for his time.
Thanks to Nick Clement.
(C) Paul Rowlands.
(C) Paul Rowlands.