Kevin is a student in Part 3. It’s not often we interview someone who loves his job quite this much. Sitting in front of Kevin is like facing a coiled ball of human energy. Read about his unusual job. He also volunteers with The Samaritans, and to relax he does stand-up comedy!
Kevin O’Brien, London
When did you first decide to be a stuntman?
When I was a little boy, maybe 7 years old. I felt so full of life, jumping off this and climbing on that, full of energy. I remember driving my mother mad and she said, ‘You’d make a great stuntman.’ That stayed with me and made me carry on. I always had the dream, but didn’t think it would happen. I knew I had to chase it until it finally came true.
What training did you have?
I went to the British Action Academy – it’s the best. They do all the super hero movies, James Bond etc. It’s very physical and stringent. Most people don’t pass first time. But if they see you have potential you get a second chance. Potential means both the physicality, and ambition for it. I didn’t pass first time, but had another go and eventually I passed.
All in, it took around 18 months. It pushed me to the limit, tested me; that made it even more satisfying. I exerted myself so much to get it right, I felt like a better stuntman. I gave it my best so it was really worth passing.
I made some wonderful friends there too. We had so much fun. We were constantly going outside our comfort zone, pushing ourselves. It was interesting to see how many women there were on the course and how good they were too.
When you start they ‘take all the bones out of it’ first – they tell you everything that can go wrong. They scared everyone. Within 45 minutes, some people walk out. Some didn’t come back the next day. Some might have got through the course but didn’t come back to work in this field. Then it’s up to you to see how much you want it. I’m quite lucky in a way – I’m a very physical person. I was always full of energy. So I needed this work; I had to do it. It was the right thing for me to do, so natural.
I don’t do motorcycle or car chases, vehicle stunts. There’s also mountain climbing and horses – I don’t do those. You specialise in certain areas. Mine are chasing, fight scenes and going through windows. I thought you had to pass in all areas, but no, you find what’s best for you. Film-makers don’t want actors doing stunts now – they want people specially trained.
How old were you when you were at the academy?
Probably in my 30’s, I was one of the oldest in the class. Originally I started in acting and got into it because I met stuntmen. I didn’t go bang straight into it; I was doing very physical acting and also doing stunts. Other stunt-students were a lot younger.
So fights are your bread and butter?
Armed and unarmed combat was my favourite. This is a good time to be a stuntman because we’re in the age of action movies, superheroes. It’s our era! Film-makers don’t want CGI (computer generated imagery), and audiences want less of that.
At the Academy they said I was good at fights and advised me to work at it, ‘That’s your bread and butter’. There are more fight scenes than anything else. I just love it. I have to keep fit for it.
There are different types of fights: knife, hooligan, street fighting, pirate and cutlass – that was tough on people’s wrists. We also did lots of sword and shield. A lot of the time you have to hold the shield high to fend off blows, or low to protect yourself. Either way, it wears you out. It just shows what warriors they were in those days. The sword and shield get very heavy after a while.
And it’s also very noisy, clang clang clang – your ears are ringing for hours afterwards. We wear earplugs sometimes, but directors don’t always want that. You’re regularly having to take instructions during a fight, so you have to be able to hear. I did enjoy that – it strengthens you too. Loads of fun.
What’s your typical day?
I get up, do loads of stretching, a bit of weights, just making sure I’m really fit and healthy, then eat a good breakfast. It’s just being alive and ready to go. Maybe there will be an audition, or a meeting about some work coming up. Or a day’s work.
Going to work, you turn up and then they run through everything you’re going to do. We have a stunt co-ordinator. We look up to him and love him! He shows us what to do first. Sometimes he’ll draw it, show footage and then he’ll do it himself. If there’s something you haven’t done before, he’ll be the first to do it. So now you’re pumped up for it, ready to go. You do your warm-ups, and then lots of rehearsing. Then you start filming. It might be that day, tomorrow, sometimes a few days, or come back next month. It depends how the sequence goes, how physical it is.
You can be fitted for costume. If you’re doubling for an actor, you have to be wearing exactly what they’re wearing. Depending on the stunt, you often have to be padded underneath. The padding is very good now, it isn’t obvious. That’s for our protection. You do get hot, but when you’re working, you’re so full of adrenaline you don’t notice. They train you hard. There are medics on hand. If you’re doing a fall, there are people on each side of the net to catch you if you miss the net.
They might give us a talk about the historical war, famous battles. It can be a good history lesson! You switch in to where you have to be. You might have a good scene partner, the person you’re in the scene with – someone you’re fighting with or against. The partner keeps you going too, gets you pumped up and pulls you along.
Has your time in the School helped you?
Yes, the practices help – you do need to meditate. They advise it on the course in stunt school. It puts you in a much better frame of mind. You are much more prepared. Studying philosophy gives you a different perspective. You become more wise to things; I’m still learning. I know I’m getting a lot out of it. Meeting new people on the course – it makes you want to thrive a bit more. It’s definitely a benefit. I’m looking forward to the future.
What’s the most exciting or dangerous job you’ve done?
I did lots of episodes in serials and so on. Probably the most exciting one was in Wonder Woman recently – in a big exciting fight scene. I was buzzing from that for a long time.
One of the scary ones was when I had to abseil down a building forwards. Someone was behind me with ropes, so my life was in his hands. He’s holding me as I’m walking down. I was strapped up, with helmet and protective gear. I had to do it a few times before they were satisfied. With a stunt like that, you do feel it on your body. It’s a lot of pressure.
Is it easy jumping through windows?
Yes it is. I enjoy that – it’s sugar glass. But you have to land right. You’re padded and there are mats on the floor. Maybe it’s a store window on the ground floor. You go through the window and then you have to land, maybe get up and chase someone. I love that – we trained really hard for it. Once you’ve done it many times, it comes quite naturally. You can go through windows in many different ways.
What do you love about your job?
Excitement, adrenalin, challenge, the buzz. The fun we have. You feel like you’re in the playground and it’s lunchtime. Our tutor is in his 50’s now, but he’s young at heart. He says, ‘Why be a grown-up when you can live in the movies?’ That stayed with me. That’s how you feel, like a kid all over again.
It’s a great time in the movie industry. Most of the work is in London – but I’m always ready to travel. As a stunt man it’s a great time – it’s a fast industry, well-funded, exciting, and you meet such interesting people. The rewards are there; if you work hard and you want it, just keep going. They are always going to be making movies. It’s something I’m passionate about – it’s so much fun.
Have a look at the British Action Academy website: British Action Academy