Sweat runs down my cheek. My hands clench into tight fists, every muscle in my body tense, my blood filling with adrenaline with every heartbeat.
With that one word I explode into a sequence of punches and kicks that I had rehearsed a few hundred times or more. In front of me is my scene partner, who is using head snaps and exaggerated body reactions to make it seem like I’m beating the hell out of him. To my right, Batman and Bane are engaged in their own faux grudge match. I’m surrounded by chaos and violence, and loving every second of it. Cops fighting mercenaries, superheroes fighting super villains. The energy on set is atomic.
And we’re all just normal people again. More accurately, just normal film industry professionals congratulating one another on a spectacular display of stylized violence. This is the beginning of my career as a stunt actor.
Just a few months ago I was watching some of my favorite action movies on a lazy Sunday afternoon, telling myself, "I could do that." Given my background in martial arts and weapons training, I thought I had a valid argument. I studied karate, kung fu, boxing, and Muay Thai kickboxing, and I am skilled in the use of knives, swords, sticks, handguns, and rifles. But in reality, I was still just a research analyst who sat in his little gray cube at his little gray desk and did the same thing every single day.
Who knew a simple email from a friend would change my life? She’d always say things like, "You should model or get into acting,” or, “You're a star Haaron. I can see it.” She was a free spirited dreamer, and I was a realist with a real job and real bills. But I opened her email and there was a link to the casting section of Backstage.com—for a casting call for “The Dark Knight Rises.”
I began shifting around in my chair like a second grader waiting for recess. This was possibly the most exciting thing I'd ever read. Thoughts of being able to finally do something worthwhile with all the training I had kept me smiling for the entire day.
In line at the casting call, I felt like people knew I’d never done this before. The guys in front of me were talking about how they were going to an audition for “The Expendables 2” the following week; the guys behind me were dressed in their karate uniforms and had foam sticks and swords with them. Then the actual audition was a quick conversation where I didn't have to throw a single kick. About a week later, I received an email congratulating me and giving me info about wardrobe fittings.
From the time I got cast as a police officer until the time I showed up for the training sessions to learn the fight choreography, I kept saying, “This isn't real.” But I still gave it all I had, enough that one of the stunt coordinators asked if I had stunt training. I told him no, just a martial arts background—and watching a lot of kung-fu movies. He laughed and said I should think about being a stunt actor. It wasn’t until I reported to holding with hundreds of other people dressed in cop uniforms that I knew the dream was a reality. My inner comic book geek was like, “You’re going to be in a Batman movie!”
The holding area looked like a deleted scene from one of the “Police Academy” movies. It was a cool vibe but also kind of weird, because we were all goofing around with these realistic-looking weapons strapped to our backs and our belts. You couldn't really hear actor Tom Hardy with his Bane mask on, but he was giving guys handshakes, thumbs up, and pats on the back as a silent way to say, “Good job.”
The second day, we were ushered out of holding onto Wall Street. The direction given was, “You were trapped underground for months. Friends and comrades have died. Your homes have been destroyed. Now you're free and are about to get your hands on the men that did this to you. We need to see anger and intensity in your faces.” Then Matthew Modine climbed up on a ladder and screamed, “Let 'em see your war face!”
I stood waiting for my scene partner so we could find a spot to beat the crap out of each other, when suddenly I got a tap on my shoulder. One of the stunt coordinators wanted me in the shot behind Bane and Batman. I don’t know what kind of impression I made in that brief interaction during training, but now I found myself doing stunts in “The Dark Knight Rises,” my first film experience. For Batman and Christopher Nolan’s film trilogy, it was the end. For me, a beginning. And every project I’ve done since has been a step towards something I once thought was so out of reach, but has now become very real and very possible.