Stunt coordinators have one of the most high-pressure jobs in the biz: keeping actors and everybody else on set safe. So imagine the pressure, then, when one of those actors happens to be Meryl Streep. Charlie Croughwell can attest, however, the stunt coordination veteran kept his cool working with Streep on “The Laundromat.” The Stephen Soderbergh feature, now streaming on Netflix, features one of Streep’s most involved stunts to date wherein a boat capsizes. Croughwell, along with his daughter who happens to be Streep’s stunt double, greeted the feat with aplomb—and he tells Backstage all about it, from pre-production meetings with Miss Meryl, to how he kept one of the greatest living actors out of harm’s way so she could deliver her best performance.
How would you actually describe the role of stunt coordinator?
The stunt coordinator’s duties are: coordinate with the director on the stunt-related concept; design action sequences; assist any department’s needs related to specific stunts; plan and organize stunts crew for performance-related action by any cast members. As the stunt coordinator, I also provide all departments with the necessary equipment and information they need, and I manage the budget for all stunt-related expenses.
How does one get into the field of stunt coordination?
You should begin doing stunts and work your way up to coordinating. This process is important in regards to your level of experience by the time you’re in a position to determine how you plan on executing a stunt and learning how to manage a stunt person or actor. My first official coordinating jobs were on “18 Again” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” in 1988.
Speaking to “The Laundromat,” can you walk us through that scene: the boat rolling over. How did you plan, prepare, and execute the sequence safely?
The first thing you do once you have the job is to consult with the director about their vision. From there, we began the preliminary phase, identifying all of the safety equipment, and personnel (both safety and performers). I met with the special effects department coordinator, art department, and props, and discussed what their plans were. It’s a very fluid—no pun intended—process, dependent upon the needs of everyone involved. We reviewed the rollover of the boat in a dry tank prior to filling. Once filled, some on-site adjustments were made and we observed another rehearsal to determine any possible issues. We also had safety divers in the water for this test for an all-inclusive view around and in the boat.
Our shoot day began with a rehearsal of the roll for all crew members to become familiar with the operation. Once any and all issues are satisfied, a safety meeting is held with all cast and crew. We then loaded the boat with doubles and stunt performers and the water with safety swimmers and divers. We rolled the boat with Meryl’s double aboard. When it was time for Meryl’s piece, we escorted her out to the upside-down boat, provided her with the safety gear she would need for breathing and took her under. Camera and everyone else were already in position. Once underwater we communicated with her via hand signals that we had previously established and when she was good to go, we rolled.
Speaking further to Meryl specifically, how did you work with her both in preparation for the scene and while shooting it?
This is the best part of the story. Anytime we have someone interacting with a body of water, we need to assess their comfort level. I let production know that I needed to get Meryl’s take on her comfort with water scenes and that we would need to get her in the tank at [a dive facility]. I needed to see how comfortable she is not only swimming but breathing from an air source. I had two dive masters as well as her stunt double and two water safety people on the day. We laid out all of the dive equipment we could have possibly needed: a wetsuit for Meryl, towels, showers.
Her assistant arrived a bit before her, checked over the plan and we waited. Only a few minutes went by and up pulled Meryl. We went out to greet her. Once out of the car I began explaining to her the process we had planned and that she would be in different clothing on the day. The pro she is, she said, “These are the clothes I’ll be wearing and I’m very comfortable with what I need to do.” With that, we went into the tank area, she jumped in, we all jumped in and within 30 minutes we were done and she was on her way.
The 10 people you see in the background [of the photo below] were part of our safety team. There are another 41 not pictured. All of the stunt people we used are also highly qualified water safety people.
Did you have to establish trust with Meryl—as well as between Meryl and her double (your own daughter!) —in order to get her to a place where she was comfortable to shoot it?
She’s a true pro and one of the easiest actors I’ve worked with. I think our prep for her tank day helped her understand how we would do it when filming. Meryl is one of the most solid professional actors we’ve worked with. She understands that we’re there for her wellbeing while she’s performing anything where she could be harmed.
Her relationship with her stunt double—my daughter Callie—was the same. Once they met and Meryl saw that Callie would be a good double for her, she was completely at ease.
What are the general ways in which you establish trust with actors?
I talk to them like I would anyone. They’re human. Like anyone else, some actors can be difficult to communicate with. I believe it’s important to understand who they are, where their head is at, and what concerns them. If they know I have their best interests and safety as my first and foremost concern, they trust me.
Also in general, what is the process, typically, to prepare actors for stunts?
This is a very fluid process but the most important part is communication and rehearsal time when necessary. It’s important to understand what the actors and director are expecting. Once the expectations are clear, you develop a plan designed specifically to present the options via video tests, usually. A visual representation is best and it gives them the opportunity to tweak things. We then go back with doubles, adjust for the changes, and once again present video tests to them.
Anything that could impact the performance of the stunt by the actor, be it VFX, special effects, props, camera positions is all discussed during the video review process and adjusted accordingly. Once everyone is happy, we schedule time with the actors for rehearsals and carefully walk them through every aspect of the stunt and safety guards in place. This process increases the actors’ understanding and comfort levels. It’s my job to make sure they stay safe no matter what we’re doing.
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