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Interview: Doug Coleman


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As one of Hollywood's leading stuntmen, Doug Coleman has worked on feature film sets for over 30 years with major actors like Ryan Gosling, Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp. During taking a break from working on a Michael Mann thriller project, based on cyber terrorism, 59-year-old Doug talks to The National Student about working on the recently released on DVD Gangster Squad, hitchhiking in to the industry and why Harrison Ford is his favourite actor to work with.

Doug Coleman How did you get into stunt coordination and being a stuntman on movie sets?

When I was a young kid, at around 14 years old, I hitchhiked from Utah to California and snuck into the studios and I just fell in love with the whole process of filmmaking. I was pretty young when I decided to get involved and then I came to Hollywood and worked on these old television movies and shows such as The Dukes of Hazzard and The A-Team. I’ve been at it for quite sometime.

What does your day-to-day job consist of onset?

My job is different for every scene and every moment. From script to script there is a world of difference. And that’s what really makes it exciting for me and still have obstacles and new challenges with every script that comes my way.

What was it like working with the cast of Gangster Squad?

It was fantastic. Josh Brolin is just a wonderful guy to work with; I had worked with him on Men in Black 3 so I went into filming Gangster Squad knowing I was working with a talented man who is quite physical and loves the physical challenges. Sean Penn was wonderful to work with and all of the actors were really dedicated to the process.

Did the cast find the stunts and action work easy to pick up?

For me, it’s about training the actors and helping them develop their characters and making sure they their performances reflect on their character in the story. They really worked hard at it. Josh Brolin’s character for the fight had come from Camp X, it’s like the Navy Civils of today in the 40s and he came from that area as well as being a Los Angeles policeman so he had skills pertaining to that period. And Sean Penn’s character, he came from a boxing world so in designing the fights I really wanted to distinguish the two looks for their characters and they both brought it on and it was really fun to work with them.

So do you work from the script basis of trying to understand the characters?

Absolutely. I don’t just do stunts and set it up for stunts, I make sure that those stunts are required for the story and fits with character. Anybody can go out there and do a really cool stunt but I want to make the stunts work really well with the story.

Have you had any close calls do any stunts?

Well, there’s been a few things but we try to eliminate the possibility of danger before we do any stunt work or I do any stunt work. There’s been a few minor things in my career.

Gangster SquadDo you ever consider the dangers now or have you come to terms with what you may be risking?

Again, I try to eliminate any possibilities of injury or anything like that. We try to forsee anything that might go wrong and make sure that it doesn’t. It’s a business of high risk illusion; we are creating the illusion of nature. But of course there are aspects of it, especially with fire or things like that, if everything doesn’t go perfectly, someone is going to get burnt.

Is it correct in saying that your wife and children are involved in doing stunts too?

Yes, my son is more into cinematography than stunts and he’s a wonderful athlete. My daughter loves to work and she loves to participate at work and my wife is just the same. She’s been in stunt work for many years so it makes for some interesting conversations at the dinner table.

What’s the favourite aspect of your job?

It’s the newness of it. The newness of reading a script, trying to see and visualise the written words in the creative process. That’s the most fun part for me.

What was the most difficult film to co-ordinate or perform stunts in?

There’s been so many of them. One that stays with me is Master and Commander with Russell Crowe. There were so many people involved where I was setting up fight battles and sword fights with up to 80 people in one shot. That one sticks out as quite a challenge. In Castaway where Tom Hanks is trying leave the island on a raft which we filmed in Fiji. It doesn’t sound complicated at all as he’s just got to paddle backwards but it was a very, very challenging process to try and fight those waves.

Who would you say your favourite actor has been to work with? Is there someone that you didn’t expect to be that good at stunts?

I’m always surprised with our actors and pleasantly so. Harrison Ford is one of my favourite actors to work with. He’s so physical, he makes it like working with another stunt guy. He’s certainly he best stunt guy I know! There’s just so many. Robert DeNiro comes with his book of tricks and Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe. They all come with inspiring approaches to their craft and it really inspires me.

Do you have any certain funny stories about working with actors on set?

You do this so long and everything kinds of blends in together. But it’s certainly all funny for me.

Gangster Squad is out on DVD now. 


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