Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Life of Danger and Film: An interview With Chris Cordell


Imagine this, you are the hero or heroine running across the roof tops chasing an assailant, or maybe you are the assailant. The mercury is falling, the sky is dark and your rooftop journey comes to an end where the next building is just a little to far to reach, but luckily you spot a balcony you can reach. You breathe in take two steps back, say a little prayer then make your leap into the next chapter of the chase or the afterlife! We have seen this scene multiple times in films, we've day dreamed it, but do we really know about the brave people who bring this death defying acts to the screen?

Well today I want to introduce you to Chris Cordell, a Stunt Performer I was lucky enough to interview, in fact instead of me introducing him, I'll let him do it for you.
My names Christoph (Chris) Cordell I am 30 years old. I was born in Harlow and grew up and attended Passmores comprehensive before attending Harlow College where I studied Performing Arts and Dance. I left Harlow when I went to university after which I travelled the world. Moved to China, moved to Wales and somehow ended back in Essex.  I've been a fully qualified stunt performer for a year before that I was training and performing small stunt roles, whilst working at the Harlow Outdoor Pursuits Centre where I taught Rock climbing Kayaking and Archery.
I'm quite a competitive person and have competed in numerous activities including; Rugby, Gymnastics (men's artistic), Martial Arts (Wing Chun, Ninjutsu, and most recently Jiu Jitsu) and archery (110m compound) 
I met my fiancé Natasha 6 years ago and we're getting married next year in Vegas.

So without further ado, lets get to the questions.

1. Hello Chris, I apologise but I am going to ask you a very clichéd question first of all; why did you become a stuntman? Was there a certain moment in your life or did you kind of fall into the job (excuse the pun)? 

Actually a funny story. When I was 5 I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The Doctors told my parents that in order to help control my blood sugar levels, I should start some kind of sport. My brother was a very keen footballer, so that wasn't an option. My dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer was of course what every 5 year old wants. To become a power ranger. Seeing the opportunity in this my dad said "Well we better get you started with gymnastics and martial arts. So it began. I think it was a few years later I was about 10 when he asked me the same question. Still a keen martial artist and gymnast my reply was the same. He laughed and said "you do realise the power rangers aren't real they're just stuntmen!" So I replied "ok then I'll be one of them."  As I grew up on the gymnastics scene I met many other people either training or already working as stunt performers.

2. So Chris, I have done a little research and I have noticed that some people within your profession use the term Stuntman, and others Stunt Performer. Is there a reason for that? 

There is 2 main reasons for this. The first being that not all stuntmen are men. And secondly as things have grown in the stunt world we like to think of ourselves as performers and not just dummies for a beating or to use a stunt term "dope on a rope"

3. So how does one become a stuntman, is there a national governing body or association that keeps records or all the active stunt performer in the UK or is there a training school/s?  

Becoming a stunt performer does involve a lot of national governing bodies. The current requirements to join the British stunt register, is that you have a high level in at least 6 disciplines across a wide range of varieties including, agility, fighting, falling, driving, swimming, or if you hold a national title in any other discipline i.e. Olympic or Common wealth medal.

4. Are stunt performers a close knit community, do you guys team up a lot or is it more like being a freelancer?

Yes to both. Let me explain, we are a very close community. You have to be when you are trusting other people with your life. But we are all self employed and our work comes from the production companies and so it can be quite competitive especially with the coordinators. And most coordinators have regular teams that they work with. However we socialise when we can. We have a lot of charity events. Plus we often train together.

5. Speaking of Freelance, I understand you probably cannot state what you have earned in previous roles but how are you paid, is it a fixed annual some, or are you paid by stunt?  

Money is always a touchy subject with stunt performers so I will just say we have a daily rate and if we are asked to do anything beyond the basics ( fighting, low impact stunts) we get paid adjustments depending on what we are asked to do.

6. Are there many female Stunt performers? 

Yes there are. I think people would be surprised at how many female stunt men there are. The ratio is probably 1 in 3 stunt performers are female.

7. Going back to your work, what movies or TV shows have you acted in? 

I've only been on the stunt register for a year. So officially as a stunt performer I've only been in a few movies although that list does include Avengers age of Ultron. However whilst training I had the opportunity to act in many different projects as a spact (special action extra) which is not quite a background extra but not quite a stunt performer and doing this my credits include; Harry Potter, fast and furious 6, 47 Ronin and most recently Kingsman.

8. I also assume you have met some famous faces? Anyone in particular that stuck with you, or was fun to work with? 

During Avengers I was playing the Ultron reference which means I fought all of the main characters. However the highlight for me was when I walked through the trailer area and bumped into Stan Lee. I think my fiancée has come to terms with the fact that even on our wedding day this will still be the highlight of my life. 

9. If you could work with any actor or director, who would it be? 

I'd like to work on a Michael Bay movie for no other reason than he likes to blow shit up!! As for actors I'd like to work with can I say Emma stone or Megan fox? 

10. What was the most rewarding stunt that you ever performed in?

I don't think of performing stunts like that I think of the movies or the scenes. But that being said I spent 3 weeks filming the church scene for Kingsman with Colin Firth. And that was so much fun. Matthew Vaughn is an amazing director. 

11. Also were the any that made you just think ‘What the hell am I doing?’

Yes I did high diving as 1 of my disciplines. And I have no problem with height I'm not a good swimmer. And at one point standing 10m above the pool facing the wrong way about to jump head 1st backwards I did think is this worth it? Fortunately it was. 

12. Are there any stunts you want to do in the future? 

I really want to be set on fire! A full body burn is defiantly on the list. I also want to do a high fall. I have done small high falls about 50 feet but I'd like to just from a lot higher. 

13. Would you say that anyone could become a stunt performer, or does it take a certain knack? 

I also assume you have to have some sort of fitness regime? I think it takes a certain type of person to decide to be a stunt performer. It takes a lot of discipline and commitment I have to keep reminding myself of this especially when it's quiet and the phone isn't ringing. 

14. Moving on to the more technical side of things, say for example you have to jump through a window or you are preforming a rooftop chase, how much time and planning would go in to those stunts and is there specialist equipment required such as fake glass etc?. 

We have a saying amongst the stunt community and that is take as much rehearsal time as possible. For the bigger stunts you will rehearse for maybe a few weeks before hand it's important that as the performer you're happy with what your doing but also time is very limited. As for being thrown through a window or big explosions these things have to be reset after every take which can take time. Also it's not uncommon for the props guys to tell you that you only have 3 or 4 attempts because they only have that amount of props or pains of glass etc. No pressure! 

15. Do all stunt performers receive training in the same stunts? Or do you specialise into certain areas such as gunplay, wire work, car chases? 

Yes there are people that specialise in certain areas. Free running, driving, riding etc. but we all like to think we are good all rounders and can turn our hand to anything that is asked of them. That being said I don't know a single stunt performer that is happy with their limited ability. So they are constantly adapting and learning new skills which they can use. Or a stunt performer may be a similar build or look as an actor so they will receive intensive training in certain specialty areas. 

16. Have you received any serious injuries while on set? 

Not that I like to admit it but yes a few years ago I was performing a low budget stunt for an advert and I missed the crash Mat and broke my ankle. The production manager came over to me and said "Look I can see you're hurt so don't strain yourself. You get yourself off to hospital and we'll just get someone else in to do it!"

17. I also take it you get pretty decent insurance from your employers? 

My insurance isn't great I guess because I'm considered a risk so I have very low payouts if I die or seriously hurt myself although if I injure myself and I'm unable to work
for a few months the cover is very good which I guess is the reason I chose that option.

18. I think most of us in the audience understand the concept of a stuntman, but do you also need to be a good actor also? 

Yes acting is a massive part of being a stunt performer. Not necessarily talking but we have to sell the scene with our bodies and our reactions so acting is an essential part of the job. Also it's not just getting shot and fighting that stunt performers do we are essentially there to support the actors and we may even be asked to take on an acting roll as the character will be killed off at some point.  But most importantly and I've touched on this a few we are performers. 

19. Have you been given or gifted any cool merch in your work, or is it a case of stuff mysterious disappeared from the sets?

No I've taken a few sneaky photos on set but I've never taken anything. I did get given a prosthetic pig nose that I wore for an advert but that was only because I was wearing it all day and I had a cold. When I was on Harry Potter we were each given wands that we had to sign in and out. Some how on one of the nights I ended up with 2 wands but I'd only signed for 1 I was very excited about the thought that I might get to take home a hp wand but alas the props manager saw me and made me hand both in. 

20. Do you feel in all honesty that stunt performers are under appreciated? 

I mean when there is a block buster, everyone knows the actors but no one really mentions or knows of the Stunt Performers? Yes I do. I'll often stay behind at the end of a film to see the stunt credits just to see if it's anyone I know. But they're almost the last thing to come up just before the music.  I have been following a petition which is trying to get stunts recognised as an Oscar nomination which would mean so much to all the stunt performers out there who work really hard making the actors look good for no credit. There are stunt awards called the Taurus awards held every year in Hollywood. 

21. What advice would you give to any people wanting to get into the job? 

Simply, Train hard and believe in yourself. 

So ladies and gentleman, next time you go to the movies and you see a scene or a stunt that absolutely has you on the edge of your seat, think of the amazing men and women who took the time and care to deliver to you and remember to look for them in the credits!

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