Have you ever fantasized about being a superhero? Bobby Holland Hanton doesn't need to. He's done it time and again.
Though he's only been in the movie business since Quantum of Solace (2008), the young fit Brit stuntman has already worn the Batsuit, Thor's cape, James Bond's suits, and... well whatever it is anyone was wearing on the set of Green Lantern before it was replaced by CGI. You can see Bobby somewhere in the battle sequences of Maleficent at the moment, albeit much less foregrounded than he usually is due to doubling a who's who of A list leading men.
A former gymnast, he competed for Great Britain until he was 17, he lives a very regimented life. Before any shoot, he shifts the training to "match" the body of whoever he'll be stunt doubling for. He's stepped in on the difficult stuff for Christian Bale, Daniel Craig, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Channing Tatum. He's with Chris Hemsworth all the time now, which is hard work due to his size.
Hemsworth is huge and when he's Thor he's massive"
To prepare for The Avengers Age of Ultron he was training six days a week, twice a day to look like the God of Thunder. You'll see Bobby -- but you won't know you're seeing him since that's the magic and the craft -- as Hemsworth's more acrobatic twin on two 2015 pictures: Heart of the Sea and the superhero sequel. He's also doing Captain America stunt work on Ultron somehow though we hope not in the same scene.
I spoke to this in-demand stunt man by phone. Superpowerless mortal that I am, I couldn't very well fly to South Korea to drop in on the day's filming of The Avengers! He was out of Thor's wig on a rare early finish day (it's usually "six to six and longer") and he'd already had dinner, trained, showered and applied all his Dove Men + Care products*. He'll start the routine again the next day in the wee hours of the morning, for makeup and costuming, clipped and banded into Thor's long blond tresses all of which is rough on the hair and skin, hence the products. [*Yes, this is your requisite product placement scene within the movie. Bobby is a spokesperson for the line. I received a set in the mail after the interview which was a most welcome surprise.]
I'd never spoken to a stuntman before so at first I had to get the skinny on how one gets started. Gymnasts are naturals which should surprise no one...
[Bobby talks Hemsworth, Tatum, Batman & Bond AFTER THE JUMP...]
They live self-discipline and do obsessive training from a young age. They also already know how to hold and balance their bodies which makes wirework easier than it is for mere mortals.
In the UK, New Zealand and Australia, you have to qualify in at least six disciplines from around twelve to be put on an official registry of stuntmen. Film productions then use that registry to cast, searching for men and women who are both a good physical match and skilled in the exact type of work that that film and character will require. That's the abbreviated version.
Nathaniel R: Let's begin with Chris Hemsworth. This is your third time with him?
BOBBY HOLLAND HANTON: Third time, yes. We finished Heart of the Sea directed by Ron Howard, someone I've wanted to work with so definitely clicked a box there! We get on real well. We're really good friends. We talk about it and if it suits him I'll go with him on the movie. This [Age of Ultron] will be our second show back to back.
Is there any other particular reason that it's such a good fit as actor and stuntman? Are you exactly the same size?
No. Actually I'm 6'1" and Chris is 6'3" or 6'4" so I wear 2 and half-inch lifts.
You had to do stunts in lifts?
The first time I had to wear them [Thor: The Dark World] it was like trying to do stunts in high heels. I got to see how girls felt. That was quite difficult. I found if I wear them all the time religiously I get used to them. It was a very weird feeling in the beginning. Stunts in high heels.
Nathaniel R: [Laughter] If you're taller than the actor, do you have to shave off the bottom of your foot?
Not quite! It can be as simple as taking out the sole of your shoe. If you're slightly bigger, if it's an inch here or an inch there, you can kind of get away with it because we move through frame so fast. If you're quite a bit bigger you won't get away with it. Generally they keep it as close as possible because you have to look the part as well as do the stunt.
Nathaniel R: For the layperson can you give us an example of something the actor would do versus what you would do?
BOBBY HOLLAND HANTON: People I've doubled for like Chris Hemsworth and Channing Tatum, people of that build, stature ,and age - they're all very physical and more than capable. But it comes down to insurance reasons. A lot of times the actor wants to do it but if they were to get hurt or injured that production goes down. Some actors do get frustrated that they can't do certain things but that's what we do, that's what we're trained in. For example when I did The Dark Knight Rises, I was Christian Bale's stunt double. As Bruce Wayne he tries to climb out of prison and jumps and misses the ledge a couple of time It's a 100 ft fall and that's something he won't do that I will do. It's quite a dangerous stunt and we can't afford Christian to get injured. A lot of actors are happy to hand it over to the stunt man - 'That's your bag'
The important thing is if the audience sees it's the stunt guy than we're not doing our job properly.
Do actors ever get uncomfortable. Body language is part of acting, so are they ever like 'I would move this way'?
Sometimes. It depends on the actor and it depends on what it is, how much is being shot, how quick the shot in the frame is. Some actors kind of say 'I don't think I'd be moving like that' and you work with them.
The key to being a good stunt performer is being able to do it over again and again. Anyone can do something once but again again and again? That's when the skill level comes in. We get long rehearsal periods with actors where we can run through it. I've got a great relationship with Chris Hemsworth. I know what style he wants with certain characters. I'll go away and come up with what we can show him. If he likes it, we'll rehearse it. but most of the actors do a great job they're so physical.
What's your favorite costume to wear from the movies?
That's a hard one. When I doubled for James Bond you're in a really nice slick suit. It's easy to move in. You're comfortable. You can wear it all day. The Batsuit was difficult. We were in Pittsburgh in the summer. It was very very hot and you're in a rubber suit with a cowl over your face that restricts your view. That was difficult but to put that suit on is a childhood dream!
Thor - that's a cool costume as well. Certainly the most comfortable to do stunts in is the Bond suit.
I have to tell you I got angry watching Green Lantern because of the CG costumes after all the work Ryan Reynolds does to keep in shape.
Yeah, I know. To be fair, my boss Gary Powell who is the stunt coordinator for the all the Bonds, gave me the heads up. I knew Ryan was in fantastic shape. We weren't too sure if it was going to be a full or part CG costume. We can't afford to take that risk and not be in the shape we need to. To be safe you try to be in the shape the actor is already in. You get a few months to get to that level. It ended up being the whole suit that was CG and technically none of us had to train but we're in pretty good shape so it didn't make a difference to us. I understand what you mean but they're never going to choose an overweight actor for that kind of role.
Nathaniel R: Do you ever cheat on your diet and training and eat junk food?
BOBBY HOLLAND HANTON: I need one day as a reward. My reward day is generally a Sunday. No training, complete relaxation. I'll eat whatever I want: a lot of chocolate, sweets, fizzy drinks, carbs. But if you've got a special scene coming up where your arms are out or your tops off than the cheat day becomes one cheat meal to get the shape you need to get.
One meal! You can tell a difference?
If I have one cheat day a week [versus] one cheat meal for six weeks, I notice a huge difference in body fat for sure.
Whoa. So strict. When you are doubling for someone, are there also other stunt doubles? Groups of Thors hanging around or just you and the actor?
I'm with Chris now all the time so it's just me. But when we did Bond for Daniel I think there were four or five of us. One is a specialist driver Ben Collins, the original Stig. Then we had another guy Lee Morrison who did the motorbike. I'm the physical acrobat, jumping around the parkour. There are four or five of us because of the skill set for a secret agent. But it depends on the level of job and the movie. Batman in The Dark Knight Rises it was just me.
Big movies are often secretive but did you get a list of everything action-wise in Age of Ultron ahead of time?
You get a rough idea of what you need to do, what's coming up, and then a long rehearsal period. The rehearsals is so you get it right and stay safe. Obviously things get tweaked on the day due to what the director wants or the actor but you get as much stuff ready to go as possible at the beginning of the movie.
Maleficent is in theaters now so Jupiter Ascending is the next movie you have coming out.
I was doubling Channing Tatum.
That must have been a lot of aerial work.
I can't really say too much but I think everyone is going to be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
But you had the pointy ears and all of it?
Full costume! Channing is an absolute pleasure to work with. If he wasn't an actor he'd be a top stuntman. He picks up stuff so quickly. He's got a dancing background so he moves really well. Lovely guy.
You're in such good shape you should be in Magic Mike 2 with him.
[Laughter] That would be good.