Stunt Icon Vic Armstrong on His New Memoir and Saving Spider-Man From CGI
There are stuntmen, and then there are stuntmen. And then there is Vic Armstrong -- stunt legend turned action director and now the author of the memoir The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman: My Life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Movie Heroes. A bit of a mouthful, sure, and kind of braggadocious for Armstrong's tastes. But it's not like it's not true.
After all, the collected anecdotes and testimonials from Armstrong collaborators including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Angelina Jolie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martin Scorsese and numerous others affirm both his longevity and skill in front of and behind the camera. (He just finished second-unit directing on Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man.) But he is also humble and appreciative about the career he's sustained in a dangerous, competitive field compromised further by the advance of CGI.
Armstrong spoke to Movieline this week about what finally compelled him to tell his story, his advice for up-and-comers, what we're missing about George Lucas, Oscars for stunts, and making Andrew Garfield fly.
I was surprised to hear you had your memoirs coming out, if only because I thought you'd written them years ago. What took so long, and why now?
To be quite honest, I never wanted to write because I thought, "Who the heck would want to read them?" I've been approached by lots of people over the years to sort of write them; you know, you meet someone at a party and they say, "Oh, you must write a book." I've had a lot of people approach me, and I just didn't like the approach they were taking -- all that crash and burn, all the accidents, all that sort of stuff. That's not what I'm about, you know? But then I met Robert Sellers. He came to see me, and I looked at the work he'd done before, and I just thought it was a very honest approach to it all. So I sort of succumbed.
The World's Greatest Stuntman? Did you choose that title? How do you feel about it?
I certainly did not. I'm a little embarrassed by that; I wouldn't have picked that. That was the publishers, I think.
Well, it's probably appropriate?
Enh. I don't like it.
What was the process of writing this? How many memories just stuck with you versus the ones you had to be reminded of?
I was astonished. I had nothing at all written down, and Robert's approach was that he'd come round, get his tape recorder out, and he'd say, "OK, we're going from '65 to '70." And he had a list of all the films I worked on. I did have a list of films; years ago, I started keeping a list as a young man just to keep track of what I was doing. And he'd say, "OK, such and such film," and it all came back to me every time he mentioned a film. The anecdotes in the book just cropped up in my mind, and I could visualize doing it exactly like that. I was astonished, actually. It was really easy.
Do you ever watch your older films, or did you ever watch them for this project?
Very rarely, very rarely. I've got lots of copies of the Indiana Joneses and the Bonds. I always buy copies now that they're coming out on DVD. I used to get them on tape, but now they're on DVD I keep them just for posterity or whatever. For grandkids, that kind of thing -- so they can look and say, "Oh, look, there's granddad!" And also, I've done a lot of voiceovers on the making-ofs on the special editions of the DVD. It's always nice to have those -- just sort of a record as it were.
Things have changed over the decades, I imagine. If you could give aspiring stunt professionals one bit of advice for breaking into films and TV today, what would it be?
It's basically perseverance. You must have a specialty that you're great at, and then try to sell that specialty to someone, somewhere, sometime. And if you're lucky, you'll get your break. But it's mostly perseverance, and I'd hate to be starting nowadays. There's just so much competition -- and good competition -- out there. There are some fantastic young people, and it's a tough world to break into. Perseverance is the only way you'll get through it.
How do contemporary stunt professionals match up against those from your era? Are they as bold? As ambitious? As visionary?
I think they're ambitious, and nowadays it is viewed as a profession. I looked upon it as a profession when I got into the business, but it wasn't really looked upon [that way] by lots of other people in those days. It was a great job that they did, as well as something else in those days -- especially in Europe. But people look at it and see the success people have had. It's also become much more publicized these days. When I did it, you never heard of stuntmen. But then were people like Harrison Ford and guys like that talking about us and praising us. We have our own awards and things like that. It's very much in the public eye. I think kids are aware of what it is, and they know what it is, and they've got any athletic talent or whatever, they tend to channel it toward stunt work now.
Should stunt performers have their own Oscar category?
I think 100 percent we should. It's ridiculous that we don't. Having said that, I don't think we ever will get accepted. I'm in the Academy, and we keep having petitions and votes and everything, but it doesn't seem to get anywhere. I think it is ridiculous when you have two categories for editing, two categories for sound, you've makeup separate, you've got wardrobe separate -- all these things that are all deserving in their own way. In the old days they used to lump visual effects in with special effects, and I think they can find a way to put us in there. Because whenever you see a movie that wins a special effects award, it's not a visual effects award. It's an award where 99.9 percent it's all the action in the movie. It's all the stunts! So I think we should be recognized. But we're not, and I don't think we ever will.
You've worked for years with George Lucas, who catches a lot of flack culturally for reworking his films, for re-releasing them, messing with their legacies, etc. As a colleague, what do you think people don't get about him and his creative ambitions?
I think that's it: They don't see the creativity there. They look at Star Wars as though it's always been there -- as though it's been plucked out of the sky. They seem to forget that this guy visualized this, wrote it, and started off in the middle of these nine episodes. The guy is a visionary, and he's one of the sharpest guys you'll ever meet, and one of the most generous as well. I have a wonderful relationship with the man. He's been absolutely wonderful to me; been very generous, having given me my first directing job. And he is a visionary. He's reworking the movies to make them better, I feel; it's not because of the money, because he's got enough of that. He's doing it to improve the movies -- do things to them that he didn't have the technology to do to them in the olden days. He's far ahead of his time; he's the one who really pushed the boundaries of visual effects, and he did it in a very, very good way. I think it's been abused since by other people, but George has a great approach to it. I think people just take it for granted that Star Wars is there, and therefore this person is tinkering with what they think is their legacy. But really, they're his baby. He's totally entitled to it, I think.
Pages: 1 2