“Fast X” Stunt Coordinator Andy Gill on [Safely] Going Pedal to the Metal
Fast X roared into theaters this past weekend and delivered another pedal-to-the-metal, physics-melting action adventure. Director Louis Leterrier steered the tenth installment, which finds Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) and his beloved family of gearheads facing off against a ferocious villain with a passion to burn Dom and the family to the ground. There’s a reason why Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa) is so hellbent on destroying the Family—they took down his father, the Brazilian drug kingpin Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), in Rio de Janeiro in Fast Five (2011). Dante saw the whole thing do down, and he’s been plotting his revenge ever since.
We spoke with 2nd unit stunt coordinator Andy Gill, who has been a major part of the Fast & Furious franchise since Fast Five, about how he helped create the craziest entry yet. And that’s saying something for a franchise that managed to shoot a few of its characters into space—in a car—in F9. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You started with the franchise around Fast Five, which is a fan-favorite. Yet every film has had to up the level of mayhem from the last, so how have you helped maintain the balance between practical effects and over-the-top lunacy?
That’s always a fight. We get the scripts, and Spiro [Razatos], the second unit director and I will read it and break it down. Sometimes I’ll just tell him, “I don’t think this is a good idea. It’s superhero stuff. He can’t jump 400 feet and save the girl. It’s stupid.” So we think about it and go, “Okay, let’s give the director alternatives. What can we do physically that’s going to look good?” We’ll take those ideas to the director, pitch them, and hopefully, they’ll see it our way.
When Dom is behind the wheel, what’s the most accurate driving style for him?
Dom is aggressive. He’s not going to back down, so everything he does has a purpose. He’s calculated, and he is not afraid. He knows what he’s capable of, what his car’s capable of, so he can take it further than anybody can. In the Fast Series, he knows exactly what RPM to shift. He knows exactly when to hit the NOS. He’s in tune with his cars. Every once in a while, we do talk about him making a mistake, but it’s usually not in the movie. When you think about it, he never makes a mistake.
Since you’re coordinating stunts for familiar characters with familiar styles, how does it feel when you get a clean slate like Jason Momoa’s villain?
I was a little bit worried because he was on a motorcycle. We all know about actors on motorcycles. It’s always hit or miss. A lot of them will say they do ride, but they rode 20 years ago on a mini bike. Jason comes in, and he says he rides motorcycles. I did some digging, and he does ride motorcycles, but I still wanted to have a day with him out at a big parking lot to see how he really rides. He did phenomenally. I think he has 102 motorcycles or something.
So that whole [motorcycle] sequence, probably 95% of it is him on the motorcycle. He didn’t do the stairs, but everything else he did. He’s rode everything. Super easy to work with.
Make your job a lot easier.
Some actors have this entourage that comes with them, and you’re supposed to have them for an hour, and they come in 30 minutes late, and they leave 10 minutes early. He was most of the time early, did the work, and did not want to leave. He goes, “No, I want to ride some more.” I was like, “Sorry, they need you back at the first unit.”
What steps do you take when you work with an actor completely unfamiliar with a motorcycle?
I will get with the director and find out how much time they want to put in to make him look like he can really ride if he has little knowledge of motorcycles. Usually, if it’s a lead character, they’ll want to put the time and effort in if the actor’s willing. First of all, you have to find out if the actor wants to. If o, then we’ll get a mini bike and go out in some dirt and do the basics. Go through where the clutch is, the front brake, the back brake, and the gear shift lever, and have him go through the motions. They’re not moving, but then we’ll work on that for an hour and a half until they know where everything is.
I’ll start it up with him on it, and then I’ll stand in front holding the crossbar on the handlebars. I’ll say, “Okay, put it in gear, and now let the clutch out slowly.” Then I’ll slowly walk with it backward until they’re gone. Then I’ll say, “Stop,” so I can make sure that he knows how to stop. We go through that sequence and just build up. Builds confidence for them. We’ll start riding around, but I’ll only tell him first gear. Once I feel comfortable with them doing that, then we’ll go from first to second until they’re riding. Once they ride a bit, then I’ll put them on a 125, a little four-stroke, and work our way up to the bike that they’re going to be on. Over a few days or a week, they’re comfortable.
When do you become comfortable enough with actors on the bike so you can start filming?
I’ll take them through the things where I’ll be on a bike beside them, and I’ll just say, “You just ride, and when I say stop, you stop. It could be at any time.” They’ll be riding, and we’re talking. All of a sudden, I’ll just yell, “Stop.” That way, I know that they’re not thinking about where the brakes are. Once they know that, then I’m comfortable getting them on a bike. I normally have the locations find me some places that are industrial parks that are closed down. You have the roads, and you have all the stop signs and everything else, but not a lot of traffic. We’ll go out there and just play. Ride, ride, ride. And then, when I feel it’s good enough, we’ll go on a nice ride for a day. Now, he’s ready. It’s just all about the time to put into it. You just need the time.
Fast X is in theaters now.
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Featured image: FAST X, directed by Louis Leterrier. Courtesy Universal Pictures.