“The Fall Guy” Stunt Designer Chris O’Hara on Helping Create Ryan Gosling’s Gonzo Performance

Hollywood couldn’t have found a more perfect director for Ryan Gosling’s stuntman rom-com The Fall Guy (in theaters now) than David Leitch. A body double-turned-stunt supervisor on dozens of movies, including John Wick, he understood the stunt world firsthand before moving into the director’s chair for Deadpool 2 and Bullet Train. To oversee stunts on The Fall Guy, co-starring Emily Blunt and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Leitch enlisted longtime compadre Chris O’Hara, who boasts some 90 action credits, including a stint as Hugo Weaving’s stunt double in Matrix 2, along with three Jason Bourne films and the hair-raising Baby Driver.

Intent on saluting the craft of physical stunts in the age of digital effects, The Fall Guy features boat jumps, fights, car chases and a record-breaking “cannon roll,” in which stunt driver Logan Holladay somersaulted a jeep eight and a half times before tumbling to an upside down stop.

O’Hara, speaking from a closed-off stretch of Hollywood Boulevard ahead of The Fall Guy‘s red carpet premiere, breaks down the movie’s most riveting action sequences and describes the one kind of stunt he won’t do.


You are officially designated as “Stunt Designer” for The Fall Guy, the first time that title has been used. What does that mean to you?

David Leitch and [producer] Kelly McCormick realized the real scope of what a stunt coordinator does, so to give me the honor of being the first one to have that title — it’s pretty cool. Hopefully, I’ll be the first of many stunt designers out there because I think we can all stand to get a little more recognition

The Academy Awards will now recognize casting directors and of course, production designers and costume designers have their own categories. Maybe the time will come when “Stunt Designer” becomes an Oscar-recognized award category.

This stunt designer credit hopefully brings light to the fact that I am designing the action for the film. Right now it’s about educating [people in the Academy] about what stunts really mean to the film business. Stunts have been part of movies since the silent film era ever since Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, who were both actors and stunt men.

Left to right: Stunt designer Chris O’Hara, second from left, on set of “The Fall Guy” set with (left to right) Bob Brown, Troy Brown and David Leitch. Photo credits on all: Eric Laciste/Universal Pictures

Since Fall Guy director David Leitch shares your background in stunts, did you have a shorthand talking through the film’s big action scenes?

Dave and I grew up in the business together. There were six of us kind of spending every day together training, and we also lived together for a year or two. So, coming from the world of stunt performers made The Fall Guy a personal thing for both of us. We wanted to do the stunt community justice by being as factual as we could be. I think people are excited to see practical stunts where there’s no question that they were really done [physically rather than digitally].

L to R: Director David Leitch and Ryan Gosling (as Colt Seavers) on the set of THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

I wonder if stunt performers, by nature, have a bit of a wild streak?

I wouldn’t call it wild, and I wouldn’t say it’s [being a] thrill seeker. I look at what we do as, we’re professional athletes. We all come from different disciplines, be it moto-cross racing, car driving, gymnastics, or martial arts, and we’re very calculated in what we do. Everybody sees these grandiose action scenes, like, “Oh my God, it’s got to be so crazy!’ But they don’t see the six or eight weeks of prep, where we’re taking baby steps. Engineers are involved, numbers and math, we have trajectory patterns showing what a car’s going to do at this angle at this speed with this weight. Stunts have turned into a very educated profession. We’re creating the illusion of danger by eliminating the risk.

THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

The Fall Guy set a Guinness World Record when a Jeep Grand Cherokee fitted with a hidden propulsive cannon raced down a beach in Australia and turned over eight and a half times. How did you bump it up to eight rolls?

Working out the cannon pressure is a big thing. We had a couple of rehearsals and learned that too much pressure creates more “up” than it does forward momentum, which means that a lot of your energy is going down into the ground when you land. But [what you want is] kind of similar to trying to skip the perfect rock: you want to keep it low and keep that speed up so you can get twenty skips.

L to R: Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers and Emily Blunt is Judy Moreno in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

Filming the cannon roll on a beach must have only added to the challenge.

A lot of our tests were done on softer sand, which is more grippy and more absorbing. The day we accomplished the eight and a half rolls, we had our ground crew rolling over and watering the beach starting at 4 in the morning to around noon when we did the stunt. All those hours, they were going up and down the beach to compact the sand because we wanted to create the hardest surface that we could to keep all the energy. The first cannon roll ever was done on a beach by stunt performer Jerry McCartney for this [1974] John Wayne movie called McQ. It was great to do this on a beach as an homage.

And to capture this on film, you must have had a very fast camera car out of frame?

In our procession for that take, the vehicle that was leading everything was this Australian camera car guy who got us up to 80 miles an hour in front of shooting the camera car shooting [movie within the movie] Metal Storm.


It must have been exhilarating to pull off that stunt.

We caught lightning in a bottle when all the factors lined up. Honestly, it was a perfect stunt with the cannon roll going dead-center down the beach. [Stunt driver] Logan [Holloway] is an absolute professional and it’s his lifetime of training that set him up for this special stunt on this special movie at this special time.

The boat jump also must have been tricky to execute.

We worked hand in hand with the special effects guys. They have engineers on their staff who can calculate a bunch of stuff. For the boat jump, we knew how fast we were going to go, we knew the angle of the ramp, and we put those calculations into a computer. We also do testing with the boat and the ramp, we video it, we watch it in slo-mo, we go ‘This landed at 40 feet, we want to be at 50 feet, so let’s go 26 miles an hour instead of 24.’ Like I said before, you take all these baby steps to achieve great things you see in the final product.

SPOILER ALERT – Ryan Gosling played a stunt guy before in Drive, and here he’s doing a 15-story jump for real in the opening sequence. How did you set that up?

It’s basically a one-er. We take Ryan from a trailer outside all the way into the building, where he has a discussion behind the video village, then jumps on an elevator and takes it 190 feet up. He gets out of the elevator, goes right out onto the platform, gets hooked up by our stunt team, and Ryan basically leans back over the abyss, 190 feet up in the air, and we drop him. Ryan’s big thing is, he is afraid of heights, but this really benefited the story. Stunts aren’t gratuitous in The Fall Guy — we let the story drive the action.

Sometimes, even the best-laid plans go awry. Over the course of your 30-year career, have you ever been injured on set?

I can honestly say that I’ve never been hurt at work. I’ve been hurt living the lifestyle. Riding moto-cross, I’ve broken my collar bone and blown out my knee, but that’s just stuff I enjoy doing in my personal time. But I’ve never been hurt at work. For all of us [stunt people], getting hurt is kind of frowned upon. Don’t forget that key phrase: create the illusion of danger by eliminating the risk. That’s what we do.

Growing up in upstate New York you excelled in gymnastics, then got into aerial skiing. When you first arrived in L.A. to become a stunt performer, did you have a specialty?

My niche was that I was a six-foot-tall college gymnast, and there were only three of four guys who had that size and skill set, so that set me apart from everybody else. Now, I’m not the best at everything — maybe the acrobatic aspect I’m pretty good at.

Any stunts you won’t do?

The only thing I didn’t want to do was horses. Early in my career, I saw a friend of mine do a horse fall. The horse reared up and fell on him, so I was, “Oh my God, I never want to do that.” I know there’s a bunch of cowboys out there who know how to handle horses, so I’ll leave that to them.


For more on The Fall Guy, check out these stories: 

“The Fall Guy” Sound Designer Mark Stoeckinger on Capturing Ryan Gosling’s Wild Ride

Ryan Gosling and Mikey Day Appear at “The Fall Guy” Premiere as Beavis and Butt-Head

Ryan Gosling’s Off the Rails in New “The Fall Guy” Trailer

Featured image: Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch



Hugh Hart

Hugh Hart has covered movies, television and design for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wired and Fast Company. Formerly a Chicago musician, he now lives in Los Angeles with his dog-rescuing wife Marla and their Afghan Hound.