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These stunt performers want a shot at the Oscars. The Fall Guy wants to help

Explosions. Death-defying falls. Swords, guns, car crashes and balls of fire. 

For some, those are terrifying possibilities of a day gone very wrong. But for the new film The Fall Guy, and the stunt performers it seeks to celebrate, it’s just another day at the office.

The new film, starring Ryan Gosling and helmed by stuntman-turned-director David Leitch, ostensibly tells the story of stuntman-turned-investigator Colt Seavers. But at its heart, The Fall Guy is actually about showcasing the indispensable contribution of Hollywood’s stunt performers, and — as Gosling recently said at an L.A. red carpet event for the film: “This movie is just a giant campaign to get stunts an Oscar.”

While there’s been a long-running campaign to do just that, getting the contributions of those workers acknowledged at film’s biggest night has been an uphill battle with seemingly no end in sight.

CBC News talked to three stunt performers from around the country about why it matters to have their work recognized and what it means that The Fall Guy is trying so hard to accomplish it. 

Angelica Lisk-Hann

As the first Black female stunt co-ordinator in Canada, Toronto’s Angelica Lisk-Hann has seen firsthand how much the industry has changed. 

“It’s funny. I remember when I first started performing stunts, the term was ‘Meat Puppet,’ ” she said, of what stunt performers were often called. ” ‘Yeah, here’s some money for the rental of your body for the day,’ type of situation.”

WATCH | She’s fighting to get the stunt industry the recognition it deserves: 

Canada’s first Black female stunt co-ordinator is fighting for the field’s recognition

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Toronto-based stunt co-ordinator Angelica Lisk-Hann says the field of stunt performance is integral to the film industry.

Things have improved since the early days of her career, and that’s partly because of Lisk-Hann herself. After learning that the Canadian Screen Awards did not have a stunt category, she started a campaign to include one.

After seeing the category added to the 2020 ceremony, Lisk-Hann took home the very first stunt trophy for her work on the Canadian drama series Mary Kills People. Now, she says, the goal is to get the same recognition for stunt performers at the Academy Awards.

Other awarding bodies have made moves to celebrate stunts, including the Screen Actors Guild, the Taurus World Stunt Awards and the Vulture Stunt Awards. But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organizing body for the Oscars, has been hesitant to do the same, and Lisk-Hann finds that confusing.

“It is ‘Arts and Sciences,’ right?” she said, noting that in The Fall Guy, there’s a classic stunt known as a cannon roll that features a performer doing eight and a half revolutions in a car crash. “The old record was seven. Do you think that took some science?”

A smiling group of athletic looking people pose in a gym.
Angelica Lisk-Hann, centre, poses with her Toronto stunt team. She helped get a stunt category introduced at the Canadian Screen Awards and says she wants the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to include a stunt category at the Oscars. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Lisk-Hann believes some of that hesitancy is because there’s a resistance to acknowledging that A-list actors onscreen aren’t always performing the astounding feats that audiences witness. 

But the reality, she explains, is that nearly every iconic character is built equally by their primary actor and their stunt performer. She points to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar for best actor in The Revenant — and the well-known scene in which his character, played by a stunt performer, is attacked by a bear.

Each of those performances was equally important to building the character, Lisk-Hann says, but only one took home a trophy.

“Without Leo, there’s no award,” she said. “Without the stunter, there’s no award.”

Lauro Chartrand-DelValle

Vancouver’s Lauro Chartrand-DelValle always knew he wanted to be in movies — just not as a standard actor. 

When he was just eight years old, he went to see a Chuck Norris movie with his mother and told her that was what he wanted to do when he grew up. 

“And she said, ‘What, be like Chuck Norris?’ And I said ‘No, like the guy he’s kicking through the wall.'”

WATCH | His most memorable stunt almost saw him ‘scraped off the pavement’: 

Stunt performer Lauro Chartrand-DelValle was almost ‘scraped off the pavement’

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Vancouver stunt performer Lauro Chartrand-DelValle talks the realities of stunt work — and why the field deserves a nod at the Oscars. 

After his first stunt role on the TV series MacGyver in 1991, he moved on to stepping in for stars like Antonio Banderas, and appearing in films including The Cabin in the Woods, Rumble in the Bronx, 2012Deadpool and the new series Shogun.

Despite the head-on motorcycle collisions, 70-foot free falls and fights Chartrand-DelValle has performed, he says the primary intent of his work as a stunt actor is to be forgotten.

“I remember when I first started, my mom was always so excited: ‘Oh, can’t wait to see you in this movie,’ ” he recalled, adding that he would tell her she probably wouldn’t see him. “If you see me, I didn’t do my job properly.”

In the earlier days of film, Chartrand-DelValle says stunt performers rarely asked for or received any credit, and for stunt performers to appear in the credits at all was rare. 

While he says the work alone used to be enough, there’s a growing trend for stunt performers to share in the accolades and earn an acknowledgement of their importance in a story’s creation. 

LISTEN | The long fight to get stunt performers an Oscar category:

26:35Missing in Action: the decades-long effort to get stunt workers their Oscar due

“When you’re not invited to the party, that always hurts a little bit,” he said. And when a movie that does well is celebrated for its action scenes, he says he can’t help but wonder, “Who provided that action?”

But Chartrand-DelValle says The Fall Guy is a step in the right direction. 

“Everybody’s really proud and excited that it may bring the recognition that stunt people deserve.”

Jean Frenette

Montreal stunt performer and co-ordinator Jean Frenette has a special interest in the success of The Fall Guy.

A longtime stuntman with credits stretching back four decades, Frenette not only worked alongside David Leitch in Deadpool 2 and 300, the two are close friends.

WATCH | The ‘dream job’ of a stuntman: 

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Montreal’s Jean Frenette has been in the stunt business for four decades. The work is sometimes life-threatening, but he says it’s like nothing else.

Because of that, he says he knows firsthand how hard Leitch and his team have pushed to showcase the importance of stunt work. 

“Not saying that it is the most important thing, but it’s a collaborative effort,” he said. “So everybody’s putting in the effort to make it a success.”

Frenette says part of the reason The Fall Guy is focusing on that work is because of how much audiences already appreciate the work stunt performers do.

“People are not stupid nowadays. They can tell if there’s been a cheat or some visual effects little trick happening at some point to replace the real guy,” he said.

“When you see Tom Cruise or the other guys doing the real thing — at some point you need a stunt double, but still it’s a human being doing it, [and] it makes a big difference.”

WATCH | Ryan Gosling helps audiences fall for The Fall Guy: 

The Fall Guy is a goofy, over-the-top love letter to stunt performers

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Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt have some real chemistry, but our reviewers are split on whether their silly-sweet romance saves epic action-comedy The Fall Guy from itself.

When it comes to the stunt performers themselves, he says the reason they continue to pursue it despite the danger and lack of recognition is because of a love for the craft.

“When you’re a kid … you just play,” he said. “Now we’re doing the same thing. We’re grown-ups and we’re kind of doing the same thing.”

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