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4/19/07

THE IMMORTAL STUNTSMAN : An interview with Hollywood's Persian Stuntman Darren Shahlavi

By Darius KADIVAR

 


©darrenshahlavi.com

 

 

I do all the stunts myself, except for the love scenes of course... 

 - Roger Moore on his portrayal's of James Bond

 

 

If there is anything in movies that cannot be faked even despite the great technical wizardry of digital effects its : The Stuntman. A profession popularized in a US TV series of the mid 80's The Fall Guy starring the former Bionic Man Lee Majors, it is without doubt one of the most crucial and yet underestimated professions in the film industry. If like many you have always wondered how Charlton Heston won his Race in Ben Hur or how Roger Moore as James Bond can fall off a plane without a parachute and hang on Jaws' leg while fighting him in the sky and making it to safety, well here is their secret: ITS NOT THEM !

 

That is the Stuntman's job. Some have become Legends such as the late Yakima Canutt whose credits in such films as Ben Hur or Spartacus as well as numerous Westerns earned him the respect of both his colleagues and some of Hollywood's greatest directors. Other's like French Rémy Julienne have coordinated over 1000 film stunts including most of James Bond's spectacular ones and continue to work to this day. Few actors such as Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Alain Delon or Jean Paul Belmondo can be credited for doing their own stunts on screen. It is a profession that requires a great deal of accuracy and self-confidence without which accidents often mortal can happen as was the case on such films as Darryl Zanuck's The Longest Day during which several dangerous parachute scenes over Normandy caused the accidental death of several stuntmen as well as in the case of a crucial airplane scene in Steven Spielberg's Adventurers of the Lost Ark. The use of blue screens and digital effects has greatly reduced the use of stuntmen in Hollywood as compared to earlier years of the industry, but many physical scenes still require the use of professional stuntmen and not just in Asian Kung-Fu films that since the advent of Bruce Lee have become a reference for an entire generation. Darren Shahlavi is one of these remarkable stuntmen/actors who has worked on such films like BloodRayne alongside Sir Ben Kingsley Les Anges Gardiens with French Stars Gérard Depardieu and Christian Clavier and served as stunt double to Ray Liotta in In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. His latest work was on the upcoming Swords and Sandals Warner Bros. film 300  directed by Zack Snyder about the Epic Greek- Persian Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C opposing 300 Spartans to the Massive Army Of King Xerxes of Persia.

 

 

Darius KADIVAR : (DK) : Tell us a little about yourself and background ? How did you get into this profession ?

 

Darren Shahlavi (DS) : I was born in Stockport England, I started Martial arts when I was 7 years old, my father took my brother and I to  study Judo, we trained in a local drama hall. I loved Martial arts and would be early for class and watch the drama students and took great interest in acting. So I found both my loves at a very early age, I also trained in Kickboxing under 6 time world champion Ronnie Green and Karate with Dave Morris and Horace Harvey and did all I could to pursue a career as a Martial artist/Actor. When I was 16 I contacted and became friends with then Magazine editor and now producer/writer Bey Logan and he hired me as his assistant on the film Gun n' Rose a Hong Kong film shot in England, he then Hired me as the star of a film he wrote and off I went to Malaysia, unfortunately the financing fell through, but fortunately his partner and stunt co-ordinator Mark Houghton let me stay on and taught me a lot about Hong Kong film fighting and I worked for him on some tv Movies. Later I went to Hong Kong and got the chance to work for mark again and other action Directors like Yuen Wo Ping, Phillip Ko Fai, and Tony Leung Siu Hong, I appeared a villain in some films like Wo Ping's " Tai Chi 2 " (aka Tai Chi Boxer) with Wu Jing. Then went to the US and worked on low budget films as a lead actor, starting with a film written by Keith Strandberg for NG See Yuen of Seasonal films. I was the lead bad guy in their movie Bloodmoon with Gary Daniels and Chuck Jeffreys and directed by Tony Leung. I did a few other low budget films then when the boom of the 90's action films has died I decided to concentrate on working on bigger films which are actually seen by people ! I've recently been doing supporting roles in the bigger budget films and lead roles in smaller interesting films. I also work as a stunt performer.

 

DK: You have been working on the much-expected Warner Bros. Film 300, what kind of stunts is required on such a film vehicle?

 

DS: this film was pretty much all fights, spears against swords single and double and lots of hits and falling to the ground, some wire work and horse stunts are in there too, Stunt co-ordinator Damon Caro is a head instructor from Dan Inosanto's academy as is Chad Stahelski who was Keanu Reeves double in all Martix films, these guys put together some fantastic scenes with truly well planned and unique choreography. This film is based on Frank Miller's Graphic novel "300." Every day
I was on set with Zack Snyder, the stars of the film and the stunt team of which I was a part of, the main concern of Zack's was to remain faithful to Frank Miller's work and make a kick ass action film that looks amazing. The stunt team was comprised of two halves, those playing Spartans and those playing Persians and both sides where made up of the best stunt performers / fighters available from LA,
Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal and great attention was put into the
training, weapons and tactics and choreography for each side. I think
the action and visual effects are groundbreaking. I also think the most evil character in the film is Theron and the most pathetic Ephialtes, both Greeks! ...

 

 

DK: Were you cast as a Persian or Greek or both?

 

DS: I wasn't cast by the Director, I worked for Damon and Chad, most of the time my face is covered up, I was a Persian infantry and an Immortal (with the silver masks) and a Persian scout and even a Spartan when they needed us! Their was defiantly camaraderie between all the stunt guys on either side so that was fun, I felt I was there defiantly on the Persian side to use my skills to make the Persians look strong as  fighters against the Spartans, but we also had to use our skills with reactions to make the Spartans look powerful too! That's filmmaking!!.

 


On set with Jackie Chan, Ben Kingsley, Gérard Depardieu
& Christian Clavier ©darrenshahlavi.com

 

DK: Do you need to have acting skills to be a good stuntman? 

 

DS: Acting skills at least physically are a must in my opinion, on 300 we were stunt actors, using both skills all the same time. It is like shooting a silent film we are very theatrical and it helps to know the camera angles, lenses, lighting and film speed all this I learned as an actor, many of the stunt guys on our team have plenty of acting experience.

 

DK : How have digital effects like working in front of a blue screen changed the nature of your profession ? Has it greatly reduced the danger or thrill you get in your job ?

 

DS : The risk in doing stunts is always there, one of our team members broke his leg simply by another guy falling on him as he was playing dead ! the kind of stunts we did on 300 and what I specialize in are fights, when I do fights there is no adrenaline rush for me, it is a calculated dance of rhythm and timing, movement and technique the only thrill comes when I watch a good take.

One of the main things that blue screen shooting allows, is for the FX team to have us repeat fights and movement many times and digitally place us next to ourselves to increase the number of people in a battle scene, so unfortunately their may often be less work for other stunt performers.

Their where 44 members of our stunt team and they had to make it look like 300 Spartans and hundreds of thousands of Persians, by replicating us.

 

DK: Which of your films have required the most difficult stunts to date?

 

DS: I don't really do much of what I'd say is obviously dangerous, working with actors who are the stars of the movie is where you use most caution, I just did a film with Ben Stiller, "Night at the museum" where we had Battle scene with canons and rifles with bayonets, and Ben Stiller has to run through it and dive out of my way as I'm flipping through the air, we use extreme caution in cases like this or when I was Boxing Eddie Murphy in "I-Spy" because in productions point of view with the films star in these shots they are considered dangerous that's why we are there, to use caution and ensure safety of the actor.

 


The Blood is only make belief not the muscles ©darrenshahlavi.com

 

DK: How do the actors you double react to the fact that they are not actually doing the dangerous action scenes? Do they talk to you after a take or in between scenes?

 

DS: Most actors like to say they do their own stunts, many of them are under the impression they are doing stunts because there is a stunt co-ordinator there and a double if needed, but in general I've found most stars appreciate a stunt double  and their only concern is that the audience can't tell it's a double and rightly so. Everyone is communicative about action and safety but when they have important dialogue coming up it's their private time as far as I'm concerned.

 

DK: How many hours do you train in a day ?

 

DS: it varies, 30-60 minutes cardio, 30-45 minutes weight lifting, 20 minutes stretching and martial arts training and choreography with a small group of friends.

 

DK : Is there a school where one can learn your craft ? What are the minimum requirements to become a stuntman and do you yourself teach it to eager aspiring students?

 

DS: Many places have what they call stunt schools and many unions and co-ordinators require a certain amount of experience, I do not teach stunts, though many people have courses, but do your research. Most work is got through good solid references, one should be as well trained in as much as possible, Martial arts, fencing, Climbing, swimming, horses, Cars, high falls, firearms, burns, gymnastics and the list goes on the more you know and the experience therein gives you a better chance of being hired, the most important is safety awareness and professionalism. 

 

DK: What are your interests outside Stunts ?

 

DS: Training and watching movies and hanging out with friends takes up most of my time, I love art so I'm getting back into painting, my father is a fantastic designer so it's in me, I love interior design too, My Mother is inspiring to me as she is learning design with computers and I'm trying that, photography and traveling, plus music. My main interest outside stunts is acting and writing, I have a film I hope to direct one day.

 

DK: One last Question Darren : Have you been to Iran and what would you like to see if you were there today ?

 

DS: I've never been to Iran and one day I'd love to go to Tehran and Isfahan, see Mount Damavand, go skiing and also have a glass of red wine in Shiraz! and I'd like to see the Caspian Sea.

 

DK: Thank you Darren and good luck in the rest of your career.

 


Darren Shahlavi The Fall Guy
©darrenshahlavi.com

 

Author's notes:

 

Official Website of Darren Shahlavi: http://www.darrenshahlavi.com/

 

Recommended Reading:

-          Persia? Ancient Persia's virtual absence in Hollywood By Darius KADIVAR

-          Swords and Sandals Films about Ancient Persia By Darius KADIVAR

-          Persian Golden Boys in Hollywood by Darius KADIVAR

-          The Persian Empire Strikes Back by Darius KADIVAR

 

 

 


About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant.

 

 

... Payvand News - 4/19/07 ... --



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