It Took a Stuntman to Make an Action Comedy This Badass

Welcome to modern rom-com week at The Daily Beast’s Obsessed! In honor of two big romance releases this week—The Fall Guy and The Idea of You—we’re celebrating everything we love about the last 15 years of romantic comedies.

David Leitch cut his film-industry teeth as an acclaimed stuntman, and having evolved into one of the medium’s finest action directors, he now pays tribute to the art of taking a punch, rolling a car, and being set on fire with The Fall Guy, a loose adaptation of the Lee Majors-headlined 1980s TV series.

Starring Ryan Gosling as down-on-his-luck stunt maestro Colt Seavers, who gets a second shot at beat-’em-up glory when he’s hired to work on the debut feature of Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), the director he adores but foolishly spurned, Leitch’s summer spectacular blends comedy, romance, and mayhem to ideal popcorn-blockbuster effect. Featuring a steady stream of showstoppers, it’s a self-conscious love letter to the craftsmen who risk it all to make the movies magic, all while simultaneously proving—courtesy of Gosling and Blunt’s magnetic lead turns—the unrivaled power of A-list charisma.

Having first made a name for himself with John Wick (which he co-helmed with Chad Stahelski, his partner in production company/stuntman-choreography studio 87Eleven Action Design), Leitch has spent the past decade establishing his big-budget bona fides. Between Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw, and Bullet Train, the director has exhibited a knack for melding the fierce with the funny. With The Fall Guy, he demonstrates that he’s also not bad when it comes to amour, since beneath his latest’s bombastic and witty surface, the film is a sweet saga about two kindred hardheads struggling to find their way back to each other.

Boasting a Guinness Book of World Records-setting stunt, a bevy of set pieces that amuse and excite in equal measure, and a charming swagger epitomized by Gosling’s ace performance as a daredevil unafraid to suffer for the vocation (and woman) he loves, it’s something like the ideal date movie, not to mention the fullest expression yet of Leitch’s rough-and-tumble cinema. On the eve of The Fall Guy’s May 3 theatrical premiere, we spoke with him about giving stunt work its due, putting Gosling through the knockabout paces, and adding some “spicy bacon” to the film thanks to Taylor Swift.

David Leitch attends the Los Angeles Premiere of The Fall Guy at Dolby Theatre on April 30, 2024 in Hollywood, California.


I’m happy you included The Fall Guy’s TV theme song, which is an all-timer. Was that a contractual obligation, or were you just a big fan of the tune and show?

We felt like we had to get it in. There was no contract obligation, except with my own conscience—a contract with my conscience! [laughs] That show was really dear to me in the ’80s, and it was one of the shows that lit the fuse for stunt performers like me, and for my generation, wanting to come to Hollywood and figure out what this career was all about. Not the bounty hunter part; the stunt part [laughs].

When the IP came to us, I was really excited because it was a chance of a lifetime to direct something where I had a deep well of knowledge about everything. You go into something and you want to create a world, but you’re generally creating it and studying it and researching it but you didn’t live it. It’s very rare that you get a chance to tell a story with anecdotes from your life. That was exciting.

Did you ever consider making an original film about the stunt world that wasn’t explicitly based on the show?

We questioned—did we need the IP? But the title was so good. It has all these double and triple entendres for the movie we wanted to make and the plot that we were spinning. We couldn’t let go of it. We were like, okay, we don’t have to be a slave to the original. As we started to make the movie and put it together—because Ryan came on very early, before we had a script; he came on during the pitch stage—we started to realize we were making something that was in the DNA of the show. It’s a guy who’s a blue-collar hero who’s an underdog but who has this exceptional set of skills that he’s never really had to apply to the real world; he can use his movie buddies to lean on; and the tone is slightly self-referential and fun and over the top.

We got the script in place and went back and started watching more episodes and went, we’re actually really close! This is a pretty contemporary version of it.

Are you heartened that stunt performers are starting to receive more recognition, as evidenced by growing chatter about a stunt-related Oscar, and by the fact that Chris O’Hara, on this film, received the first-ever “stunt designer” credit?

There’s definitely momentum. There’s been a core group of stunt performers inside the Academy for the last decade that have been working tirelessly to push the idea forward with the Academy. Then in the last few years, I’ve been involved inside the Academy, working with them. I could have gone to the director’s branch but I stayed in the production and technology branch with my stunt friends to help navigate that system. Obviously, you saw the piece that 87North produced for the Awards. I think the Academy is really supporting the idea of it and we just need to go through the process. I think the gears are working and I’m feeling really confident about that.

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt.

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt.

Universal Pictures

Yeah, I think the awareness is certainly growing.

In the general public, people already know. Audiences are so savvy to the behind-the-scenes world of movies. There was one caution that the studio had when we were making The Fall Guy—they said we can’t make it an insider baseball movie because people won’t get it. I was like, I think they will. It’s a different era. We watch the making-ofs of everything. So it’s time to shine a light on it for sure; I think people are ready and clamoring for it because it’s some of the most exciting bits of the film that you see. But I think what we want, more than celebrating an individual stunt or bringing the stunt double to the front, is to be recognized for the creative design contributions we give, just like every other department does.

There’s so much that goes into orchestrating these scenes.

When you’re a stunt coordinator and you get a script and it says, “They conquered Rome,” you get 25 stunt guys together and you choreograph a battle scene. You talk to the director, you choreograph it again, then you rechoreograph it, and you present it to the director, and you’re working with them just like costume is designing costumes and hair is designing hair. It’s strange that we’re not recognized as that. They think it’s just a bunch of daredevils that fall off stuff!

You just get set on fire!

Yeah. We do all of that too. But that’s less of what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is that, since the beginning of cinema, the greatest directors have been stunt performers: Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin. They told stories without words. They created dynamic stunt sequences and performed them and wowed audiences. Action elevated comedy, drama, horror, and every other genre—even in The Fall Guy, which is a love story. Action elevates the stakes of this love story. That’s where we want people to be recognized, and that’s a harder comprehension for the general audience, and even the Academy. They’re being educated on it, or reminded. I don’t know why they have to be educated on Buster Keaton….

How challenging, technically speaking, were the stunts on The Fall Guy?

It takes months and months and months of rehearsals. The stuff on The Fall Guy, like the world record-breaking cannon roll, that’s four months in the making. The sequence with the garbage bin—locking down the streets, getting effects to build a rig that spins a garbage can, guys in a shop welding it and figuring out the hydraulics and then testing it and going to the engineers and making sure it’s weighted and safe and passing inspections. If people really understood the logistics, they’d be like, what?!?

Did you feel pressure to up the ante with the film’s stunts?

I did. There was pressure. I think Chris O’Hara and myself felt the pressure from our stunt past and the stunt community. Because it’s such a beloved title and it’s a movie about a stuntman, we better do some old-school stunts, and we should do them in the most provocative way possible—get out there and do some really big stuff. Because otherwise, what are we honoring? We were feeling the pressure because you don’t want to let your brothers and sisters down. They are counting on this shining a light on what they do, so it better not be half-assed.

For us, it was the mandate—practical, practical, practical as much as possible, and visual effects second. And we did. There are so many great practical stunts in this movie, it’s insane, actually.

Stunt-wise, how much did Ryan Gosling do on the film?

Ryan is a really smart actor and filmmaker, and it was great to have him as such a close collaborator with Kelly [McCormick, Leitch’s producer and wife] and I. We were going to try all these record-breaking stunts, and he’s like, let’s be honest, I’m not going to be able to do them. You’re going to bring on some of the best in the world, so why don’t we just embrace it? It’s a movie about stunt people, it’s authentic as hell, you’re directing it, so why not? He was all about breaking the illusion on this one because there’s a meta component to this movie anyway. It’s a movie about making a movie, and now we take one more step back and say, let’s talk about making the movie.

Did you have to pick and choose your stunt spots with Ryan, then?

Ryan got to do a lot of stunts. There were so many stunts in this movie, he had plenty to do. He’ll tell you that the movie is called The Fall Guy and he knew that at some point he’d have to do something very dangerous. [laughs]

It’s what you’re signing up for.

We had many conversations about that opening oner with the descender. You know when you’re in a situation, you start to rationalize and negotiate, and there’s all those levels of trying to get out of a torture—there’s denial, there’s negotiation, etc. He’s like, we can use green screen and we can do this, and I’m like, we can’t do any of that. You need to feel this. He said, you’re right, I do. I need to feel this experience at least once in this movie.

He does it! We trained [for the descender], and we worked from different heights, and he got comfortable with the rig. He had to perform it at the end of this seven-minute oner, and it’s uncut, and he has to act all the way up to it, and he’s thinking, I’m going to be falling! That would be hard for anybody. Then we dragged him across Sydney’s Harbour Bridge at 35mph at 5:30am. He’s like, what are we doing? And I’m like, dude, I have the bridge for two hours, I know we didn’t get a chance to rehearse all this, but hey, hook onto this wire, grab this shovel, hold on, and trust me!

Was The Fall Guy’s romance a big part of its appeal, since it let you expand, creatively speaking?

Totally. Early on in conversations with Ryan, he said, look, I have a lot of skills I’d like to use in this movie. I’ve done this movie called The Notebook—and I’m like, yeah I’ve seen it, Ryan [laughs]. He said, I’ve really honed that ability to be the romantic lead. I also love comedy, and he’s talking about The Nice Guys, which he’s brilliant in.

The Nice Guys is the best.

Right? And then he’s like, I just did this experiment in a big action space called The Grey Man. If it’s possible, I’d really like to use all of that in this movie. I can just do everything. Could it have comedy, romance, action? And I was like, yes, please. Because if you challenge me to make a movie with three different tones, I’m going to dive right in. I like having to balance all of that for the audience, and giving the audience a gasp one moment and a laugh the next moment and the feels the following moment. I love it.

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy.

(L-R) Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy.

Universal Pictures

Then there’s Emily Blunt on board too.

As we cast Emily, we really leaned into the love story, because now you have two great actors. The love story really became a bigger part of the script, and for Colt’s character, and by the third draft, it was really the main driver of the film. It was the most important part of this thing, holding the whole world together. I couldn’t have been more excited, being able to do a romance but to still keep the bells and whistles of the things I do really well. It was a dream.

How do you ensure, at outset, that Ryan and Emily share the chemistry necessary for a movie like this? Or do you just cross your fingers?

It’s kind of the latter, because they’re so big. You’re casting your net, sending them a draft and saying, you want to do this? Ryan signed on before the script; he was part of the package that we were going to make this together. But to get Emily, we had a first draft, and Kelly had this brilliant idea before we sent it to her that we needed to up the stakes for her character. We changed her from a make-up artist to a director. We were halfway through doing all the changes and I sent it to Emily anyway and talked her through it. You’re thinking, I’m not going to get Emily Blunt, she’s the biggest actress in the world right now. But through the conversation, I told her, I’m a really genuine collaborator, and the best ideas win, and if you come on board now and play with us, I promise we’re going to make this character great together.

She did it, and then it was watching them workshop the scenes in real time during our script sessions and seeing, oh my god, we’ve struck gold.

That’s the exhale moment.

Totally. They’re both incredible actors, and giving actors, and want the best scene and don’t want to win the scene. That’s not always the case.

In the film, Hannah Waddingham’s movie producer talks about the “sexy bacon” that she adds to each production. In the case of The Fall Guy, is the sexy bacon Taylor Swift, whose “All Too Well” factors into a funny early scene?

[laughs] It was definitely a good move. By the way, there have been a lot of serendipitous things in our production schedule. We were supposed to go before Barbie; we were adamant that we were going to go before them, and then Barbie pushed their schedule up and Ryan had to go do Barbie and we had to wait. I can’t imagine now, opening this movie without having had Oppenheimer and Barbie open first. Emily and Ryan are now in this beautiful place, and all the momentum that gives us is amazing.

That’s really fortuitous.

Second, that Taylor Swift cue came in early in editorial, before her tour and Travis and everything. It was Kelly’s idea. We used to have Harry Nilsson’s “Without You,” which is beautiful, but it wasn’t about a relationship. Kelly was playing a lot of Taylor because she loves Taylor, and she was nudging me, so I said, okay. We put it in and I’m like, oh my god, I can’t even see anything else now. It was so perfect.

It was then about getting Taylor to okay it, and she did; I think she liked it. As we’re finishing editorial, we went to her concert on the Eras tour and we realized, she’s having the biggest fucking moment—and then her movie opens! This is amazing, because we’ve already got her in our movie!

Everything came together at the right moment.

It’s a really beautiful time for The Fall Guy.

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