There are so many important components that make up shows and movies. The actors and actresses may be focus of our attention, but the stunt men and women create the action that we love so much.
I had the opportunity to interview Andy Rusk, stunt man and the Assistant Stunt Coordinator for one of my favorite shows, NBC’s ‘Constantine’. Let me share our conversation with you.
Photo by Nate Dorn
KM “What inspired you to become a stunt man?”
AR “I guess I was raised on television and action movies, and wanted to be a part of that industry from a young age without really knowing it. Growing up, I really wanted to be either Indian Jones or James Bond, but real archaeologists don’t swing from bullwhips and fight Nazis, and real spies don’t drive Aston Martins. The only place they do that stuff is in the movies, so that’s where I headed.”
KM “What was your first stunt job?”
AR “My first stunt job was at a theme park called Buckskin Joe’s Frontier Town and Railway in Colorado. It’s gone now, and when I worked it, it was a relic from the heyday of American roadside attractions. I was a “gunfighter”. We did between seven and eleven live shows every day, seven days a week for four months. The shows were not very stunt heavy, just gunshot reactions, fistfights, and a hanging everyday at 4:30, but sometimes we’d spice things up and jump the train, or go at each other with the bullwhip. In it’s glory days Buckskin Joe gunfighters fell off buildings and sometimes horses in their shows, but the rising cost of insurance eventually tamed the gunfighters down.”
KM ” Stunt work seems like a physically demanding job. What do you do to prepare for a role and have you ever been seriously injured on a job?”
AR “I’ve been involved with a martial arts school for fifteen years now, and even though I don’t consider myself a martial artist in the Jackie Chan, Kung Fu movie, sense of the term, it’s given me a solid baseline of physical conditioning and coordination to allow me to do the job. Most of my training is roadwork, calisthenics, stretching and training specific stunt skill sets, like practicing high falls off a tower or training body burns. And while I’ve never been seriously hurt, I’ve been sent to the hospital, been knocked out, concussed, and had a few broken bones, sprains, strains, tears and minor burns.”
KM “What is your favorite stunt to perform and what is your least favorite?”
AR “I don’t know that I have a favorite or least favorite stunt. I’ve had great fun on wires, in fistfights, on fire and falling off things. I’m kind of on the radar as a fire guy, and enjoy the planning, prep, and execution of a good body burn. My least favorite would probably be going through windows or any kind of glass. Glass gags are not particularly difficult or dangerous but you’re pretty much guaranteed to get cut.”
KM “All I can say is, ouch!”
KM “You were the Assistant Stunt Coordinator for season one of ‘Constantine’, what does that position entail?”
AR “My job was to assistant the Stunt Coordinator, Cal Johnson, in planning and executing the stunts each week. I helped to write budgets, design gags, find stunt doubles, haul equipment, choreograph fights, rig wire work, prep crash cars, and Cal and I performed many of the stunts ourselves. It was super cool to work with. Matt Ryan made our job easy. He is very physically talented; well coordinated, good timing, ect. We sign non-disclosure agreements to work on pretty much any comic book show, so I can’t giveaway any trade secrets or backstage details.”
KM “As I mentioned before, Constantine is one of my favorite shows, part of the reason I love it so much is because of the attention to detail and the intense action. Now I know I know who to thank for some of that.”
KM “What other projects have you been involved with?”
AR “I’ve worked on a number of the TV shows and features that have shot here in Atlanta in the past few years: ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Anchorman 2’, ‘Sabotage’, ‘Rectify’, ‘The Originals’, ‘Furious 7’, ‘The Hunger Games’ series, and others. They were all fun jobs, without exception, and I am very lucky to do what I do.”
KM “Wow, you’ve worked on so many awesome projects!”
KM “So far, what has been your favorite project?”
AR “Favorite project? Man, that’s a tough one, too. I was a huge fan of ‘The Walking Dead’ back when it was a comic, so getting to work on the show is a dream come true. The fight scene in ‘Anchorman 2’ was great fun, and getting my brains blown out all over Schwarzenegger in ‘Sabotage’ was also a hoot. If I had to pick a MOST fun though, it would probably be ‘Constantine’, because I was involved in helping to plan many of the stunts from early on, and seeing a sequence through to completion is very satisfying. The thing about stunt work is that there is so much to learn, you’ll probably never learn it all. I had to learn a lot to be effective as the assistant on ‘Constantine’, and I enjoy learning new skills and approaches to putting action on camera. I’ll be forever grateful to the whole crew down there for an excellent opportunity and experience.”
Matt Ryan and Andy Rusk
KM “Are you working on anything now?”
AR “I am continuing to work around Atlanta on various shows in various stunt jobs. Once again, I sign a lot of NDAs, so I can’t talk about most of my work. This is probably the most boring interview ever. Sorry about that! When I am not working, I’m training.”
KM “No, it’s not boring by any means. We understand that shows and movies require you to sign Non Disclosure Agreements, I wouldn’t want you to get in any trouble.”
KM “If you could give any advice to someone who wanted to get in to the business, what would you tell them?”
AR “For folks trying to get into the business now, the best advice I can give is to say goodbye to sleep. The days are long. Take care of your body. Be kind to everybody you meet. Don’t ever lie on your resume about what you’v done or what you know how to do. Honesty, kindness, and the ability to endure those brutal days and nights without complaint carry a lot of weight in the production world.
KM “That’s great advice!”
KM “What’s your favorite scary movie?”
AR “My favorite scary movie? Toss up between ‘Session 9’ and ‘The Signal’. I love how ‘Session 9’ looks and feels, love the story of how it got made, and really admire what the filmmakers accomplished with just a handful of actors wandering around an abandoned building for a week. The characters aren’t even trapped in the building, they can come and go as they please. No gross-out scares. No jump out and yell, “BOO” moments. Just terror of your own wandering mind.
‘The Signal’ is another great one, and also kind of a non-traditional scary movie. The filmmakers are buddies of mine from Atlanta, and my thing about it is that three different directors directed the three acts of the same story. Horror movie anthologies are common, and some of the them are quite good, but this (I think) was the first time three directors had shared the driver’s seat. It’s a very fun kind of scary movie, made more fun by watching the story through three different sets of eyes.
KM ” Nice choices, ‘The Signal is a great movie.”
I am so grateful for Andy taking the time to talk with me about his work and what it takes to make our favorite movies and shows action packed. Andy has already had such an impressive career. I can’t wait to see his future projects.