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Stuntman

Ben Bray gets black-and-blue so big-name actors don’t have to

 

» “I get to play cops-and-robbers and cowboys-and-Indians all the time. It’s a blast.”
 

» Bray performed his wildest stunt in the 2000 movie Radical Jack. “I had to fire an AK-47, yell out dialogue, get lit on fire, dodge flames four feet above my head, then step onto a ramp that sent me flying up in the air and headfirst into some metal barrels. It was ugly.”

» He is six feet tall and weighs 230 pounds. Bray works out six days a week, a routine that includes running and weight training. Before going on camera, he eats a healthful dinner the night before and sleeps eight or nine hours.

» The Screen Actors Guild counted 7,000 stuntpeople in 2008, its most recent tally. Usually only 200 to 300 are employed at any given time. Nineteen percent are women. Well-known stuntmen have included Yakima Canutt, who won an Oscar in 1967, and Hal Needham, another Academy Award winner, whose book, Stuntman! My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life, comes out this month.

» Bray, who is 43, grew up in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood dominated by the Barrio Van Nuys street gang. “I would try not to be jumped as I went to school.” Watching TV and going to the movies offered escape. “Me and my brother would see The Six Million Dollar Man, The A-Team, and Starsky & Hutch, and we’d pretend to be those guys.”

» At 13, Bray discovered a talent for boxing. “It’s a tough sport, but it was encouraged by my family—like Little League.” During junior college, he boxed professionally. When he was 21, he was spotted at a gym by director Nigel Dick and stunt coordinator Dan Bradley. They cast him in Dead Connection. “I couldn’t believe they were paying me to pretend to fight.”

» Bray has taught Christian Bale, Tobey Maguire, and Lou Diamond Phillips to fake-fight. “It’s one thing for actors to absorb dialogue, but now they’re memorizing this choreography. They have to know when to punch and when to take a punch.”

» On the set of Courage Under Fire Bray accidentally knocked Phillips down. “He was supposed to block my punch and then
slip away from the right hand. But he forgot. My fist went square onto his nose. All I could think was, ‘Great. I’m fired.’ Afterward he called and said, ‘Man, that was the greatest!’ ”

» When a stuntwoman was hurt on the Three Kings shoot, Bray had to dress like a female—tights and all—and jump out of a Humvee.

» As Javier Bardem’s double in No Country for Old Men, Bray feigned choking the sheriff, then slammed him into his chest. “We did that for a good 12 takes. You could hear the wind getting knocked out of me.”

» “I’ve torn my hamstring almost in half. I’ve nearly broken both my legs. There’s always that chance of getting badly injured, and I accept that. But mostly it’s been standard wear and tear. When I was younger and something ached, I’d have a nice glass
of Jack Daniel’s and get in a Jacuzzi. Now I have a good chiropractor.”

»  For Bray, the pay is worth the pain. Stuntpeople start at $809 a day. As a seasoned performer, with overtime and adjustments for especially daring exploits, Bray calculates that he has made “in the ballpark” of $400,000 during a top year.

» “When a director yells ‘Cut!’ and everybody is OK, it’s a great feeling.” 

Photograph by Dustin Snipes