Twenty-first-century moviegoers think technology has taken the dirty work out of filmmaking, leaving the job of faking the “impossible” in the hands of the hardest working person in the Hollywood: CGI. But the best action directors still understand there’s no airbrushing when it comes to the strain of a man at his desperate limits. Bond was invented to stretch our expectations of what one soul can do on his own, but on the silver screen, someone actually has to walk Fleming’s talk. These are the men who teach Daniel Craig to fight like a character of his enormous stature, and who sub in to do his dirty work when the danger gets real.
We caught up with two of them to learn what it’s like to fall a mile in Bond’s shoes. Roger Yuan, originally from Los Angeles, is a martial arts instructor, trainer, stunt performer, coordinator, actor, writer and producer. He has trained the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer for Catwoman in Batman Returns, Jason Flemyng and Jennifer Lawrence for their roles in X Men: First Class and Daniel Craig for Skyfall. UK-born Bobby Holland Hanton was a competitive gymnast, footballer and model before finally settling on becoming a stuntman, a career that’s had him doubling for the likes of Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace and Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises. He’s even sponsored by Dove Men+Care. You know you you’re a badass when people pay you to get clean.
Q. You’ve got a cool job. So how do you become a stunt coordinator and fight trainer?
Roger Yuan (RY). I was always interested in martial arts, even though I graduated from UCLA with a degree in mathematics. I tried a normal 9-to-5 job in finance and was basically bored shitless. I was always thinking about when I could go into the studio to train and eventually to teach. Stunts and martial arts choreography is the perfect venue for me.
Q. And you also act.
RY. The acting aspect came about a few years after I’d established myself as an up-and-coming fight coordinator. At the time I was a little bit frustrated. I was doing television and some films and — this is prior to Jackie Chan coming over, Jet Li coming over — at that point Western films and TV put action as second fiddle in terms of importance to the story and dialogue and acting. They would put the action toward the end of the day, especially in serial television. A lot of what I wanted to do in terms of action, of telling the story with physical action, I had to cut down; there wasn’t the time to shoot at the end of the day. Since the heyday of Jackie Chan and Jet Li coming over, there’s much more time given to action sequences.
It’s like a samurai. If you worry about the fight, you’re already dead.
Q. What do you teach actors?
RY. One of my strengths outside of acting or even doing stunts is how to explain and make people feel comfortable with movement. Moving as an athlete or as a martial artist — there’s not much difference. A natural athlete moves from the center of his or her body. It’s a coordination that comes from knowing intuitively where your center is all the time, being relaxed in your movement, having a sense that you always have enough time to act or react. You have to have fun first in anything you do. Don’t worry about the outcome. Don’t worry about how you look. If you do it right, the performance will take care of itself. If you enjoy it, you’re freeing yourself from expectation and pressure. It’s like a samurai. If you worry about the fight, you’re already dead. If you think, “It doesn’t matter whether I live or die; it’s the next stroke, the perfect movement that I’m after”, you free yourself from the result.
This opens him up to do what Bond does. He can be anything and everything. Bond is sound, effective, vicious and lethal. He needs to get the job done.
Q. What did you teach Daniel Craig in Skyfall?
RY. Daniel has had his own personal trainer, I guess, from the first Bond. I didn’t work with him in terms of body shaping. What I did with him was a lot of yoga to loosen him up, a lot of focused moves for boxing, kickboxing, Thai elbows and knees, basically any type of martial arts movements. At the same time, the way that he portrays Bond is much more of a physical, smart, street fighter — a brawler — as opposed to a stylish martial artist. So the way I would hold focus mitts for him and have him throw the punches is more like a boxer, someone who is very good and reactive and has the martial arts skills, but isn’t attuned to any one style. This opens him up to do what Bond does. He can be anything and everything. Bond is sound, effective, vicious and lethal. He needs to get the job done.
Q. What else were you responsible for in the movie?
RY. I was heavily involved in fight choreography. I also trained the stunt doubles for Daniel. There’s a gun fight sequence I had a lot to do with. Daniel has to take out like four or five guys in a gun fight and he has to do it in two seconds with one of the other person’s guns. It took quite a while to figure out the dynamics of that.
Q. How do you approach creating a fight scene?
RY. It’s free flowing. The Shanghai tower office fight, we had about 20 variations. The director, Sam Mendes, decided to have it not move, stay central. It was all in shadow, so you didn’t know who was winning; it’s just two shapes that are outlined, until you move outside the building. We had so many variations. In terms of the gunfight, Gary Powell is a guy we work for — he’s the stunt coordinator. He’s very demanding. He doesn’t like anything that’s been done before, so it’s very creative.
Q. What’s your fitness regimen?
RY. Mainly I do bodyweight exercises. I do a lot of calisthenics exercises. Yoga. Hindu push-ups, Hindu squats, variations with kettlebells, rings if I have them. I may do 10-wind sprints and in between do 20 to 50 repetitions of exercises. It’s a combination I’ve found to get in shape very quickly and stay in shape: cardiovascular and anaerobic. It’s high intensity with very little rest periods, so you’re constantly putting stress on your body.
Bobby Holland Hanton
Q. How were you involved in Skyfall?
Bobby Holland Hanton (BHH). I worked on that movie for two and a half months in Turkey in a small town called Adana. I was working on The Dark Knight Rises, stunt doubling for Christian Bale, and they overlapped. Basically for me it was a new challenge compared to Quantum of Solace, my first movie where I was actually stunt doubling Daniel Craig. On Skyfall I did a bit of driving out in Turkey, which was a new realm for me.
Q. What disciplines have been most valuable to you as a stuntman?
BHH. Gymnastics helps with everything: spatial awareness, athleticism, spring. That’s what I’ve taken on and made my niche in the game — jumping, high work, cliff diving, knowing where I am in the air. And also the fight side of it, the kickboxing. That’s pretty much what I’m employed for.
I’ve just done a Ford commercial for the BMAX where I high dive through a car suspended in the air.
Q. Are you ever terrified when you think about stunts you’ve done or will do?
BHH. It’s one of the things that I get a massive adrenaline rush from, that danger factor, the element of, “Is this able to be done?” I’ve just done a Ford commercial for the BMAX where I high dive through a car suspended in the air. That was a stunt I’ve never done before, and fortunately it worked out great. When I was doubling Christian in The Dark Knight Rises and he’s playing the character of Bruce Wayne trying to get out of the prison, I have to do a hundred foot descender — free fall — on a cable, smashing into the wall on the back end of it. That was new to me. Every stunt is different. That’s exciting. In Quantum of Solace, the rooftop balcony jump in Panama and the rooftop sequence in Vienna where I was actually chasing [stuntman] Glen Foster — we were 150 feet up. That element of height and danger is when I get my adrenaline rush.
Q. Who are the other guys in the industry you look up to and learn from?
BHH. There’s always people who’ve been in the game a long time who you look up to. Ben Cook, who was James Bond’s stunt double for the past three movies, and was when I did Quantum of Solace as well. He’s one of the best stuntmen in the world. Another stunt performer is Buster Reeves. He doubled Batman for the first two movies and doubled Bane this time around, who I was actually fighting against. A friend of mine, Glen Foster, is also one of the best. He’s Robert Downy Jr.’s stunt double and has been for the past five years.
Q. How do you stay in shape?
BHH. The person I’m doubling now is probably in the best shape I’ve ever seen, so it’s very difficult for me. I try and stick to what I know from gymnastics, which is my own bodyweight — chin ups, dips, press-ups, squats, all my own bodyweight. I feel a lot stronger and more athletic doing it that way rather than lifting weights.
Q. Do you wear pads underneath the suits?
BHH. When I was on Quantum of Solace we had to wear the same clothing as Daniel. Depending on what the stunt is and how hard the impact is, we try to get maybe a pad underneath — some elbow pads, some knee pads, maybe a back pad. It all depends on how giving the costume is. We have to match Daniel as much as possible, so if it’s a classic suit that Bond wears it does become more difficult to get a pad underneath. It really depends on the movie and what the character is. In Batman, the suit was quite fitted, so it was difficult to get pads underneath it.
Q. How do you prepare for stunts, mentally?
BHH. I go into a quiet mode, into myself a bit and think about it through and through, focus on the job at hand. It’s kind of a regimental thing that comes from my days in gymnastics: block everything out, if you like, is probably how I can best describe it to you.