Actionfest, the all-action movie film festival in Asheville, NC, celebrates the movie stuntmen who make movies so awesome. This year Mickey Gilbert and Jack Gill were special honorees for Lifetime Achievement (Gilbert) and Man of Action (Gill) Awards. As they spoke to fans in a panel on Trailblazing Stuntmen, and Gilbert spoke after a screening of the classic The Wild Bunch, Gilbert and Gill revealed the close calls that stuntmen survived making films like Fast Five, Showtime and TV shows like Knight Rider and The Dukes of Hazzard.
1. The Vault driver from Fast Five – When Vin Diesel and Paul Walker pull a bank vault behind their cars, there’s actually a driver steering the vault from inside. “We found out that with the engine running and with him in there driving the thing, it was about 185 degrees and you could cook turkey in there,” Gill said. “So I put these two big huge air conditioners in there and then we figured out guess what, you can’t breathe in there because with all the carbon monoxide fumes, he was passing out. I put a breather tube in and I ordered 500 lbs. of dry ice and we put dry ice all around the inside of his engine compartment. Well, the problem with dry ice is that it sucks oxygen so the engine would die and he would start coughing and choking. We eventually figured it all out, we had breather tubes for the engines and breather tubes for him.”
2. Run over doubling Lee Majors – Mickey Gilbert called Lee Majors a good friend, but one accident on the set of The Fall Guy nearly ended Gilbert’s career. He slipped dodging an oncoming jeep. “I go to push off and I land on my butt, my feet slip,” Gilbert said. “The next thing I remember was the grill just hit me and it knocked me under the jeep. Everybody said I was like a log and the u bolts were catching my body. I went about 20 feet, then he ran over my hind legs. I’m laying unconscious and one of my buddies is giving me mouth to mouth. I wake up going pth pth!” And Gilbert only stayed in the hospital one night!
3. Girls in ANY fight scene – You like Haywire, Salt, and Kill Bill? The girls who do those fight scenes have it much worse than the dudes. “I hate to say it but they really never get to wear pads like guys do, so they tend to get injured a lot more than guys do,” Gill said. “Because they’re always in a miniskirt and a tank top and you can’t hide pads anywhere. I always felt really sorry for them because most of the girls I see in the business take two or three really big hits and then get out.”
4. The Wild Bunch train heist – Mickey Gilbert doubled some of the guys in the classic Sam Peckinpah western. “I’m sliding down this rail and my feet are above me but they slip up this metal stairway,” Gilbert said. “My left foot was hanging on the stairway and my right foot was hitting the railroad tracks and I’m hanging around with one hand stretched out. I’m thinking God, if I lose it now, I’m dead.”
5. The water dump from Showtime – Showtime may have been a forgettable Eddie Murphy/Robert DeNiro comedy, but it ends with a unique stunt. The bad guy shoots out the roof of a penthouse causing the rooftop pool to flood the room. Gill figured out how to hold stuntmen in place without ripping them limp from limp. “We thought we’d slide them out onto pads but since we were three stories up, we said the pads aren’t going to work,” Gill said. “We’re going to have to put them on wires. Now you’re under wires and if the water’s really heavy it wants to snatch your arm off. We ended up dropping 35,000 gallons of water in three different segments, about ¼ second behind each other so you didn’t have all that weight hitting you at once.”
6. They call him “Shoulder Harness” in Fast Five – The vault driver wasn’t the only one in trouble in Fast Five. The driver of one of the cars the vault slams into took a beating too. “This guy hits this car at probably 70 and the stunt guy had forgotten to put his shoulder harness on,” Gill said. “He’s got a helmet on and he’s got a lap belt on but he’s got no shoulder harnesses on. In all the rehearsals we’d forgotten to put them on. He got through it alive but hit the steering wheel really hard and blew his head open. There was blood everywhere, so we called him Shoulder Harnesses from there on out. Guess what, you better check what you’re doing beforehand because you can’t really abort at that point.”
7. The General Lee Barn Buster – Jack Gill’s trademark driving stunt on The Dukes of Hazzard became a Hasbro toy. It was also the first time he tested a bungee corset that holds drivers in the car without slamming their tailbone into the seat when they land a jump. “We had scored, cut with chainsaws, this barn so I could get out the other side,” Gill said. “Well, they missed one big 4 x 4. I came shooting through the top of the barn and I remember seeing this post hit the front of the car and pick the whole front end up in the air, and I hit almost vertically on the other side. Then the car rolled twice on the other side, tore the whole steering column out of the car, ripped the whole back end off the car. But, this harness kept me from going either direction and I came out without a scratch on me.” They’ve used that harness on every car jump since and saved stuntmen many back injuries
8. Homeless Guy in the dumpster – This wasn’t a stuntman, but a Los Angeles local had no idea what he was getting into on the set of Knight Rider.“I was jumping a car in downtown LA,” Gill said. “At the end of it I’m supposed to pitch the car sideways and hit a dumpster. We had the dumpster out there on rollers, broke for dinner at two o’clock in the morning, came back, got ready to do the stunt and my brother came over and goes, ‘You know what? Let’s look inside that dumpster.’ He looked in there and a bum had crawled in there. It probably wouldn’t have killed him but it would’ve been a ride.”
9. Jumping into KITT ain’t so smooth – When it looks like David Hasselhoff jumps into KITT and slips right behind the wheel, that’s really Jack Gill risking his life. “They wanted Michael Knight to jump out an eight story building and land in the car,” Gill said. “To make it work, I put an airbag out there to catch me. We parked a car carrier right in front of the airbag and put the [KITT] car on top of the car carrier. You have to hit an airbag flat so I was already laying out. I went by the car flat and they said you’ve got to go by the car almost vertical. So I go flying by this thing and just at the last second I throw my feet back and I hit the bag and I broke my back. I was out of commission about six months trying to get back going again. Luckily there was no paralysis.” “Luckily there was no paralysis,” the mantra of stuntmen.