Tai Freligh interviews Call of the Wild stunt coordinator Charlie Croughwell…
Charlie Croughwell is a 35-year veteran stunt man and started his stunts career as Michael J. Fox’s stunt double in Back to the Future. His other credits include Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Life of Pi, La La Land and Vice. He also recently worked with Meryl Streep on stunts for Netflix’s The Laundromat and has worked with the Red Bull stunts team on sky diving and water stunts for five seasons of Animal Kingdom. He was most recently the stunts coordinator for The Call of the Wild starring Harrison Ford. He chatted with Flickering Myth’s Tai Freligh about pulling off the crazy stunts in The Call of the Wild, how he got his stunt work start, and why he thinks there’s still no stunt category in the Academy Awards.
Talk about how you got involved with coordinating stunts for The Call of the Wild?
Diana Pokorny, the producer, called me out of the blue and I’m glad she did.
Tell us what went into the fight scene between Harrison Ford and Dan Stevens?
The fight scene between Harrison and Dan was both exhausting and fun. There were two approaches to the concept of the fight. One was an abbreviated version of what was written and the other was an expansion of what was written. The process for determining what they wanted was to shoot a pre-visualization of the long and short versions, cut them together as separate pieces, and show them to Chris Sanders, our director. Adjustments to the fight are usually made at this point, videoed and re-edited. We then step through the fight with the actors’ stunt doubles for the actors to see in person and usually make more adjustments. If need be, rehearsals with the actors precede shooting for however long is necessary. Then, everyone shows up on the day and we shoot the fight. Both Dan and Harrison did not hold back during the rehearsals and shoot. They stepped through it all very methodically for safety’s sake. Dan is a young guy, in great shape and was able to hold his own with Harrison, which I must say, was not an easy thing. I’d be happy to fight with either of them again!
What’s it like working with somebody like Harrison who does his own stunts?
He’s very hands-on. He has had a long career with all sorts of stunts and spent his early Indiana Jones days being trained by some of stunt legends. He has a very clear idea of what kind of fight is appropriate to his character’s personality. Every once in a while, he’d throw in a classic “Indiana Jones fight move”.
You had to train and certify actress Cara Gee as a PADI open water diver for a particular stunt involving falling into a frozen river and being swept away. What was that process like?
Cara was a great student. She approached the entire process as a great new experience and dove in headfirst (no pun intended). We certified her as a PADI open water diver through a friend’s dive facility. We helped Cara with not only her certification, but also explained exactly what she needed to do during filming. It requires a team of people, all involved in one aspect or another for the filming. After Cara was certified, we then introduced her to the set, which was built by the special effects department and construction. There are many departments that were involved in the filming and each walked through what their involvement would be with her as a whole group. Once everyone is familiar with what we’re doing, we then begin rehearsals with the actress, her stunt double, and a “Buck” swimmer. This usually happens close to the shoot day.
Describe the stunt that Cara needed the training for…and how did it go when actually filming?
Cara’s action was to walk out onto an ice-covered river probing for weak areas with a pole while the dog sled and Dan waited on the bank of the river. The ice cracks and she falls through, getting carried away downstream trapped under an impenetrable sheet of ice above. Buck runs to her safety, dives through the hole, and swims under the sheet of ice to catch her. He swims up underneath her and guides her back to the open hole she first fell through. There are a lot of pieces to this type of scene, which are all shot individually to highlight the moment and later cut together. The filming was great, everything went off without a hitch.
You started your stunt career as the stunt double for Michael J. Fox on the Back to the Future movies. How did you get that opportunity?
I met Mike on his first day on Back to the Future. I happened to stop by the set to meet the stunt coordinator; Mike was there and he asked if I was his double, and that’s pretty much how it happened.
Any funny set stories working on those films?
The Back to the Future crews on all three films were some of the best I’ve worked with. The mood on set was always very relaxed. Every day was a funny story.
How do you think stunt work has changed in the time between your first stunt work job and your last stunt work job?
It has evolved with technology. If you were to look back and see where stuntmen originally came from (the rodeo circuit) and where many come from now, there has been a considerable change, whether it be sports and entertainment (cirque) specialists or more engineering, technology-specific fields. I think the changes have created far more spectacular stunts, but increased safety for all performers at the same time. The addition of CGI has been very helpful in the creation of scenes and gags that you wouldn’t have been able to achieve prior.
When did you know you wanted to do stunt work?
Looking back, I think I was headed in this direction when I was no older than 10. I was always inclined to be active and do so many things, that in retrospect, were clear indicators of where I was heading. I began seriously pursuing stunts when I was 20.
There has long been a call to add a stunt work category to the Academy Awards. Why do you think there is still such resistance?
I don’t know the real reason why there is so much resistance. We’ve heard all kinds of answers, but none really answer the question. One reason I’ve heard is that the show doesn’t have enough time. If you saw the show this year, you would have seen a great deal of wasted time. How long does it take to give an award to a department that is such an integral part of so many films these days? I’ve heard that whoever makes the decision was worried it would pit stunts against stunts, leading to even more sensational levels and creating safety issues. Someone should let them know that that’s been going on since stunt people began doing stunts. There are people trying to work through this and I imagine that someday it will happen.
Six months a year, I direct the second unit on the TV show Animal Kingdom. It’s a great group of people, fun sequences, and it keeps me from having to travel for 6 months.
How do you survive the zombie apocalypse?
Television or movie stunt work?
If not a stunt man, what would you be doing today?
Probably an engineer.
Who are your stunt work idols?
That’s a massive list. I couldn’t name one without naming them all.
What is your all-time favorite movie to watch in terms of exemplary stunt work?
I see pieces in every movie that I think are exemplary, but not to avoid the question, I can’t single out one movie that is the best of the best.
The Call of the Wild BTS photos courtesy of Stephanie Pfingsten // Impact24 PR