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Empire Meets Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Rush’ Alter Ego

Posted on Monday January 27, 2014, 17:18 by Ally Wybrew in Empire States
Empire Meets Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Rush’ Alter Ego

It’s been a while since anyone was killed on a press day – it’s bad PR – but I still had survival in mind when I arrived at the McLaren Technology Centre to interview Niki ‘Hollywood’ Faulkner, Chris Hemsworth’s driving stunt double in Rush, and drive the rocket-like McLaren 12C. And I was hardly imbued with confidence by the brief chat I had with Faulkner before climbing into the supercar. “I’ve been blown up in a car,” he points out with the nonchalance of a man recalling his lunchtime sandwich. “I had to drive along, this bomb went off and the whole back of the car got blown off.” Right. “That’s nice,” we mutter, sweeping the McLaren for explosives. Sure, it was an unlikely eventuality on a £170,000’s worth of supercar, but you never know.

Feigning calm, I stepped into the 600ph car. But would my driving experience be anything like James Hunt’s antics in Ron Howard’s BAFTA-nominated sports drama? Going by what Faulkner had to say, not quite.

“There’s always that moment when they say, ‘Three, two, one,’ and then you’re like, ‘Ooh… nope, I’m still here’.” As we all know from Drive, defying death is all part of a stunt man’s gig (the brutal murders somewhat less so) and Faulkner has seen his fair share of danger. Before getting behind the wheel for Hollywood (hence the nickname), he worked on commercials and TV shows. Producing online adverts (for the likes of Kit Kat, Lexus and Audi) went down well with Faulkner, as he got to “go mental and slide around and do jumps and all kinds of things, whereas car commercials are very dampened down because it has to show safe and considerate driving”.

As a film fan, Faulkner had his sights set on the film industry when he set up his business, Driving Wizards. Surely he’d dreamt of scoring a role in a Fast & Furious movie? “I think it’s an amazing franchise,” he says, “but I’m probably a bit more old-school. It’s for the gaming generation and I think they are definitely into that genre.” He namechecks Peter Yates’ Bullitt and lauds a 9-minute short by Claude Lelouch, Rendezvous, that shows a real-time shot of a man hooning around Paris in a Ferrari.

Unfortunately, as a stuntman you can’t help but analyse on-screen action scenes. “When you know how they do it”, admits Faulkner, “it does ruin it for you a little bit”.

Another that made an impression was John Frankenheimer’s Ronin. “I thought it was a great film, and has a good car chase sequence in it. But when you actually watch one of the scenes where they’re driving against the flow of the traffic, and you watch carefully, the cars going the other way are barely moving. They’re doing like five miles an hour, but it looks like they’re doing about 80.”

Faulkner’s experience with Ron Howard on the set of Rush was more thorough. “Ron is very much hands on. He’s got a very good visualisation of the bigger picture, but he also trusted us. I know how cars look on camera and how to shoot cars – we’d often come up with suggestions for camera positions or camera angles to help with what Ron wanted to achieve”.

Empire's Ally Wybrew with Niki Faulkner at the McLaren headquarters
Empire's Ally Wybrew with Niki Faulkner at the McLaren headquarters

Directors aren’t always so engaged with their stuntmen, as Faulkner has experienced. “On some of the films you don’t know anything about the plot, probably because they don’t want you to tell anyone, and partly because it doesn’t make sense anyway,” he explains. “You just kind of do your bit.”

Getting the race scenes right was of prime importance on Rush, catapulting Faulkner into an unusually integral role. He explains: “Those racing sections needed to be very dynamic, so we sat down with Ron [and] went through every version of the script. I was choreographing and putting together all the race sequences, so knowing the script helped because it put context to everything, and it helped Ron get across what he wanted from the driving sequences, too”.

Bagging a gig with one of Hollywood’s A-list directors on a BAFTA-nominated film arguably puts the stuntman in pole position career-wise. So where to from here? “I think you’ve got to look at all of the big ones,” he says of his dream director partnerships. “So you’re looking at Ridley Scott, James Cameron; I think those British directors would be nice to work with because they’re very intense and they put a lot of attention to detail into what they do. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Matthew Vaughn recently, who’s very good, knows his stuff, and is quite an interesting director”.

We’ve got to say that from our experience in the McLaren 12C, there’s a definite appeal to driving fast cars at high speeds, but if you’re looking to put your life at risk in return for cash, you’ll need more experience than a few doughnuts in Sainsbury’s car park.

Rush is available to download now and is released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 27, courtesy of Studiocanal. With thanks to Niki Faulkner, McLaren Technology Centre and Chris Wilkins.

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