He's doubled every James Bond, worn Indy's fedora, sported Superman's tights, and even taken a spin as Han Solo. He has an Oscar and, after this year's ceremony, an honorary BAFTA on his mantelpiece. With nearly 250 films to his name The Guinness Book of Records has dubbed him the world's most prolific stunt man. His name is Vic Armstrong, and Lee Majors has got nothing on this guy.
As the stunt industry gears up for the 2nd World Stunt Awards in May, Vic took some time off from his current role as stunt co-ordinator on the latest James Bond film, Die Another Day, to entertain Empire Online on the Bond lot at Pinewood Studios and give us the lowdown on what might just be the most action packed 007 so far.
Are you, as the Guinness Book Of Records attests, the world's most prolific stuntman?
I guess so, I've done an awful lot. I think it's nearly 250. I actually adore making them, I like talking about them to the right people about filmmaking, because I like making movies and I like seeing the end result. I love our contribution. It's a bit like a magician - you write this car chase, think about how you film it, how to get these different shots, how to put the actors in so the audience will believe that guy was in it all the way through.
A lot of actors go on about how they like to do their own stunts. Do they really, or just say they do?
Jackie Chan does. But no, they don't because it's just crazy, you wouldn't risk it. You're not going to risk it just to say that speck in the distance when the car flipped over was the actor doing it. Why the fuck would you do that? Whereas if it's Pierce coming through the explosion, you think it's great, you put them in where you need to see them and actors like to do it. We had to fight Harrison all the time to stop him doing those stunts [on the Indiana Jones films]. It's only because they want to transmit their character into every part of the movie. But they're all sensible at the end of the day. I've broken arms and legs doing it, so why would they want to risk that for a moment where you don't need to see them?
On Die Another Day, Pierce was reported to have injured his knee and Halle Berry to have got part of a smoke grenade in her eye, were these incidents as serious as the tabloids reported?
The sad thing about those things getting in the paper is that it's totally untrue. Pierce had a degenerative knee. It was cartilage that was playing up and they thought it was time he went and had it fixed, because it was getting worse. After a week or two it was not good, so he made a decision that if he fixed it now, he'd have a week down, two or three light weeks of work and then be better off for making it all the way through the movie. He's out doing running shots and everything, now.
The thing with Halle Berry was absolutely absurd - nothing at all happened. I saw the shot yesterday on dailies - she's fine. She was firing a gun, like you do, bang, bang, bang, and this dust bangs up, she rubbed her eye and carried on. Someone said she should get it washed out, so after work they gave her an eye wash and that was it. What she did do was fall over and graze her shoulder. There was nothing in the paper about that. She's a real tough girl, running barefoot up these steps and she slipped over on a bank. She got up and carried on - obviously the shot's no good because it doesn't look very gainly - and we did it again and again and that was far, far more dangerous than this other thing. It's a shame because she's a real trooper and never complains. They're filming in weather twice as cold as we've got here and she's in a bikini running around, and you see this story and it makes her look like some kind of Hollywood wimp.
With special effects getting better and improved CGI, is a stuntman's role much less than it was before, now that you can do it digitally?
I think that a stunt person's role is more important, if anything, because the CGI all needs a guideline. If you're going to do a high fall, you need somebody to show the computer the movements for that high fall on a smaller fall, and the computer can enhance it. There's an awful lot of contribution you need to put in from the natural element of people rather than just generating it on computer, because it never does look the same. I think that the thing that makes the Bonds so good is the fact that nearly everything you see is done for real. The motorbike chase [in Tomorrow Never Dies] was all done for real. We enhanced a little bit at the end of the boat chase on the last one [The World Is Not Enough], but all we enhanced was blue screen at the end - we couldn't physically fly a balloon over the Millennium Dome because of the airport down the road. I'll probably be proved wrong, like the person who said television would never catch on, but I don't think it will ever do away with a stuntman's work. There's more and more coming into it and there's more and more earning good livings out of it.
There is a certain heady realism with the Bond films, an element of excitement gained by not relying on CG effects.
I agree a hundred per cent and I fight CGI all the way, not because I'm old fashioned and I don't like it. I did all the action on Starship Troopers and we shot every inch of those bugs in CG. But the only thing that made them work was the interaction with stunt guys flying through the air. I probably had 60 or 70 stunt guys on that one show alone, and it was all about animated bugs and animated people having their heads chopped off. But the Bonds, I really try and fight to do everything we can for real. You cheat a little bit - although the flying snow vehicles in the last one could fly, you couldn't actually land them and drive them along the ground, they were two different machines. It's not telling too many fibs but it's much, much better than having the computer-generated sequences. I think the audience can tell, the audience is smart these days. With Bond we have a saying: "We'll take the truth and stretch it ten, fifteen per cent". Any more than that and you're saying the audience is a bunch of dummies. Up until ten or fifteen per cent, the audience will just think: "I saw it, he could probably get away with that with a bit of luck". And after all, he is Bond.