This article first appeared in issue 227 of Empire magazine. Subscribe to Empire today.
PORTRAIT: ROBERT GALLAGHER
The great thing about the stunts in the Indiana Jones movies is the spontaneity. They don’t look over-choreographed or over-rehearsed. They just look improvised, joyful, realistic and dangerous. The stunts are never integral to the story. They get a laugh or add drama; they are never just there because we needed a big stunt.
The first scene I was given to co-ordinate on Raiders was the Flying Wing sequence. During the flight, Harrison throws a punch, Pat Roach as the German mechanic pops his head back and Steven yells, “Great! Print it, let’s move on!” I said, “Excuse me, sir, that was a miss.” He said, “Are you sure? It looked like a hit to me.” I said I was sure so we did it again. Four days later – it took four days to get dailies to Tunisia – we were watching the dailies in the lobby of the hotel. I’m sitting two rows back behind Spielberg. My heart is pumping because the shot is coming up. We watch, Harrison throws a punch and it is just off. Steven turns to me and says, “Good call, Vic.”
"Spielberg is a very tough taskmaster. You’ve got to bring your A game to the table because he’ll ask for the impossible." Vic Armstrong Spielberg is a very tough taskmaster. You’ve got to bring your A game to the table because he’ll ask for the impossible, but he’s very open to ideas as long as they add to the story or add to the energy. We moved at a great pace – it just rattled along, not like today’s movies that take months. I’ll never forget when Les Dilley, the art director, was dusting the German cars down and Spielberg said, “C’mon Les, get a move on; remember this is only a B movie.” Some B movie.In Tunisia, I did the run away from the exploding Flying Wing with my wide Wendy as Marion – the doubled the girls on all three films. I also doubled for Dietrich in the car and as the Nazi climbing on the side of the truck (I’m the one who holds onto the sheet that rips and peels off backwards into the palm trees). In Hawaii, I did the dive out of the cave with the ball chasing me and spent hours running through the jungle with dust coming off me.
Doom was much more satisfying than Raiders. I was the arranger from the start and just loved the creativity of it. Harrison injured his back so Steven shot on me for several weeks, fighting on the conveyor belt, looking down on the kids in the pit, swinging across the walkway. We just kept shooting until H was available to come back. It made me realise i can’t do what actors do. Years later, I did a body mould for Aliens and the insurance people were being shown around. I was introduced to them and they said, “We know Vic – he saved us a fortune on Temple of Doom.”
We shot the jump out of Club Obi-Wan in Macao at 2am. We used the fan descender, a system I’d invented for controlling and decelerating jumps from great heights, which later won me a Scientific And Technical Oscar. Wendy and I were looking at each other, waiting for the call. It’s like being on the executioner’s trapdoor then someone shouts, “Three, two, one!” and the bottom falls out of your world. You go bang, bang, bang through all these canopies. You can see that my heel catches on one of the canopies and it flips me over. It’s a really fast drop!
I think Last Crusade was the most fun. We opened up with the tank chase in Spain. I loved doing the leap from the horse to the tank, it was technically such a difficult thing to do. The jump from the steamer into the ocean at the beginning was also fun. The boots were well worn by that stage – literally and figuratively speaking. Everything was comfortable. You just got on and enjoyed it.
My name was synonymous with Indiana Jones for a long time. Harrison was very gracious in his praise. He was one of the first actors to say, “I don’t do the stunts. Vic does the stunts.” But quite honestly, I always feel Harrison did as many of the stunts as i did – it was ‘teamwork’ all the way along.
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