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The art of smashing through a window

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The art of smashing through a window

For every crash, bang and wallop you see on the big screen, someone has taken a major risk in real life. Someone like multi-award-winning stuntman Rick English, who has doubled for Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. He’s a man who gets beaten up, drowned and exploded as often as you brush your teeth. Here, English explains how he hurtled through a massive glass window while doubling for Gerard Butler in Shakespeare drama Coriolanus, without needing a trip to A&E.

Step 1: Protect yo’ self

“People assume you’re jumping through sugar glass on a stunt like that. That stuff’s OK for bottles, coffee tables and shelves, but it’s too fragile for a window pane the size of the one we needed. No, this was a real window: 8mm-thick toughened glass. It’s always dangerous going through glass, and you know you’re going to get cut. All you can do is minimise the risk of any serious damage by wrapping Elastoplast around vital areas like the neck and wrists.” 

Step 2: Get a grip

“In the film, Gerard Butler’s character spear-tackles Ralph Fiennes and drives him through the window. As Gerard’s stunt double, I had to drive my head into the stomach of James Grogan [doubling for Ralph]. We ran towards the window face-to-face – if I’d have pushed him the whole way I could have lost control of the move. Then, at the last moment, we both deliberately twisted and I buried my head into his shoulder while he doubled over me, so both our faces were as shielded from the breaking glass as they could be.”

Step 3: Smash and grab 

“Normally, if you ran full-speed into an 8mm-thick reinforced glass window – like a patio door – you’d bounce straight off and land on your backside. So, the glass on set was rigged to a detonator, which was triggered a micro-second before we hit it. The detonator doesn’t shatter the glass completely, but breaks it enough to reduce the resistance, so that it smashed as we ran into it. The timing has to be spot on, or the whole thing looks fake.”

Step 4: Brace for impact

“The window we crashed through was two-storeys high, so we set up a box rig – a giant stack of cardboard boxes – for our landing. With an airbag, you have to be very precise with your landing or risk injury, which didn’t suit the stunt; with a box rig, you can land any way you want and the boxes just crumple beneath you. James bore the brunt of it, not from the impact, but because he landed face-up, with a curtain of glass raining down on him.”

Step 5: Dust yourself off

“From the moment we hit the window to the moment the stunt coordinator brushed us off and gave us the all-clear, we had our eyes shut. You can’t be too careful when glass is involved. As it was, we both came away with cuts all over our exposed heads and hands, but nothing worth a trip to hospital. Three days later, after five showers and several hours of work and training, I was still picking bits of glass out of my hair and ears.”

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