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Confessions of a fall guy

While filming The Wolfman, our resident stuntman threw himself from a 120ft clock tower. Stunts don’t get hairier than this…

Confessions of a fall guy

An award-winning stuntman extraordinaire, Rick English is one of the film industry’s go-to guys for white-knuckle motorbike stunts, burning rubber on Skyfall and Ghost Rider 2. But when he stunt-doubled for Benicio del Toro in the werewolf scare-fest The Wolfman, English abandoned terra firma for a leap-of-faith feat, springing off the top of the clock tower at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich – all 120ft. Here, he explains how.

Step 1: take it from the top

“In the movie, Benicio’s Wolfman character was escaping from the tower at the top of an asylum down to ground level. To make it as believable as possible, he – or rather, I – was to free-jump 35ft down to the roof of the building below, then another 35ft to the next level down, and finally 50ft to ground level – all in one fluid, unbroken series of movements, with no cuts. This involved bringing in four enormous 200ft cranes – one for each of the three stages of the stunt, and one for the camera.”

Step 2: buckle up

“Everybody has jobs where they think, ‘Why am I doing this?’ If you haven’t been at height for a while, you get up there the first time, look over the edge and go, ‘Bloody hell’. At the top of the tower, my stunt coordinator clipped me into my safety harness. It might sound like a simple stunt – jump and land – but it involved an elaborate rig setup, with a series of cables clipped to the front of my harness to decelerate me before each landing. At those heights, nobody takes the safety aspect lightly – any one of the three jumps I performed had the potential for me to get seriously hurt, or killed.”

Step 3: hit the brakes

“My life was in the hands of a team of riggers, many of whom are working or former stunt performers. They were the ones in control of all the lines I was hooked up to. On the call of ‘Action!’ I jumped. I probably only had about a second-and-a-half of freefall before the deceleration system kicked in. It’s so smooth you can hardly even feel it, which is crucial because you don’t want it to be readable on camera. If I floated onto the concrete it would look ridiculous. I still hit each landing with a thud, but it felt like the equivalent of jumping from about 4-5ft, rather than 35-50ft.”

Step 4: bounce right back

“I worked with Benicio’s movement coach to replicate the animal movements of the Wolfman. A pouncing beast wouldn’t stop to compose itself and check its harness between leaps, so neither could I. To keep the movement as natural as possible, we attached a bungee to the end of each line, so as I landed with both feet in a low squat, I could spring straight into the next stage of the jump.”

Step 5: hang around

“On screen, the scene was due to end with the Wolfman landing on a victim then making his escape. But that bit – the landing – was filmed separately with the actor. My stunt ended with me hanging unceremoniously on the line 4ft off the ground waiting for them to call cut. I’d give a thumbs up, they’d unhook me, we’d review the footage and then I’d go again. And again. Most of the stunt got cut from the final film, which was a shame as it had been a huge deal for us to set up.”