How ‘The Fall Guy’ Became the Ultimate David Leitch Movie

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The director gets personal in a movie drawn from his first career as a stuntman

Fall Guy Montage
Universal

In many ways, “The Fall Guy” is the movie filmmaker David Leitch was born to make.

Leitch has been working in the stunt industry since the late 1990’s. He was the stunt double for Brad Pitt in “Fight Club,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Mexican.” He worked with the Wachowskis on the first two “Matrix” sequels and “Speed Racer.”

After that he moved onto co-directing “John Wick” with Chad Stahelski and working as a second unit director on “Captain America: Civil War” (the airport fight? That was him). After “John Wick,” he directed a series of films – “Deadpool 2,” “Atomic Blonde,” “Bullet Train.”

But “The Fall Guy,” Leitch’s latest directorial effort, “is definitely the most personal movie of my career, for sure,” he told TheWrap. “And I mean, not only because I was a stuntman for 20+ years, but artistically I got to do comedy, I got to do drama, I got to do a sweeping romance. I got to balance a really delicate tone. I got to work with some of the great actors of our time…It really meets all of my sensibilities. I really love this movie.”

Also making it personal was the fact that the movie was based on “The Fall Guy” TV series that ran for five seasons and aired more than 100 episodes, beginning in the early 1980s. It starred Lee Majors as a stunt man who, to make ends meet, moonlights as a bounty hunter.

“I watched it in the ‘80s growing up. I was a huge fan and I think it is a show that lit the fuse for a lot of the stunt performers in my generation,” Leitch said.

Now, it was time for Leitch to light the fuse for the next generation of stunt performers.

The resulting film starring Ryan Gosling, which opens this weekend, would take four-and-a-half years to make, feature some of the biggest stunts in the history of cinema (including one that broke a Guinness World’s Record) and set up a potential new franchise for Universal. Pulling it off would be the ultimate stunt.

The Fall Guy
Ryan Gosling in “The Fall Guy” (Universal)

Humble Beginnings

Screenwriter Drew Pearce remembers it vividly.

It was November 2019. He had gotten a call from producer Guymon Casady, who had gotten the rights to “The Fall Guy.”

The property had long been thorny, due to the television and film rights belonging to different companies. But securing the rights was very much worth a phone call.

Casady had also called director Leitch and producer Kelly McCormick, who had worked together with Pearce on “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” The question Casady posed to Pearce was simple: “Does ‘The Fall Guy’ interest you?”

“I have a feeling they thought I was going to be a bit sniffy about it, because it was an ‘80s TV property. And instead, I was like, ‘Oh, absolutely, f— yes.’ And for lots of different reasons, but firstly, because it was my favorite show when I was really little,” Pearce told TheWrap, fondly recalling how he watched the series at 6 p.m. on Saturday nights with his dad. “I became obsessed.”

Pearce and his friends used to pretend to be stunt performers. His dad bought him a crappy digital watch. He set up an assault course and timed himself to get better and better.

When he rewatched the show, he was struck by the specificity to the period. “There is a looseness to it,” Pearce said, comparing it to “The Rockford Files.” “All those ‘70s into ‘80s hangovers, where the bruised masculinity of the ‘70s seeped into ‘80s TV. I do think it was all in my DNA.”

Being excited about the property was the “first piece of the puzzle.” The second piece of the puzzle was Leitch.

We don’t give audiences enough credit… We were a little wary at first. But they understand this world.

“The Fall Guy” director David Leitch

Pearce called Leitch and said, “I would like to do this with you guys. But I want to approach it like we’re going to make the best David Leitch movie of all time. Like, I want it to be the one where when people talk about you, however good the movies you make after this are, I want this to be the defining movie for you. I want to put as much of you into this as possible.”

Leitch obliged.

“One of the luxuries of being a screenwriter who’s also a director who’s also a producer is that you can kind of park ego and look at each project as the exact project you need it to be,” Pearce said, referencing Robert Towne and Lawrence Kasdan. “I wanted to be the Bob Towne on this one. I wanted to go to Dave and say, ‘Let’s pull everything out of you and put as much of that into the movie as possible.’”

Part of the juggling act of “The Fall Guy” was making sure that it was a personal story and celebration of the stunt community, while also honoring the IP. And they weren’t sure what to do at first. Pearce said he presented the producers with two versions of the movie. One involved a “Mission: Impossible”-style team. The other version, partially inspired by Pearce’s love of “The Long Goodbye,” followed a “lost male central character that also had these gigantic stunts, that was kind of a Trojan horse into the way of telling a smaller story.” They went with the second option.

With Gosling’s involvement, Pearce said, the story got pushed more into a romantic direction. “We just started running and running and running towards that,” Pearce said. And instead of taking away from the realism of the movie, it actually enhanced it.

“Having lived my entire adult life on a movie set, starting in the movie business when I was in my early 20s, there’s a lot of personal drama that takes place,” Leitch said. “You go on location and people get into these relationships. We call them location-ships. And they really happen. And this love story is not uncommon in the film world – people meeting on a movie falling in love.” Leitch points out that he and his wife, McCormick, are in the movie business. They are also very much in love.

Shooting “The Fall Guy”

“The Fall Guy” started shooting in the fall of 2022 in Australia. Emily Blunt joined the production “about three weeks in, maybe four weeks,” said Pearce. Her presence electrified the shoot. “The day that Emily stepped on the screen with Ryan, it was the true game changer, like I felt the energy,” said Pearce. The only other time he had experienced something similar was on “Iron Man 3,” watching Robert Downey, Jr. perform.

Leitch said he drew on his own experiences, not only as a stuntman, but as a director, when guiding Blunt. “I’ve been directing for over a decade. I can speak from experience. This is how it feels,” Leitch said. “You are overwhelmed right now. I’m overwhelmed right now. I’m directing you and I’m overwhelmed. Just perform overwhelmed.”

The production included a number of elaborate stunts, including one that caused the Sydney Harbour Bridge to be closed down for several hours for part of a giant car chase, partially set to Phil Collins’ soaring “Against All Odds” (“I think we wanted something that was juxtaposed to the action that was really cinematic,” said Leitch).

Another sequence, in which Gosling’s character does a barrel roll – where a stunt car flips over and over – actually won stunt performer Logan Holladay a Guinness World Record. (The car flipped over more than eight times.)

Leitch said Holladay is “playing the stuntman putting Ryan into the car and then after he does the stunt, he’s the guy pulling Ryan out of the car,” adding to the celebratory nature of “The Fall Guy” and the movie’s insistence to shine a light on the performers so often overlooked. And the fact that Holladay appears in the same sequence where he actually completes a world record is pretty cool. “How crazy, weird, meta is that?” asked Leitch.

Peace and Leitch were quick to make sure “The Fall Guy” didn’t slip into territory that was too inside baseball.

“We don’t give audiences enough credit. They have been doing HBO First Looks back 25, 30 years ago,” Leitch said. “Then the invention of DVDs and Blu-rays and specials features and all of that people get it. We were a little wary at first. But they understand this world.”

Pearce said that he always tried to keep in mind that “this is a blue-collar movie, not a show business movie.” As much as possible, the filmmakers “wanted Colt [Gosling’s character] to feel like a figurehead for the unseen, rather than the unseen in movies,” Pearce said. “That was the north star of how to keep it inclusive. And hopefully we did that.”

To make sure that the depiction of the stunt performer was accurate, Pearce interviewed 14 different stunt performers of different generations, “just to make sure I was getting the right vibe.” He wanted to sidestep the typical stunt performer representation, cultivated in movies like former stuntman Hal Needham’s “Hooper,” a “loosey-goosey hellraiser figure” in Pearce’s words. Leitch said “Hooper” is “from a different time.” The modern stunt performer, Pearce said, is “more like sports people or martial artists,” deeply committed and serious about their job.

The Fall Guy
(Universal)

Editing “The Fall Guy”

Of course, “The Fall Guy” was further refined and reshaped during post-production, with Leitch collaborating once again with editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir. (“Bullet Train,” Leitch’s last movie, was radically recalibrated during the editorial process.)

“There’s a lot that’s always discovered in my films in the edit. I think Elísabet is such an incredible artist in her own right. I love for her to dig deep within all of the material that I’m getting and find the gems that I may have thought we’d lost,” Leitch said. In particular figuring out the movie’s incredibly specific tone was, as Leitch said, “a really hard needle to thread.” He looked to Ronaldsdóttir, asking, “Am I being too broad here?”

Leitch said he got plenty of coverage while shooting, so he could choose moments that would maybe be a little more grounded, while others were a little bigger. “We have all these choices. The hard work is in editorial. And I trust her a lot,” Leitch said. “We carved out a really good director’s cut pretty quickly.”

While Leitch said that the movie being released is his “favorite cut of the movie,” he has a longer cut that could eventually be released that has “a lot more zany in it.” Some of that extra material was appropriated for the movie’s marketing campaign. The last trailer, for instance, is comprised almost completely of moments that aren’t in the final movie. “I don’t want people to see what’s in the movie. I want them to go see the movie and experience it,” Leitch said.

Next Time on “The Fall Guy”

The original “Fall Guy” ran for 113 episodes. And the filmmaking team has already started thinking about a sequel.

“We would love to make one. I think everyone had such a great time,” Leitch said. “We all want to go back to that world. And again, it’s because it’s so dear to us. All of us have been spending so much time on sets making movie…The actors all have anecdotes they can add and it becomes just really a cathartic process for all of us.”

Pearce is ready too. “I obviously fear the hubristic boot of the universe slamming down onto my throat, as I say that before the movie comes out, but it would be great to do more obviously, with these two characters and their romance,” Pearce said.

One of the outcomes he is proudest of in the film is that the relationship between the main characters is “not extreme, their problems are not extreme.” It’s a real relationship against a mythic backdrop. “I’d love to do that with whatever the next stage of their relationship is, the idea of the difficulties of two people staying together, the reality of an onset romance and what happens next, all of that good stuff would be fantastic,” Pearce said. “And I love the idea of telling more shaggy dog stories in the universe of filmmaking as well.”

Four-and-a-half years after Pearce received that initial phone call, “The Fall Guy” is finally coming out. “It’s the quickest amount of time to make a blockbuster,” Pearce said. “The only things that are faster are movies where the board of shareholders needs this movie out in Q3 or whatever. And we’re not that film.”

Just like a stuntman, “The Fall Guy” took its licks … and kept on going.

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