Stunt talent and coordinators are the unsung heroes of some of your favorite films. The Academy doesn’t even recognize their important contribution to film. They just don’t stand in for actors or act as henchmen and bystanders. They’re the ones training the actors, helping with shot continuity for key scenes, and making sure each action scene goes as well as it can while make sure people are a safe as possible. So this will be the first in what I hope is a series of articles featuring the people who make our favorite shows and films look cool. We recently spoke with Gui DaSilva. He’s rather important because he was one of the Black Panther stunt doubles for Captain America: Civil War. He has moved up rather quickly and was most recently one of the coordinators for Pacific Rim: Uprising and John Boyega’s stunt double in the film.
Gui was initially a background dancer for Chris Brown but made the transition to stunt work after about 3 years.
Before the stunt community I was a professional dancer. I danced behind Chris Brown for about 2 or 3 years. On tour, music videos, award shows,; everything. I then transferred over to stunts. First film I ever worked on was a low budget film Lucky Stars. It was no pay and in the Bay area. I drove up with a couple of my buddies and met with the director, videographer, and editor. And I slept on the floor of the writer, director, and lead actor for four days. And we fought in a church 3 of those days. After that I had already been doing YouTube videos with the Thousand Pounds crew. They’re known for doing the Naruto and Dream Fighter videos that went viral a few years ago. Also Clandestine which is an episodic project they were working on. From there I got the opportunity to work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, my first major film.
That was pretty much my first experience working in the big leagues. Everyone I worked with at that moment was probably at the apex of their career. They were this guy who has worked with the this actor, or this person who was about to be a coordinator. That opened me up to having the experiences on things like Daredevil as a double for one of the actors as well as a police officer. Then I did opening sequence mocap for Thor 2. That was also the same team that did Deadpool, so I also got to do some mocap as Deadpool and Colossus. That’s what got me into the whole motion caption world which led to me being Leonardo for Ninja Turtle. Afterwards I got luck and landed some more Marvel stuff. I did Guardians of the Galaxy, got to be Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, had a little stunt actor character in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I did some work on Doctor Strange, and most recently completed work on Pacific Rim 2 as John Boyega’s stunt double and fight choreographer. You get to see my face every now and then.
That’s awesome, there’s been a big progression in a short period of time.
Yeah, a scary one too. Jumping out of your comfort zone and pursuing something you really want to do comes with a lot of sacrifice and scary moments. Luckily I’m very stubborn and I didn’t want to give up. I’m not the best, I don’t claim to be the best, I don’t even think I want to be…nah I want to be the best. So I’m working towards that.
A lot of people know it’s hurry up and wait on movie sets. What they don’t really know is the amount of practice and walk through that happens in pre-production. Could you describe that process?
The only time a stunt person is going to be part of the pre-production team is if you’re going to be a double or are you’re stunt utility player. And you’re there designing the action, designing the movements, creating the character with the actors, and training the actors. There is a lot of downtime when you’re actually on set. For example for Guardians of the Galaxy, call time was 7 am. However, my call time was 3 am because it took 3 and a half hours to put makeup on me. Afterwards I would just sit there in prosthetics and my shot would not be until after lunch which is around 1 pm. There’s also a lot of equipment being moved around. If a film has a smaller budget, there’s less moving pieces therefore they’re able to move more quickly. But in this case there’s a lot of moving pieces and lighting being arranged. While the shots are set up actors are being told what’s going with them, stunt person is being told their directions, there’s a lot of communication and rapport building. One set up can literally take up to 30 minutes to an hour at a time just to get ready. And that compounds all the sitting and waiting time. So when you’re put into that sitting and waiting time, the best thing to do in my opinion is stretch, keep your mind fresh, and make sure you know what’s going on. For stunt players, you want to be seen but you don’t want to be seen. You have to find that happy medium, you want to be available but not in the way. You just find a corner that’s designated for you or designated for yourself; just depends on the production. It’s very militant, the stunt community has a very militant attitude when it comes that kind of stuff.
What’s the scariest stunt you’ve done?
Riskiest spot was during Captain America: Civil War. I hate heights, I don’t like them at all but I will do the job; I will not let fear keep me from doing something. We’re on top of this building and it’s a 100 ft. drop. And it looks like it’s 100 feet but then there’s another drop that goes on to like a freeway or train tracks which is another 50 feet. So here I am sitting on this thing with a line on me and they want me to jump out 8 feet and catch on to the side of the building. I have to hit it the right way to prevent myself from spinning out. So one time I do it and don’t slap the building to slow my momentum. I swing around the building and fall down. So I free fall for about 50 or 60 feet of the drop but then the descender kicks in just enough to slow me down. I hit the other side of the building so hard. The other one was around that same scene, the chase in the tunnels. We were rehearsing for the transfer for me jumping from the back of a car to the vehicle Captain America is driving. I slipped off the back of the car that we were practicing on. I slip and almost fall on the street and the car that I just jumped off of is coming towards my head. Luckily Adrian Hein, the Captain America double for that scene grabbed me and saved my life. So that was another close call. I think the universe is playing with my head because every job I’m always doing something with heights. Guardians of the Galaxy; they had me jump off a platform into boxes. For Pacific Rim…well you’ll see I’m jumping off some shit.
That’s pretty hilarious. Maybe you’ll get over it eventually?
Yeah the one thing I don’t like to do is what I always end up doing. There’s this amazing unit director named Spiro Razatos, he’s amazing. He’s shot chase scenes, several Fast and Furious movies. He was known for his high falls, but he hated heights. And he would never look, he would just jump. They’d say he always looked good, but that was because he was actually terrified of the jump. The fear made it more believable. So maybe that’s why I’m always doing those spots because I’m secretly decent at it. My fear is very real and organic.
You have any advice for anyone who may be interested in getting into stunt work?
Grab a buddy, get a camera, and start shooting your own stuff. That’s how all the amazing people I know started their career. You gotta do it, start small, and build from there. Learn to fight for a camera. The techniques I grew up doing, I have to make them bigger for film. Cameras don’t read traditional martial arts well. Wushu reads really well, but you have to understand the speed and cadence. It’s like having a dance partner. You have to know how to play with them, learn to fill the gaps. We can all throw a punch, but how you throw that punch in a film sets you apart from how other people throw a punch. There’s a lot of acting, showing your intention. Learn to throw a hook punch, and learn how to break your fall. And get good enough to do it 17 times the same way. If you can do that, you can be a stunt man.
Pacific Rim Uprising is out in theaters nationwide March 23rd.