STUNT DOUBLE: AGENT SMITH
MATRIX: How did you initially get into stunt work?
BRAD: I started doing stunts about ten years ago. When I was in college I didn’t know what I was going to major in — I was a business major for a while — and I didn’t know what I was going to do after school. Ever since I was a kid watching That’s Incredible! and all those shows I thought, I was going to be a Stuntman, but I lost sight of that later when I went to college and my dad wanted me to be a business major. Halfway through college I realized that being a Stuntman was a dream I’d always had and had forgotten about. So I just decided that somebody out there is a Stuntman and making a living at it, so I’m going to make it happen.
I made a deal with my dad and who said that if I finish college he’ll respect any decision I make. So I finished, traveled for a year and then moved to L.A. and started pounding the pavement, going to different movie sets and meeting Stunt Coordinators, handing out resumes and trying to get into the business. I grew up doing martial arts, but I started training in more movie-related martial arts and gymnastics, learning how to drive, doing all those things as well as handing out my resume. Eventually I started meeting the right people at the right times, and it started to snowball from there back in 1993.
MATRIX: Which production did you break in on?
BRAD: My first big break was when I went to an interview/audition at a gymnastics center for Batman Forever. That was back in ’95 I think. I did some martial arts for the Stunt Coordinator and he liked the way that I moved, then he called me out of the blue to do this sequence where Robin is doing his laundry in a martial arts fashion. Joel Schumacher, the Director, had a tape of an artist called Yuen Biao who is friends with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, and is in a movie [Dreadnaught] doing his laundry using martial arts like swinging the towel around his neck, squeezing it, and doing all these poses. Using that as a guideline I choreographed a couple of pieces where Chris O’Donnell does his laundry and brought it to the Stunt Coordinator, Conrad Palmisano, who has been my mentor since then, and Joel Schumacher. They liked it, so I ended up training Chris O’Donnell for a couple of weeks. After that they brought me in to do more on Batman Forever — I was one of Tommy Lee Jones’s thugs.
MATRIX: What were some of your subsequent films?
BRAD: Like I said, Conrad became my mentor and I hounded him after that movie. I sent him a letter every two or three months for the next year and a half, saying I wanted to be his assistant and learn all about the business. I would call him once in a while, just to keep on his good side and always stay fresh in his mind. Then one day he called me saying he was doing a movie called The Peacemaker, and would I like to be his assistant? He also said there was an actor I’d make a decent double for — George Clooney. At that time I didn’t watch a lot of TV, so I didn’t know who George Clooney was, but I said it would be great.
So I was approved by the Director to be George’s double and was Conrad’s assistant. We went to Eastern Europe for four months and shot the movie. I got Assistant Stunt Coordinator credit on the film as well as doubling George for all his stunts, and I’ve doubled George Clooney ever since; I’ve done maybe seven movies with him. That was probably the biggest after-effect of working on Batman Forever.
MATRIX: Did you work on Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
BRAD: Yes, I did the jump out of the train, when he gets hit out of the store and he goes back on his back on the pavement, and other little things.
MATRIX: Talk about your role on this production.
BRAD: I’m one of the stuntmen on the Martial Arts Stunt team: I double Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving, and I also play one of the stunt parts, a fighter against Neo in the [Merovingian’s] Chateau. As Agent Smith we’ve done three different fights, and we just finished our Chateau fight two weeks ago, so we’re mostly doing a combination of training and rehearsing fights right now. We’re into training on our next fight with the pitchforks — some people call them the tuning forks — which is part of the Super Burly Brawl. It’s the last fight in THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS, where Neo and Agent Smith have their final duel.
MATRIX: What was it like the first time you experienced the pitchforks?
BRAD: The first time we saw them, they weren’t quite the same setup that they are now; we were originally on a belt that didn’t twist. It was a good concept, but we weren’t exactly sure how it was going to work or how we were going to apply it to the fight. Now that we’ve added the twisting belt factor into it and designed a new arm for it, the door has opened a little bit into the options that we can explore.
There are some limiting things about the pitchforks, for instance, the speed — we can’t make it ultra fast. It’s also all hand controlled, so it’s hard to be precise all the time, which is going to take a lot of practice. Right now we’re still working on the choreography trying to figure out what exactly we’re going to do, and as soon as we get that then everything will progress and get better from there.
MATRIX: How much of a part do the stunt guys play in actually tweaking and working out the mechanics of the apparatus?
BRAD: [Yuen] Wo Ping [Fight Choreography] and the Hong Kong wire team come in and choreograph it, but when it comes to moving the pitchforks and actually controlling the devices it’s us completely. We have to figure out how it works most efficiently. We man each station with the person that we feel is best suited for that part; it’s not that difficult to control any one action, but to control all the action together with both tuning forks going at the same time can be pretty tricky. Sometimes, when you’re crossing over, or going around where the tuning forks or the people could actually hit each other, people have to be quite cautious in what they’re doing, and at the same time be efficient enough and quick enough to make it look like it’s a fight.
MATRIX: So you all have the opportunity to give feedback about what is working or not working with the apparatus?
BRAD: Yes. All of us have spent our time in the forks as well as out of the forks, and it’s a lot easier, I think, to see what’s going to work and what’s not going to work when you’re not in them. So, from the outside we’ve all seen the shots that we think look good, and the shots that we don’t think look good. Obviously everybody has a different opinion — some people may think something looks good or something doesn’t, but we have a pretty good general consensus of what is working and what isn’t. Those are the fundamentals that we use to progress through the fight scene.
MATRIX: You’ve worked with a number of big directors; how do Larry and Andy compare?
BRAD: They’re great. I think I relate to the Brothers better than any other directors because I comprehend what they’re going for. For them there aren’t really any rules; they shoot a shot for the beauty and aesthetics of it. The same goes for capturing motion; they always approach filming motion with an eye towards how everything plays together. If it becomes a matter of crossing the line, or using the same frame on a different angle it doesn’t matter to them; it’s just the best shot for that angle. And it works. I admire that a lot.
Something that everybody in the film community is starting to find out now is that rules don’t really apply anymore to filmmaking. That’s, I think, a general rule that has been around for the last couple of years: there are no rules anymore. You can virtually do anything and it’ll work, and it’ll look great, and I admire that; I can relate to that a lot.
MATRIX: As a Stunt Player, do you feel more challenged on this production than on previous films?
BRAD: A movie like this makes you give it your all. Like for the majority of stunt guys on this show, martial arts have been my life since I was a kid. I saw Enter The Dragon around 1972; as soon as I started watching movies when I was six or seven I started watching that kind of stuff, and I loved it. To be on the biggest martial arts movie ever is a dream come true. My most memorable time so far has been during the Chateau fight where we actually got to use our martial arts skills while up in the wires. Plus we were playing ourselves, so we don’t always have to come in and double an actor just for the hard moves. It makes you really do your best because you don’t want to do poorly for the movie.
MATRIX: How did you get involved with THE MATRIX?
BRAD: Chad Stahelski, who doubles Keanu on a regular basis, came in first as the Neo double. He’s extremely talented and hardworking, and eventually worked his way up to Stunt Coordinator for pre-production and Stunt Coordinator for the martial arts sequences. I’ve been friends with Chad for seven or eight years, so even though I don’t make the best double for Hugo, he brought me and a couple of other fellows from our stunt company, Smashcut, in; me and Dave [David Leitch] and Marcus [Young], as well as a couple of others, to double Hugo. I have to wear four-inch lifts in my shoes to be the same height as Hugo, and we all have to wear wigs just to look similar to him.
MATRIX: What did you think of the first MATRIX film?
BRAD: I’m a science fiction junkie as well as an action junkie, so I love that movie. Our intent with Smashcut is that we want to be a production company, and we want to make films. So for the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about writing scripts. I’m not much of a script writer, but I can come up with concepts and ideas, and I always tend to come up with science fiction ideas and plots. I see how those play in my head, and maybe write down little treatments. Ideas like those that were in THE MATRIX go through my mind often, and to see them put a whole thought together, to stay so focused, to make it into a film and have it make so much sense with hardly any holes at all, was amazing. I love that movie.
MATRIX: Do you think the generous pre-production time to train affected filming?
BRAD: Yes. Martial arts stuntmen in general all fight with similar beats, meaning the punches and the timing come in around the same time. Wo Ping is used to those beats as well when choreographing. The Chateau fight had, I think, only three of us, out of six stunt fighters, that Keanu had fought before. Just having us around and knowing our energy I think made Keanu feel a lot safer and more at ease working with that energy. Now we know how Keanu moves, and how best to work with him and give him advice. I think just the general chemistry that has developed through our being with each other for so long has helped the action with all of us.
MATRIX: How long have you been with the production at this point?
BRAD: The Agent Smith Stunt Doubles have been training since the end of January ; we trained in L.A. for three months, then went to San Francisco and trained for another two and a half months. After that we shot the fight in the Park, which looks like a courtyard in the Bronx, that they’ve been calling the Burly Brawl for reference. It’s where Neo fights all of the Agent Smiths. We shot that for seventeen days from the first punch to the last punch, which has to be the longest fight ever filmed, at least in American film history.
From there we had a little bit of a hiatus, like a month off, and then we flew here [Australia] and trained for a number of months. Our first fight here was the Industrial Hallway fight doubling Hugo, which was not too extensive. The whole cast was there, minus Carrie-Anne [Moss, Trinity]. We went back to more training, then a week or two after that we did the Chateau fight, which was a big one, about fifteen days from first punch to last punch — that’s including second unit filming; we didn’t have second unit on the Burly Brawl.
We’re coming into Christmas now, so we’ll come back here to start work around January thirteenth, and that’s when we’ll get into the Super Burly Brawl. All our stunt work is complete for RELOADED, and now we’re just getting into MATRIX REVOLUTIONS. To be in probably the two biggest fights ever filmed in American film history is amazing. These films are going to be a major milestone in American film.
MATRIX: How difficult is it to adapt to Wo Ping’s style that he uses with the Hong Kong team?
BRAD: I think it’s definitely a lot harder for Chad since the Neo character has a specific style. His form in fighting is very important; I suppose it’s a very Chinese-style form, maybe a bit of Wushu mixed with other parts of Kung Fu. Whereas we, as the thugs or when we’re doubling Hugo, don’t have to worry too much about our form. The most we have to worry about, if we’re doubling Hugo say, is acting like him, punching like he would punch. If we’re doing our own part we can generally make up our own style. So for us I don’t think it’s too difficult. Occasionally one of the Hong Kong guys will come in and say, “You have to throw the punch like this,” or “You have to swing the weapon like this,” and we’ll change it if that’s the style they’re looking for.
MATRIX: Thanks, Brad.
Interview by REDPILL