STUNT DOUBLE: AGENT SMITH
MATRIX: How did you get into stunt work?
DARRIN: I wanted to do something that was fun that would incorporate all the motorcycle riding and playing that you do when you’re younger. I wanted to look for a way to use all those skills and hang out with guys that like to do the same thing. I’ve been a stunt person for ten years now.
MATRIX: What was some of the first work you did when you got into the industry?
DARRIN: Fighting, lots of fighting, and basic falls. No one is going to give you any really big stunts when you first get into the industry, so a lot of smaller stunts like falling over backwards on a chair. I did one of my first movies with Chad [Stahelski, Martial Arts Stunt Coordinator], which was kind of funny. We joke about that; it was just fighting.
MATRIX: Was working your way up through the ranks difficult?
DARRIN: It’s really competitive, you feel fortunate to be in the industry. You train quite a bit, and hopefully meet the right people, and when you are finally given a chance you don’t screw up so you get hired back again. It all happened pretty quick in the overall scope of things; all of a sudden you end up here on a huge film.
MATRIX: What are some of the other large films you’ve worked on?
DARRIN: Eraser, Independence Day, Batman & Robin, The Postman, Wild Wild West, G.I. Jane and Swordfish. There’s a bunch of them, I forget the rest.
MATRIX: How do the sequels to THE MATRIX stack up to some of the other stunt work jobs you’ve had?
DARRIN: Even the largest films I’ve been on don’t really compare to the scope of this project. Having the amount of time we have to train and to fight is unbelievable. I’ve never had this much time to prep for any sequence, and I think it shows. When we actually finally get something on film, you can tell that the guys have been training for a long time.
MATRIX: Where are we right now?
DARRIN: We’re in the training hall, where we work out a lot of the fights and spend most of our time. All the tape on the ground is to signify different scenes. For instance, this is for the Matrix Building, so we’ll get the floor plan to the set, tape it out on the floor, and then the Hong Kong stunt team will choreograph the fight and we’ll start working out. We train Hugo [Weaving, Agent Smith] and Carrie-Anne [Moss, Trinity] and Keanu [Reeves, Neo] in here, working out all the wire moves. We also use it to train ourselves and work on our kicks; everybody on the team works out pretty hard. On the other side is a full gym with weights, Heavy Bag, and cardio machines.
Like I said, THE MATRIX is unlike any film I’ve ever been on. Most films I’ve been on just don’t give you this much time to prep the stunt sequences. Everything here is revolutionary; we’re given so much leeway to come up with new things and innovate, like we did for the pitchfork rigs. They say they want guys fighting in the air, and we say, okay let’s try pitchforks with twisty belts. Then they tell us to run with the idea, and I think that comes from the Directors being really young and this being their handpicked crew.
MATRIX: How often do you and the other stunt players work out?
DARRIN: The stunt guys work out every day, and the actors pretty much the same. They work pretty darn hard, it’s amazing. Keanu is an animal, and trains as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen, and Carrie-Anne and Laurence [Fishburne, Morpheus] both train an incredible amount. The amount of time we have to prep for each fight definitely shows on screen, and I’m sure it’s a great bonus from the Directors’ standpoint to get the actors to do as much as they’re doing, with Keanu and Carrie-Anne and Laurence doing almost all of their own fights. It’s awesome to be able to shoot your principals head-on during a fight.
That’s where giving all the time for rehearsal and prep comes into play and pays off. I think that’s why the first film was such a huge success, and why these two are going to be so huge — because this production understands the benefit of prepping. Instead of rushing in and trying to put everything together in a week and having it look like a fight you put together in a week, we had four months to train for the Burly Brawl fight we did in San Francisco. Keanu was fighting as good as anyone I’ve ever seen, and it shows on film.
MATRIX: Are the training facilities comparable to those on other productions?
DARRIN: We never have facilities like this on other productions — I’ve never had a place to go and train on the other films I’ve worked on — we’re usually expected to show up trained. To actually come here and train for two, three or four months with the actors you’re going to be fighting is wonderful. It’s great for us because we get to learn the beats, we get to learn how they fight, and how they act in different situations. We have the opportunity to develop a relationship and a rapport that comes through on film.
MATRIX: Does the fact that the cast of THE MATRIX films is willing to throw themselves into the stunts change the dynamics of the stunt person’s role?
DARRIN: No, I don’t think so. Chad, who is Keanu’s double and the Martial Arts Stunt Coordinator, is so tight with Keanu and they respect each other so much that I think it actually elevates the stuntman status; you’re not just a guy coming in to hit a wall anymore. Keanu goes to Chad for his martial arts advice; he respects Chad’s opinion and he has somebody who will tell him if it doesn’t look good, or if it does look good. Keanu doesn’t want some guy saying, “Hey man, that looks great.” He wants straight up answers. It’s good to know that he has a guy that will train him, and tell him when his moves looks good and when they don’t, and a guy to step in when he needs to, which is very rare on this show.
MATRIX: What are some of the main stunts that you find yourself working on?
DARRIN: A lot of the falls. As stunt people we take the bigger hits, we take the brunt of stunts they don’t need to be using Hugo for. He’s better served spending his time on other shots.
MATRIX: Are you specifically here to double for Agent Smith?
DARRIN: Yes sir. There are four Hugos here [in Sydney, Australia], and there were twelve of us in San Francisco who all doubled Hugo. Hugo trains as hard as Keanu and Laurence and Carrie-Anne. Hugo is incredible; he comes in here and he fights and trains incredibly, and when we did the Burly Brawl it showed through. Hugo is in for as much of the fight as Keanu is, and the only reason we’re brought in is to take the bigger hits and the bigger falls.
Agent Smith goes through the crater, through a window, and then through the beam truss for the roof. So Hugo will do the lead ups to that, and then one of us will step in and actually get on the ratchet, and go through the crater.
MATRIX: How do the four stunt Smtihs decide who does which stunt for Hugo?
DARRIN: Everybody has got their own little niche here, so Chad, being the Martial Arts Stunt Coordinator, knows what we can all do, and he’ll put us in our specific niches.
MATRIX: What would you say your specialty is?
DARRIN: He uses me to pull into objects and things, and he likes to pull me through things and break things with me; that seems to be my niche, although all the guys are very good at it. We’re all trained to do everything, so if one guy unfortunately goes down, another guy can step in and pick right up where he left off.
MATRIX: How far in advance is the choreography planned?
DARRIN: We’ve been training for the Super Fight [Super Burly Brawl] since October or September [2 to 3 months].
MATRIX: What was it like when you were first presented with the pitchforks?
DARRIN: It was fun. Everybody eyeballs it at first to see what’s going to happen, and then with the stunt guy nature, everybody wants to get in it and see how it works. We all love to flip around and stuff, so it was cool to get in there and feel it, to fly around.
MATRIX: Do you have any idea how many hours you’ve clocked in the pitchforks?
DARRIN: I have no idea. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in them, but we’re lucky, there are four Hugos, but only one Neo, so Chad stays in the harness quite a bit. Hugo gets in it, and Keanu also gets in it in true MATRIX fashion. When it comes down to it, Hugo and Keanu will probably do ninety-five percent of the fight.
MATRIX: How did you become involved with THE MATRIX sequels?
DARRIN: As stunt guys we’ve all known each other for a long time, and Chad asked us to come down and audition. Out of that audition they picked us. I started in January  and we trained for a month or two in Santa Monica, then we went up to San Francisco until the end of June [for filming], and then we had a month or two off. We came here [to Australia] at the beginning of September , and I’m not sure how long we’ll be here. It’s a great show, and when it’s over I’m going to miss it quite a bit. Being on it for so long, it turns into a family.
On this job there’s more of a schedule than I think any of us are used to, so it’s almost like a real job; in the morning we come in, we have an actual schedule to adhere to, we go home at a normal time. It’s really odd, so I think that when it’s over everyone is going to go through a kind of post MATRIX shock syndrome.
MATRIX: Are you enjoying living in Australia?
DARRIN: It’s my first time here and I love it. My wife and my daughter are here with me; they came on the day that I flew over, and they’ll stay until the end. It’s been like a big surf trip for me, I love it.
MATRIX: What did you think of the first MATRIX film?
DARRIN: I thought it was awesome, incredible. The hardest thing about wire gags, and flying people, and things like that, I think, is to have a vehicle that actually sells it. You need to have a believable means for all this to happen, and in an altered reality you’re limitless; you can do whatever you want. That’s the beauty of having something like the pitchforks where we can put guys up there and make them fly. This is going to be the biggest action film ever, I would think, and to be a part of it is awesome.
MATRIX: Do you think the stunt industry has changed in the wake of THE MATRIX?
DARRIN: Absolutely. We constantly get calls for MATRIX style stunts. Up until I left the States to come here, we’d get calls from people making commercials saying, “We want MATRIX style.” The funny thing is, everybody wants MATRIX style, but nobody wants to give us the prep time, and nobody understands that it’s a whole package. It’s not just about setting up a bullet time rig and lining up a bunch of cameras, it’s everything. It’s about having actors who are willing to sit in the pitchforks for three days and fight, like Keanu and Hugo coming in here and stretching and fighting every day. It’s the Directors, it’s everybody that works on it being totally professional and wanting to see this film do incredibly. I know when the stunt guys do their stuff they’re all thinking, I’m going to do everything I can to make this the best I can do.
MATRIX: So you don’t regard this production as just another job?
DARRIN: No. It’s really hard to explain. It’s such a different thing than we’re used to, and I think the production is operating at such a high level that everybody wants to try and raise their own level. I think everyone’s personal levels have been raised on this film, and have come further than where they were by far.
MATRIX: Does having a first film to reference change your approach?
DARRIN: We look at the first film, but I think it’s easier for us to conceive the shots and understand how they’re going to fight, and how they’ll react. It’s great to see how Hugo was in the first one, and for the months we worked in San Francisco and were training with Hugo, we’d stand like him, we’d run like him, we’d emulate him. We’d ask him to come over and ask, “How would you block this punch? How would you throw this punch? How would you kick?” We’d all sit and watch as he’d show us, and then mimic it. By the time the fight [Burly Brawl] came up, everybody could run, stand, and do everything like Hugo. It’s those little things that make THE MATRIX films so phenomenal, that the stunt doubles walk like Hugo and do everything like Hugo. Taking the time to get those little details is what makes it such a success.
MATRIX: On some productions, only the Director has the shot in their head, it’s not communicated to the stunt guys.
DARRIN: Right, you’re on a need to know basis. You come in, run into the wall and fall, and that’s your thing. But we know what we’re trying to do here; we know that these fights are going to be the biggest fights ever put on film. People are going to look at this for years; I hope people look at this and say, “We want MATRIX style,” for another ten years.
I think it’s great that just when people are starting to do what MATRIX did on the first one, they’re going to hit them with a whole new set of rules and say, “Look at this. Just when you thought you had us down, now here’s the new MATRIX style.” That’s awesome.
When this film comes out people are going to be blown away. I don’t think they’re going to know what hit them. Stunt guys, people who know the industry and know the little tricks like the blue screen and wire rigs are going to look at it and go, “How did they do that?”
MATRIX: You’ve touched on it a little, but it seems an obvious question to ask: how is it working with Hugo?
DARRIN: Hugo is great. Every actor here is so cool, it just adds to THE MATRIX magic. Hugo takes us out to dinner; we all hang out and joke. He had these shirts made up especially for the stunt guys. He’s just the consummate professional; he doesn’t want to do just the dialogue and then leave the fights to the stunt guys. He believes that the fighting is part of the character, so he wants to do a lot of the fighting. Plus, no matter how good a fighter you are, it’s not going to look as good as when Agent Smith does it, because that’s Hugo’s style.
All of the actors are top notch; just so willing to work, and that adds to everybody’s energy. If you see Keanu and Hugo coming in here and fighting, and stretching, and kicking, and grunting through workouts that I normally do you’re like, “Now I’ve got to work out that much harder.”
MATRIX: Thanks for the interview, Darrin.
Interview by REDPILL