Brady Romberg to FilFan.com: Fractured bones don’t make up painful memories
Brady Romberg is your average stuntman. On a busy year, he gets 50-60 jobs. In some films, he does work that the actor didn’t get the slightest chance of doing. In the NBC hit TV series “Grimm 2011”, he got to be the monster while the actor didn’t wear the monster props at all. Brady suffers a few fractures now and then. Some break his back but most certainly not his backbone.
Brady handled the stunt performance business like the physics engineer he was. He studied the stunt market and when he realized he could make more money doing stunts than engineering he planned out how he wanted to approach it. He made up his mind in the very beginning that despite looking the way he did –pretty handsome, A-list star material- he wasn’t keen on becoming an actor when he could be a stuntman and make more money than most career actors and have a more exciting job at the same time.
“As long as you’re not a celebrity, being a stuntman pays better than most acting gigs,” the 32-year-old Colorado-native says, “and you can easily make a good name in the stunt business in shorter time. As an actor, you’d have to work 10 years until you start getting the jobs you wanted. In the beginning you would be getting almost no jobs, where you just show up on set and prep yourself until the star comes and then you’re out.”
The industry changed, as did things like supply and demand for stunt people. Now with all those blockbusters invading worldwide markets, stuntmen are in high demand. Brady reminisces on the transition,
“Back in the 1950s and the 1960s, stunt performance was more of an old man’s club. There were too many stunt people in their 40s and 50s doubling for those really young actors. Now it’s pretty different. However, there’s a lifespan for being a stunt double, you cannot get a 60-year-old guy to double a young actor anymore. There is a higher risk with older performers and stunt coordinators are always looking for the hot new stunt guys to do the big cool gags.
One of my jobs was doubling for this veteran actor named Bill Paxton (True Lies, Frailty, Titanic, etc) who was 50 years old and pretty worried about our age difference. He wanted my movement to look like a 50 year old, not a 30 year old. With a little work, it turned out pretty convincing.”
“In the 70s/80s it [stunt performance] peaked because there were too many TV shows like Dukes of Hazard and Miami Vice where stuntmen would go and make tons of money. There were too little stunt people and too many jobs, one stuntman could be taking 4-5 jobs in one day and the checks kept rolling in.
In the nineties until I got in the business in 2006, the market had dropped, TV was just a blast of reality series, and there were too many stunt people for the number of jobs. However, in the last 10 years there is a real surge in the TV business, and big companies like Netflix producing all kinds of shows, there are more jobs for stunt people than there has ever been. A lot of stunt guys like going to work on big movies, but I like TV. TV jobs are easier on keeping a life, because you can stay at home and you aren’t stuck working 14 hours a day every day of your life. In TV you can do many jobs a year as opposed to one film where you get to work on it 9-10 months and you leave your family behind which also causes personal struggles.”
Brady insists on how the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures in 1961 paved the way for a more secure, contained habitat for stunt people. It was a shift that allowed the industry to flourish within a healthy, organized environment. Yet, the situation can be more difficult in case of women stunt performers;
“It’s 10 times harder for women. For men, it’s a supply and demand. The whole business is male-dominated so there are varieties of roles for guys to fill in. However, for women, action starlets have specific physical requirements. My sister, Luci Romberg, is a kickass stuntwoman, yet she’s not as skinny and tall as those actresses. Despite being the reigning world champion for Redbull Parkour competitions, there are fewer opportunities for performers like her than there are for performers like me. It took her 8 years to really make it in the business while I was very successful after only 2 years. She now doubles for Melissa McCarthy, with whom she shares similar physique and mannerisms. She did all her [McCarthy’s] stunt double work for Spy, although Melissa does a lot of her own stunts as well. ”
The conversation took an inevitable turn towards fractures and painful memories, but Brady surprises me with the following confession;
“Most painful experiences didn’t come from physical injuries as opposed to dealing with nasty people. There were some horrible sets where I came out thinking I am never gonna work with those people again. It’s not just big sets with big names, but some smaller sets like projects for acting students were downright horrible. They [acting students] come out thinking they know everything about the job when in fact they lack experience. With my age and experience I wouldn’t expect that they use me, but instead they don’t listen then they throw blame when all goes wrong and they’re too arrogant to admit. On big sets, certain directors, celebrities or producers might just show up and turn everybody’s life into Hell.”
He also professes how the most dangerous stunts might not be the ones that sting a little bit longer,
“My most difficult stunt wouldn’t be the most painful stunt. The most dangerous was when I doubled for Justin Timberlake at this Pepsi commercial. There’s a girl drinking Pepsi in her backyard and Justin gets pulled with her straw into her backyard throughout the door of his New York restaurant. So there was this pneumatic ratchet that pulled me through the restaurant, and instead of pulling me through the open door, I got swooshed through the ceiling. It made the scariest grinding sound. I heard my bones breaking. I stayed in bed for 3 months. I should’ve stayed more but I was too eager to work. Justin is a really sweet guy. When he met me he was so supportive and concerned.
Another risky stunt with Justin was as I doubled for him at this film with Mila Kunis [Friends with Benefits]. He was supposed to be hanging from the Hollywood hills sign and they called a helicopter to get him because his character was scared of heights. Now you may not know that but helicopters have killed more people on movie sets than anything else. They are incredibly dangerous. For this particular job I was dangling on a rope 12 meters below the chopper traveling 100km/h over the Hollywood hills. I was hanging from the rope for quite some time and as I drifted over the trees and the hills I thought to myself; if anything goes wrong, I am going to die!
However, the most painful stunt was when I broke my ankle and had to work despite the pain that I felt. Because I started using it too soon it never healed. I saw 6 doctors before a specialist could see it was severely broken inside the joint. It worked on it over for 15 months until I got surgery where they removed over 20 bone chips that were grinding around in my ankle.”
Brady’s coolest stunts came from doubling Miles Teller in the intense music indie drama “Whiplash”. He is also doubling Teller in the upcoming crime war comedy “War Dogs”. He explains working on this set as…
“I didn’t do the drumming stunts. It’s a cool movie, Miles Teller is so cool. A cool set overall. I am not a big music person but what I am drawn to is building up the tension. That is something I really want to take into the next movie I produce is the pacing and building tension. I did the car crash stunt. When Miles is in the car and that truck hits him. The truck never actually hit the car, it was a VFX trick, but when the car rolls and slides down the street it’s actually me in there. The visual effects department worked it super cool to turn out the way it did.”
“Whiplash” success left such an impression on Brady that he uses it as inspiration for upcoming film projects in mind…
“I am a filmmaker first and will always be a student of filmmaking. I already produced 5 short films and 1 feature film called Boone: The Bounty Hunter. Producing makes me really appreciate how simple and fun stuntwork can be, but when I am done with my stunt work I will continue to produce films where I get to provide jobs for stunt people. Boone: The Bounty Hunter is an action comedy starring John Hennigan. I am not really into the arthouse filmmaking business, because I would love to define success and for me success is for something to get distributed, gets seen by a lot of people, and pays back the investors and filmmakers to go make another movie. Now that Boone is done, I have a work-in-progress, one is a TV show that I have been working on for almost 8 years and still don’t know if it will ever get the chance for it to see the light of day.”
Analytical and precise by nature, Brady didn’t blindly barge into the industry. He advises all young stunt people to take carefully measured steps, preferably start the risk-taking business by avoiding a college education and start working straight after highschool where their bones and physique are in perfect shape, prepped to secure them a stunt work career;
“I don’t think the stunt performance differs from any other job. We show up to work, do our job and go home to our family. Our job usually involves dressing up like some random character and doing crazy, dangerous and exciting stunts, but it is still a job. We’re the ones behind big blockbusters like “Captain America”. If you see the trailer, a lot of what’s behind that wowza factor is a lot of hard stunt work. As you go along the way you develop a thicker skin. Acting classes helped me. I had a great teacher who gave classes designed for stunt people to work on their acting. Stunt is not just about developing your physique but also about mannerisms. It’s about how to be the actor and imitate him on screen so that it is so convincing and realistic. I suggest that you put yourself out there. Train a lot with stunt people who are better than you.”
Apart from the draining, detailed talk, Brady Romberg maintains a low-key, low-profile life:
“I just had a 2 month old son, his name is Orion. I am pretty private about my personal life, but I want to talk about how I met my wife. It was a commercial and I was run over by a thousand pound gorilla. I don’t think it is difficult for someone with my life to get settled down into a family. In fact, if you plan your way carefully you could be getting 2 or 3 jobs a month which would pay your rent and be enough to cover for your family’s expenses. My wife has been really awesome and supportive. She is a great mother and she puts up with my ADD lifestyle.”
Brady Romberg could be the coolest, most calculated person you’ve ever met. His openness and willingness to share showcase intelligence and a dedication to a craft he loves and handles with care. Interviewing him was such a pleasure and an insight into rather foreign territory.