By Mike Atkinson | Drive producer digital content creator
How about this for a C.V: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Wolverine and last year’s smash box office hit Hacksaw Ridge featuring Mel Gibson.
Gold Coast based stuntman Jace Lee has been involved in the stunt industry for more than 10 years and is somehow still in one piece despite being set on fire, thrown off buildings and taken several rounds of gunfire and mortar explosions.
While his health insurance provider must be sweating buckets, Jace’s love for his job is undeniable and takes everything that goes with working in the movie industry in his stride.
His latest movie, Hacksaw Ridge, saw Jace play a Japanese Solider in the opening scene.
He’s alright folks! Jace Lee in action on Hacksaw Ridge (2016). Credit: Lionsgate Movies
“So I played one of the Japanese Soldiers in the battle scenes along with a whole team of other stunt guys. I was one of the Japanese guys,” said Jace.
“They shave our heads and they sort the costume out. I’ve got a Chinese/Irish background so I guess once they put you in costume with some blood and whatnot… you start to blend in.
“The opening scene of the movie where Andrew Garfield, who plays the lead character Desmond Doss, when he’s being stretchered out on the battlefield at the very beginning of the film before they flashback to his upbringing and his basic training, I’m actually one of the Japanese guys one fire during the slo-mo sequence. I was the one on the right screaming in pain!”
A normal working day
Being a stuntman is no ordinary job. While the vast majority of Australians toil away in the office from 9–5 with the obligatory 11am coffee, Jace is preparing himself to be in the middle of a manufactured Hollywood battle scene.
“Once you arrive on set they (the directors) have a shot list for every day that they want to get through and what’s required and we all work through a stunt coordinator.
“They go to all the production meetings and they sort of know the shot list. Unless it’s a big mainline stunt that you’ve been told about beforehand — hacksaw Ridge obviously being a war movie was more about continous action so you’re finding your pieces to do.
“Surrounding yourself next to the bombs and the pyro and the stuff that’s going off. (There’s) a lot of explosion reactions, a lot of bullet hit reactions.”
How are you not dead!?
Unsurprisingly this is the number 1 question Jace is asked when he reveals his profession. Safety is of great importance in the stunt industry and Jace said all performers require rigorous training before being allowed on set.
“With all stunt performers in Australia that work on any sort of major TV productions, commercials or films there is a national stunt committee and you have to be a graded stunt performer. It takes a minimum of 12 months training before you get graded as a stunt performer for insurance purposes,” Mr Lee said.
“Most people (in the industry) have a background in something a little odd. One of my best friends is an ex-bull rider, and a lot of them are into motocross or gymnasts and a lot of the younger guys these days are into Parkour.
“There’s criteria that you have to meet in four or five different areas that you have to be up to standard in. You go before a stunt community of 15 people. They make sure that you’re all signed off and you’re good to go! It’s like an apprenticeship.
“You start off doing sort of little pieces, a couple of fall overs here and there and you build up to bigger mainline stunts as you get more experienced.”
Jace has only had one major accident in his time in the biz which happened on set during the filming of the 2013 box office hit The Wolverine featuring Hugh Jackman but Mr Lee said the chance of injury is no worse than being a professional sportsman.
“You get banged around a little bit. I often equate it to people comparing it to a football player.
“You see footy players cop a knock or get injured and the adrenaline is kind of pumping. I’ve deifintely had my fair share of bangs and bruises.
“I have had one major injury. I hurt my shoulder quite badly shooting The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman and I banged my shoulder pretty bad and I had a couple of surgeries but you can’t keep a good man down!”
Perks of the job
You’d think by now that Jace would be immune to being around grade A Hollywood actors but the man from the Gold Coast admits he still gets a little star struck when the likes of Hugh Jackman and Mel Gibson walk on set.
“The perk is that I get to do what I love to do. It’s hard work and there’s a lot of training and commitment and a lot of ups and downs in the industry but I love it!
“To meet actors is always fascinating and it’s hard not to get a little star struck. Working with Mel Gibson on Hacksaw Ridge was obviously a big deal for me as he’s such as legend. As a kid I loved the Mad Max movies and Lethal Weapon and things like that.
As with any job, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies and Jace admits waiting around on set for hours on end can get a bit tedious at times.
“The downtime! On set there’s a lot of downtime and you have to find ways to stay active. I’m quite curious about the film industry so it’s not just stunts for me, quite often I’ll have a sticky-beak behind the camera if I can and watch the process of filmmaking, which I’ve always been fascinated with.
“You can be often be on a film set for 10-12 hours and they won’t require you as a stunt performer until the 10th hour so you’ll have warmed up and down multiple times and then quite often the stunt can change and all of a sudden it’s on! You get a bit of a hurry up but again, with experience you get used to that and start to expect it.”
When quizzed on the fact Jace should enjoy his downtime and head to the nearest food wagon to eat he said that the big costumes might make that a bit tricky.
“Yes and no! It depends what the film is. You could be in a pretty awkward costume. I worked on the Hobbit with Peter Jackson in New Zealand and you’ve got big stunt guys dressed up in costume and they spend up to four hours in wardrobe and makeup getting those costumes on.
“They’ve got contact lenses and mouthpieces and they might have to sit around in that for a couple of that. The downtime is good but you could be in a very awkward place!”
How do you get into this kind of thing?
Jace’s 10 year career started on the Gold Coast as a performer at popular theme park Movie World.
“I started off at Movieworld in the Police Academy stunt show and things like that. I was very lucky as I learnt to drive big left hand drive American cars and performing stunts every day… small fire burns and high falls and stair falls and doing car knock downs in live shows. I was quite lucky to do that every day.”
While these kind of jobs are not advertised on SEEK or LinkedIn — which is no great surprise — Jace advises the first step is to build a bit of body control by taking part in gymnastics or circus training.
Podcast: Jace Lee with Jeziel on Drive
“Some martial arts or gymnastics training is a good start as body control is an important part of our job. And then you need to find a stunt training facility where there’s a recognised Australian graded stunt coordinator there and you get to train under them and that’s when you get to work on fight scenes and how to react properly and distance and space.
“Safety is absolutely paramount in our industry. What we do is very risky! Find a stunt coordinator, find a training facility and try out some circus training. There’s a few of those in QLD and NSW and there are a few guys in WA but they tend to come here for training… that should get yourself kicked off in the industry.”
Parting words of advice
“If your serious in getting into the stunt business Mr Lee has these words of advice:
“No one forces you to become a stuntman… no one forces you to get set on fire, no one forces you to jump off buildings so it’s something you got to have a passion for.
“It’s one of those 1% jobs that if you really just feel it in your bones, you’ll seek it out.”
Tune in each Tuesday to I’m a Professional with Jeziel on Drive at 4:10pm on 98five.