‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Stunt Coordinator Chris O’Hara on “Gung-Fu” and the Athleticism of Jason Statham [Interview]
Chances are, you’ve all been watching and appreciating Chris O’Hara‘s work for a long time without even realizing it. He’s been in the stunt world going back to the early ’90s and worked on Fight Club with frequent collaborator, stunt performer-turned-Hobbs & Shaw director David Leitch. Since then, the stunt performer-turned-stunt coordinator has worked with the Wachowskis, he contributed to the John Wick films and, undoubtedly the most dangerous stunt job of them all, We Bought A Zoo. He’s brought his expertise to huge franchises, including Jurassic World and The Hunger Games. During a press day for the Blu-Ray release of Hobbs & Shaw, we got a chance to talk to him about his latest work.
After speaking with O’Hara, I actually got to recreate a stunt from the movie with the help of a few very cool stuntmen. Just as you might exactly imagine, I made Dwayne Johnson’s skills pale in comparison. “It’s like a dance,” the stuntmen would say, breaking down the specific steps required to properly kick someone in the groin. (Keep your foot flat facing downward, if you’re interested.) Experiencing the specificity of the subtlest of moves, really, made the fight scenes in Hobbs & Shaw all the more impressive and artful. It truly is like a dance — except with more liability and danger. Go too far with an elbow hit and, well, it’s not pretty. Imagine an elbow landing on a temple and try not to cringe. Even seemingly minor moves are ripe with danger. Another observation from working with these stuntmen: as shown by the Academy Awards, they just don’t get enough of the love or acclaim they deserve. One of them even remarked it was nice to see excitement and appreciation over what they do for a living.
Below, you can find a few nuggets of information we learned from speaking with O’Hara about his take on the next-level fights in the John Wick franchise, finding stuntmen to fight alongside Dwayne Johnson, and the athleticism of Jason Statham.
Jiu-Jitsu is the Flavor of the Month
Not all forms of martial arts translate beautifully to screen. According to O’Hara, some just don’t translate at all, so some fights we often see are a melting pot of varying influences. The stunt coordinator told us nowadays taekwondo is where it’s at and why John Wick pushed the envelope with its epic gung-fu:
It depends on where it’s going. Definitely flashy stuff like taekwondo since it looks big and flashy. Jiu-Jitsu is more mainstream now, and there are definitely elements of that you can see in the John Wick stuff. Things are on the ground a little bit more. It’s hard to really film and make that look super exciting. There’s a couple of moves to get there, and judo looks great. It’s kind of blending of all it, picking and choosing what’s good for a movie and what’s not.
I definitely like where David and Chad took Wick, and how they made it very Judo and throw intensive. It’s not kung-fu, but the term we use now is “gung-fu.” It’s all the stuff they’re using with the weapons, which in a way, is an extension of martial arts. I think that’s pushed action in movies a little bit further.
Giants of Samoa
Dwayne Johnson flexing and unleashing that roar of his at the end of Hobbs & Shaw… My god, if ever a moment was destined to impress in marketing materials, it’s that one. The fact that Leitch and all involved found a team of players to match his staggering presence is quite a feat, according to O’Hara. Most stuntmen aren’t of Johnson’s stature. Who is, really? It wasn’t easy finding the right men for the job, as O’Hara told us:
Hobbs & Shaw was super impressive [in what we pulled off], especially the Samoan portion. It was really close to Dwayne’s heart, as far as doing something representing Samoa in a positive light. We basically built the family of stunt guys. There’s really no… Most stunt guys are not 6’4. There’s not a lot of them, you know, 6’4, 250lbs, big Samoan guys. We basically found Samoan guys, and they were athletes in their own right, but we took them in and trained them and made them into stunt guys. Having a challenge like that with this whole huge end fight scene based on the family beating up everyone and winning, I mean, how are we going to achieve that?
We were really, really fortunate the people we found were amazing human beings and great performers. To this day, if anybody calls me on any of those guys, I will 100% recommend them. If you look at their resumes they’ve basically done nothing except Hobbs & Shaw, but I’d recommend all of them. They were just great people and gave that extra effort to make that final scene is amazing.
Statham Destroying Goons and an Apartment
When Shaw walks into an apartment and rips apart goons like they’re papier-mâché, it’s the sort of hard-hitting, more grounded fight scene that fits perfectly in the wheelhouse of the co-founder of 87eleven. 87eleven is the action design company co-founded by the John Wick co-directors, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. In a nutshell, they’re the best of the best. Leitch’s flair for hand-to-hand combat is most evident in Hobbs & Shaw in the neon-heavy apartment fight, the preparation for which O’Hara walked us through:
Well, the one key thing to any fight is to have talented players around you. If you have really talented stunt players around you, it can help elevate the action. There’s not a question of figuring it out or whether someone has the right timing or the beats. We basically put in place the three guys in there that are really talented stunt guys, known for fight stuff. It helped elevate Jason, it helps his performance. We basically map out the room, go through processes of, “Okay, we’re going to do this,” and then you get it approved by David [Leitch].
If Dave likes it, then you gotta go to Jason, like, “Hey, do you like this?” Then Jason will say, “I’d like to do this.” You want to have all the guys fighting Jason to train with Jason. It makes it that much better. We had those guys around for, I don’t know, two or three weeks prior to shooting it, so they could be at Jason’s beck and call. When Jason had a hole in his schedule they basically went to where he was staying, worked on the fight scene, and made it better. Some things changed, some things didn’t. The whole prep time with really talented stunt players made it awesome.
Jason Statham: The Man, The Myth, The Diver
Statham has been in the action movie game for many years now with no signs of slowing down. As O’Hara reminded us, his stock as an action star only continues to rise with the success of Meg and his time in the Fast & Furious franchise. The physical demands of these sorts of movies are brutal, but it all comes more naturally to Statham than most, which he knows gave him a huge leg up in acting. He himself has said a reason why he’s had his film career isn’t that he went to acting school but because of his uncanny physical advantage for leading action movies: 12 years on the British National Diving Squad and experience in gymnastics, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and judo. It’s that history of pushing himself that, according to O’Hara, makes him as adept as he is at performing stunts:
I think it’s just being a well-rounded athlete, you know? Jason was a diver. He’s an Olympic-level caliber athlete. He has those genes, so it’s been there forever. He does have the core strength and train like a madman. He’s not a spring chicken anymore and he sees the big picture. He sees that he’s an action star, and to be an action star at 50, he’s gotta stay in shape and stay on top of it. When it comes down to core strength, yeah, absolutely. You just have to keep it all together, because he’s not getting any younger. Fortunately, his career is not slowing down with action; it’s only ramping up.