As the ‘Avengers End Game’ destroys all box office records, RSNG speaks exclusively to one of the film franchise’s truly unsung heroes, Bobby Holland Hanton. Bobby is the British-born Hollywood stunt double for Chris Hemsworth in the Avenger films. During more than ten years as one of the world’s greatest stuntmen, Bobby has also performed the daredevil falls, fights and high-speed chases that James Bond actor Daniel Craig receives the on-screen credit for.
Bobby’s physical prowess, athletic agility, dedication to fitness and gym-buddy relationship with Hemsworth has made him an obvious choice as chief consultant for the Hollywood actor’s latest project; Centr a personalised digital fitness training and diet app. It’s just the latest in a long line of achievements for the gymnast-turned-stuntman whose humble origins – including non-league football and Legoland Pirate Shows – led to superhero success.
RSNG How old were you when you first got a thrill from performing stunts? BOBBY HOLLAND HANTON, HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN ‘For me it started when I was 4 years old, doing gymnastics and eventually going on to compete for Great Britain until I had to retire with a back injury at 17. When you’ve had such a physically demanding background from such a young age you always want to keep active and enjoy to accolades for the physical feats you can perform. I’d always been passionate about football too and I played semi-professional for my local team, Fareham Town, for a couple of years after the gymnastics was over.’
RSNG Part-time footballer doesn’t seem like a career path to becoming a stuntman? BHH ‘Haha! No that’s true. The stuntman stuff started when I saw an ad for an acrobatic agency that wanted performers for live shows. I was playing football at the time but I applied, auditioned and for a while I was earning my living falling off of platforms at LEGOLAND in the kid’s pirate panto shows. Also parkour and free-running were taking off then. I got into those and ended up doing lots of acrobatic commercials including freediving in an advert for Joop! in South Africa. Because of my football background I was chosen as the body double for David Beckham, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard in the adidas commercials. It was while I was filming those that I met an ex-gymnast who hooked me up with someone on the Equity Union stunt register.’
I’ve had a lot of injuries, especially to my back – I’ve got titanium plates in there now
RSNG So once you’re on the stuntman register does the work start coming in? BHH ‘Not quite, I had to train to an ‘elite’ level in six out of a 12 physical disciplines. It took a couple of years and a few tests to become a qualified stuntman, and even then that only means you can work on a movie. It’s only really once you’re on the set and working with full-time coordinators that you actually learn to become a stuntman. I had three of my six skills from the off (gymnastics, trampolining and 10m board diving), partly thanks to the LegoLand shows. The I got a phone call out of the blue to audition as the double for Daniel Craig in the second of Daniels’ Bond films Quantum of Solace.’
RSNG So your first job as a rookie stuntman was doubling for James Bond? BHH ‘Yeah, I know, it’s incredible isn’t it? I thought it was a wind-up when I first got the call but it was true. It was meant to be just for five weeks doing a couple of specific stunts but I ended up spending six months on the film with Daniel, doing all his double works alongside an incredible team of stunt coordinators. I went some commercials to the highest demanding part in the movie world playing the most famous action hero. It was a lot of hard work and a quick learning curve. I was soon riding motor bikes, crashing cars and being thrown around on high wires. From that dream start I’ve never looked back.’
RSNG ‘How did you go from being James Bond to Thor in the Avengers movies?’ BHH ‘During the Bond work I was called in to double for Chris Hemsworth on the second film Thor 2: Dark World. We hit it off straight away and to date we’ve done 11 movies together. We travel the world and I’ve been really fortunate I know, but it’s not been without its hard work and setbacks. I completed the other skills I needed in the meantime for my stuntman qualification, training to brown belt in kickboxing and also doing scuba diving and swimming.’
RSNG How important is your likeness to Chris for the role of stunt double? BHH ‘It’s a factor obviously. He’s 6ft 3in and I’m 6ft 1in so I have to wear two-inch lifts in my costume boots unless it’s a stunt where it’s too dangerous to have them in. My tattoos are covered up by the make-up team and we wear wigs for Thor too. But Chris is also in incredible shape and that’s a full-time job in itself just to follow his training programme and his diet regimen.’
RSNG What does the training routine involve? BHH ‘It’s something we developed together into sets of circuits, all HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sessions, with input from Chris’ training team, plus the gymnastics conditioning work which my muscle memory is based upon. Chris liked what I bought to the mix, which is a lot of functional stuff like Bear Crawls, plus the upper body training I’d had to do for years before. So we’ll do chins, push-ups, squats within a routine which covers everything. Now we’ve put together the programme in a fitness app. When we’re working on the Avengers films the arms are out all the time so we’re training constantly, pumping the weights and eating eights meals a day plus protein shakes.’
RSNG It sounds like a perfect profession but it’s not without its down sides? BHH ‘Yeah, it’s the nature of the beast as a stunt performer that it’s dangerous and even though we take everything into consideration, break down every stunt into repeatable increments and are sticklers for safety, preparing for all eventualities, it still makes great demands on the body. Sometimes you get the rubber mats and cushions to ease the impact – but not always. I’ve had a lot of injuries, especially to my back. I’ve got titanium plates in there now. I’ve torn muscles and ripped open my hand too.’
I was jumping from one balcony to another, three stories up, with no wires, no mats no nothing
RSNG Which stunts in particular make it all worthwhile? BHH ‘There are loads that come to mind but my very first one on the Quantum of Solace is especially memorable. We shot it at two in the morning in the slums of Panama where I was jumping from one balcony to another, three stories up, with no wires, no mats no nothing. That was a real introduction to the film industry. Because the camera was following me from behind and panning downwards we couldn’t have any mats appear in shot. We rehearsed everything at ground level. Then we did it with a scaffold and mats to make sure I could do it. Then we shot it the next morning in situ. From that scene we flew to Sienna in Italy for another rooftop sequence about 180 feet up where I chasing the bad guy – played by a friend of mine, Glen Foster. We both were jumping across rooftops and crashing through windows. What a start to a career!”
RSNG The gymnastics obviously paid off there – what about the LegoLand falls? BHH ‘During the Dark Ride film I was the stunt double for Batman – that’s where I did my first 100ft descender fall. My first ever burn scene stands out too. That was in Game of Thrones, three seasons ago, in a scene where the dragons torch the gladiator pit. It was a world record at the time for stunt burners – I was one of 22 people to be set alight. It was the first time I’d done a burn scene and it wasn’t even a partial one – it was full-on fire. There have been so many great stunts, a lot of crashing and jumping and hopefully a few bangers in End Game as well.’
WHAT NEXT? Take a behind the scenes look at Bobby Holland Hanton’s work as Chris Hemsworth’s body double in this ‘BTS Thor Ragnarok’ clip.
Discover the workout routine, recovery drills, muscle developing diet and stuntman secrets Bobby has developed on Chris Hemsworth’s personalised digital health and fitness program Centr available from the App Store for iPhone and Apple Watch or online at centr.com
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.