The Fall Guy David Leitch Ryan Gosling
L to R: Ryan Gosling (as Colt Seavers) and Director David Leitch on the set of THE FALL GUY

Jackie Chan. Charlie Chaplin. Pierre Étaix. Jerry Lewis. Each actor created a blueprint for filming comedy in his country and era. But when you dig deeper, you find that they’re also pioneers of stunt performance who made the jump to directing — not unlike David Leitch, the filmmaker behind The Fall Guy.

“Since the beginning of cinema, action and physical comedy were a huge part of those early filmmakers and stunt performers. Physical comedy can transcend language,” Leitch says. “Jackie Chan is one of my idols. Not only is he the best stunt performer, arguably, that ever lived, but he’s a great filmmaker, comedian, and actor. Having him come up through the stunt world is a testament to action designers today and how influential they can be in film.”

Leitch, a veteran stunt performer and coordinator, made a name for himself in comedy, performing stunts in the Trey Parker and Matt Stone ‘90s comedies Orgazmo and BASEketball. He was cast as Brad Pitt’s stuntman in David Fincher’s Fight Club, and returned to work with Pitt again on Doug Liman’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Their collaboration came full circle when Leitch directed Pitt in Bullet Train in 2022. 

Leitch’s newest movie, The Fall Guy, is inspired by the ‘80s TV show of the same title. It starred Lee Majors (who also appears in the movie) as a stuntman Colt Seavers, a stuntman who uses his action expertise to fight crime. Ryan Gosling takes over the role of Seavers in Leitch’s film, making it his own. 

Seavers is a stuntman who left the industry to focus on his health, but he’s lured back by the prospect of working with his ex, Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), who is directing her first feature. When the movie’s star, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), goes missing, Colt reluctantly agrees to track him down — hoping he might reunite with Jody in the process. 

Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers and Emily Blunt as Judy Moreno in The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch. Photo by Eric Laciste/Universal Pictures

David Leitch and Ryan Gosling Used True Stories for The Fall Guy

The Fall Guy is influenced by Leitch’s own behind-the-scenes experiences, but… has an actor ever really disappeared?

“Without naming names, yes, it’s happened, but the movie is heightened,” Leitch says. “There’s a lot of anecdotes in the movie that are based in reality.”

Studio doubters didn’t think some of the bits were believable, but Gosling and Leitch were happy to back them up with true stories. 

“In Hollywood, truth is stranger than fiction,” Leitch says. “I think it allowed us to do some heightened things for comedy, because ultimately, it’s pretty close to things that could happen.”

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To achieve the tone and candor of the stunt people Leitch worked with over three decades, he and Gosling imagined Colt Seavers as a journeyman. Before stepping away from the business, Seavers, like so many in the entertainment industry, worked long hours and went underappreciated. 

That isn’t to say he’s jaded — no, he loves his work. 

“I think that’s how most stunt people are and that’s how most people are in the world,” Leitch says. “They just want to do a great job.”

Designing stunts for the Fall Guy’s movie-within-a-movie allowed Leitch to draw on old-school techniques to highlight stunt people’s expertise. 

“We try to keep the illusion alive and train the actors to do things,” Leitch says. “We also use traditional stunt doubles that are extremely skilled at specialty things, to have the best outcome for our film.”

Teresa Palmer goes for the throat in The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch.

Ryan Gosling Doing Stunts In and Before The Fall Guy

Gosling had a good reputation among stunt performers coming off of Netflix’s action-packed The Gray Man, released in 2022. He worked with many of Leitch’s stunt colleagues on the film, and they relayed that the actor was both game to perform stunts, and good at them.

But especially because the new movie is about stunt people, Gosling was happy to step aside for them — including Logan Holladay, his double in The Fall Guy. 

“Logan did some incredible stunts that we wouldn’t do practically anymore. Something we might enhance with CGI, but decided not to on this,” Leitch says.

Forgoing computers to create big practical stunts required bringing in the big guns. Expert stunt coordinator Chris O’Hara, one of Leitch’s most respected peers, is The Fall Guy’s supervising stunt coordinator and second unit director. Troy Lindsay Brown, another stunt performer on the film, performs a dangerous high fall. He’s the son of Bob Brown, the famed stunt coordinator and second unit director who set world records for high falls into airbags. 

“When you want to do big stunts like we do in this film, you want to make sure that you’re bringing in the best in the business,” Leitch says. “You want to work with seasoned, experienced professionals that have an impeccable safety record.”

When watching The Fall Guy, you might notice the only guns on screen are in the movie within the movie. 

“Indiana Jones didn’t need to rely on guns to make a great action movie and I feel like The Fall Guy’s the same,” Leitch says. “We got to create something really fun and action-driven, but that feels fresh and accessible to everybody.”

The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch. Photo by Eric Laciste/Universal Pictures

From Risk Taker to Moviemaker

It’s not uncommon for stunt performers to make the jump to directing, but Leitch feels that there remains a stigma in the industry around stunt veterans who want to tell their own stories. 

He remembers that 10 years ago, both he and Chad Stahelski wanted to transition from directing second unit and action scenes to directing their own movies, but hit speed bumps. 

“They saw us as ground pounders who crash cars into walls,” says Leitch. “There was not an appreciation of how a great action sequence is equally character-defining to a movie as a great dialogue sequence.”

They had put in the work, but the industry’s decision-makers needed someone to educate them about how their brand of action tells a story. 

Kelly McCormick, Leitch’s wife, agreed to manage Leitch and Stahelski and advocated for the duo. She knocked on doors for years without a break until Keanu Reeves suggested they direct the action scenes in John Wick.

They successfully lobbied to co-direct the feature, but the Directors Guild of America ultimately decided that only Stahelski would get the director credit, and that Leitch would get a producer credit, even though both had directed. Stahelski went on to direct all three John Wick sequels. 

Leitch sees directing as a natural extension of his stunt work, since both skills are about maintaining an illusion. 

“You need to understand where the character is in the moment of the scene because you’re part of that character too, and you’re performing it physically,” he says. 

Understanding the story is even more important when you move from stunt performance to stunt coordination and action design. 

One way to think of an action sequence is as a mini-story within a movie that defines a character through the crucible of a several-minute ordeal. Action designers have to understand where a character is at the beginning of the scene, and how to design action that’s purposeful and loaded with stakes. 

“If you understand the storytelling of it, then you’re using visual language to enhance it, and directing something non-verbally most of the time,” Leitch says. 

“Sometimes that’s a harder skill than having exposition. If you can show the stakes, plot, and narrative non-verbally, and make it exciting, then actually you’re a really good storyteller.”

The Fall Guy arrives in now in theaters, from Universal Pictures.

Main image: Ryan Gosling (as Colt Seavers), left, and director David Leitch on the set of The Fall Guy. Photo by Eric Laciste/Universal Pictures

Editor’s Note: Corrects byline.