Stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker talks action

We catch up with legendary stuntman, Buddy Joe Hooker.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

The second annual ActionFest honored Hollywood stunt man Buddy Joe Hooker for his decades of work creating awesome spectacles for movies. They showed two examples of his ouvre, including Hooper, the Burt Reynolds vehicle based on Hooker, the classic Harold and Maude, and the beloved Charlie Sheen ‘80s movie The Wraith. I went down memory lane with Hooker, geeking out over our favorite action movies.

 

Crave Online: Congratulations on being honored. What do you think of ActionFest?

Buddy Joe Hooker: I was wondering, I didn’t know what was going to be happening. To get away from home with doing this TV series that I’m doing, getting everything together, I really hadn’t thought about it. But when we got here last night, of course the plane was two hours late and all that, but we got here in time. The reception and the people and Aaron [Norris] and Bill [Banowsky] and Colin [Geddes] and everybody just made everything fantastic. It was really exciting.

 

Crave Online: Isn’t just the fact that this exists important for the genre?

Buddy Joe Hooker: I feel really strongly about that. I think that the fact that they have these kind of venues for people that enjoy action films, because there really isn’t anything like that. You have all kinds of film festivals and stuff but the fact that they have set aside a complete festival for action films, learning more about behind the scenes action stuff and the people that do it, I think it’s really a good deal and I think it’s going to get much bigger.

 

Crave Online: I do too. I feel like I’m in on the ground floor.

Buddy Joe Hooker: Oh yeah, I just feel it. Asheville, coming here, I hadn’t been here before but it’s a beautiful place to have the festival because all the people here are very down to earth. They seem really interested in what you’re doing. I’m from the west coast and Hollywood where you’re never quite sure if people are sincere. Maybe they went to the festival because they got some free tickets or something, but being here and talking with the people and doing the Q&A after Harold and Maude last night was really comforting. It made you feel good.

 

Crave Online: Harold and Maude is not a movie we think about as having lots of stunts. What were your big tasks on that?

Buddy Joe Hooker: The major task with Harold and Maude was that we had Ruth Gordon who was an 80-something year old lady. We had Bud Cort who had never driven a car before in his life, from New York. So we had her ride motorcycles, we had Ruth Gordon driving cars. Those are things that they don’t seem action oriented but you definitely need a stunt coordinator and stunt people to achieve the look that the director wants on film. So it’s not like your classic big car chase sequence but without the stunt people involved, you couldn’t have made the story play on film. It wouldn’t have worked.

 

Crave Online: Hooper is a love letter to stunt men, and even to you specifically.

Buddy Joe Hooker: It’s been a long time since the film was made, but my boys and I watched it about a year ago and it still holds up. It’s exactly one of the best commentaries on filmmaking and the stunt world that I’ve seen. It’s as close to accurate as you’re going to get. It’s a great piece. I think there should be an updated version done of it. I had a fabulous time doing it. The film actually was about Hal Needham who was Burt Reynolds’ stunt person and myself who ended up that I was doubling Jan Michael Vincent at the time in a lot of films. So Hal had come up with the idea about the film, about the new guy and the old guy and the new ways and the old ways, and how they conflicted. So it was really a great opportunity. Not only was the story about me in a way, but I got to do all the stunts for the character that played me. It was twofold for me because I got to do all the stunts.

 

Crave Online: Wouldn’t the updated version be guys on green screen?

Buddy Joe Hooker: Well, my concept which I’ve just done a treatment and I’m about to propose it to a few people, is that the conflict in the new film is the semi-older people like myself, I’m not calling myself old but the old guard and the new guard, the CGI people. It’s a conflict between the studio heads where this one producer wants to do it all for real like the old style, and the other producer wants to do it CGI. There’s the conflict between that world. These people say, “Oh, you’re going to kill all these guys because they can’t do what we can do.” To me, rather than it being the one producer that has the conflict, it’s the conflict between the old and the new again, but CGI being the bad guy.

 

Crave Online: When you made The Wraith, was Charlie Sheen winning back then?

Buddy Joe Hooker: Yeah, Charlie’s Charlie. Charlie’s winning right now. As much as everybody thinks “poor Charlie,” poor Charlie’s doing great. Charlie does exactly pretty much what he wants to do. I’ve known Charlie for years and I’ve worked with him. His biggest fault was that he was too open with everybody. If you were doing an interview with him, he’d tell you exactly what was going on. I would tell him, “Charlie, listen. You don’t really need to be that free with knowledge.” But he’s a very good guy, he’s very generous, he’s very giving. I think he’s just a guy with a lot of money and not a whole lot of responsibilities.

 

Crave Online: Terminal Velocity has some fantastic stunts. Did you get to do the car dropping from the plane?

Buddy Joe Hooker: I didn’t specifically do that. I was the stunt coordinator and I had a lot of behind the camera work to do so I didn’t get to do too much stuff on that. I had to hire a lot of world renowned skydivers and stuff. So I had the best skydivers in the world and I was directing the second unit so I really didn’t get to do much there except direct it all, which is kind of cool. But it was a fantastic sequence and all that stuff was done real.

 

Crave Online: You talk about real vs. CGI, but what do you think of this shaking camera style where we can’t even see all the work you’ve done?

Buddy Joe Hooker: My comment on that is that I go to a film to have an experience, to enjoy myself, to be entertained and I walk away from those films feeling very cheated and disoriented and not having had an enjoyable time. I feel cheated because specifically action stuff, you’ll start on a nice piece of stunt work and all of a sudden, everything goes crazy and they cut ten times and they’re out of it. I didn’t get to see what happened. As far as that goes, I think it’s myself as an audience, I feel very cheated. I just don’t like that technique. I know that there’s a generation of people that grew up with the video games and all of that that really probably require it. If all that stuff wasn’t happening in a film, they might not like it.

 

Crave Online: I don’t think video games shake. You just can't see what’s happening in them smoothly.

Buddy Joe Hooker: Yeah, that’s true. I don’t mean shake so much. Just unbelievable imagery. I think the shaking part now is that they’ve taken it a stage further trying to do something new. Hopefully that’ll vanish. It’s just horrible. You agree?

 

Crave Online: I hate it.

Buddy Joe Hooker: I can’t stand it. It gives me a headache.

 

Crave Online: I like to see what the performers are doing. There’s nothing wrong with the way Steven Spielberg shot.

Buddy Joe Hooker: You look at all the classic films going way back before that. Going to see a film is supposed to be an entertaining experience that you can put yourself into it or take yourself away from it if it’s too scary. It’s just not happening and I think the shaky business is not going to last.

 

Crave Online: You did all the driving in Death Proof. Were you surprised when you saw the movie and those girls were talking for so long?

Buddy Joe Hooker: That was the worst part about it. I mean, I love Quentin Tarantino. He’s a great filmmaker. I knew going in he’s a dialogue guy. He’s also an action guy but all of his films you’re going to have a lot of that. In that particular film, it just got a little laborious. I know Quentin, sorry Quentin, I’m sure that he’s heard this already. It was just unnecessary. I think what happened, I was on the set all the time, so I think he got infatuated with the actresses which they were great people. They were good but I think he just got too involved in them personally rather than telling the story. I think it just went way too long. Thank you for bringing that up.

 

Crave Online: You’re welcome, but the driving sequence is awesome. How did that compare to something like Days of Thunder?

 

Buddy Joe Hooker: Well, Days of Thunder and Death Proof were two different kinds of things. Death Proof it was kind of like a lot of single stuff. It was you and a car, you and them. As a driver, it was a little more personal. Days of Thunder and I just did a lot of work for Final Destination 4 in the NASCAR stuff, you have so many more people involved. So you’re an ensemble. You’re a team working it out where Death Proof was pretty much you doing the stuff. I love Quentin because he does everything for real. He’ll employ some CGI stuff but only when there’s no other way to rip somebody’s face off with a tire. But he’s a great guy and I would say this to him personally, too much dialogue for that film.

 

Crave Online: You worked on The Crow. Were you there on the tragic day when Brandon Lee died?

Buddy Joe Hooker: Yes, I had done some work on The Crow. I’d gone home and then I flew back and we were waiting in the hotel room to get a call to go to the set to work that night. We were doing some kind of a big fight thing. We were in the hotel room and they were going to give us a will notify about when we were going to go to work. All of a sudden, they said, “Hey, there’s been something happening so you guys are on hold. Don’t go anywhere but you’re on hold. We might not do this tonight.” So we went, “Oh, well, okay. We still can’t go to a bar or anything because there’s a possibility.” Then the information started filtering back that there had been an accident and that he had been shot and we were hearing info that they took him to the hospital, it wasn’t a fatal thing. Then we heard that it was and got on a plane the next morning and went home. It was a very tragic, unnecessary situation. Years ago, Jon Hexum, another famous incident that he had a pistol and was playing around. They had it in the scene and he went, “Oh hey” just boom like this playing around with a blank in it and killed him. I happened to be working on that film that day too. There’s stuff like that that happens that just really isn’t necessary.

 

Crave Online: On a happier note, are you surprised what a following Road House has gotten?

Buddy Joe Hooker: Yeah, I almost forgot about that. That’s kind of amazing in a way. I’d almost forgotten about that film. Actually, one of the fun parts about coming to the festival is that I actually had to do some research. They were asking me what I did and all that. Then Colin and another documentarian, a guy in Australia that we were working with to compile the trailer for the filmography of my stuff, they started coming up with stuff that I had totally forgotten about. Like Paradise Alley and some of these films I had forgotten I’d even been involved in.

 

Crave Online: Was Waterworld a stressful shoot for you?

Buddy Joe Hooker: Waterworld as unbelievable. It was one of the most fun jobs I was ever on in my life. I was there in Hawaii for about five months working on it. Some of the stunt guys were there longer but every day you were on a jet ski, you were waterskiing, you were jumping boats, you were doing something. It was unbelievable. It was a stunman’s dream.

 

Crave Online: You did Scarface and Carlito’s Way. Were you involved in the escalator sequence?

Buddy Joe Hooker: Yeah, we did all that stuff. I worked with Al a lot. The last film I did with him was Righteous Kill. Al’s a fantastic guy, just fun to be around. The escalator thing was a little laborious. It’s for real.

 

Crave Online: When you were on the set of Batman and Robin, did it look like it was going to be good at the time?

Buddy Joe Hooker: Actually, to me, my involvement wasn’t a lot but no, it really didn’t seem like it was going to be. It just seemed like another day’s work to me. I had no idea that Batman and Robin was going to become what it is.

 

Crave Online: I actually like Last Action Hero and the Jack Slater sequences are really good.

Buddy Joe Hooker: Yeah, I always enjoyed working with Arnold. Arnold was a real guy’s guy, loves stunt people and everything. So Last Action Hero was another real fun one where we got to do a lot of cool stuff.

 

Crave Online: You worked on motorcycle stunts for Game of Death. Did you have any reservations about completing that film?

Buddy Joe Hooker: No. Again it was like I went into it just totally open. I had very little knowledge of what had happened. I’m glad I did it but it was weird.

 

Crave Online: And To Live and Die in L.A.?

Buddy Joe Hooker: That’s a great one. That’s one of my favorite car chases. That’s one of my favorite of all times and that was the first film that I did with William Friedkin and he’s a car chase guy. There wasn’t a car chase in To Live and Die when it started. So every day at lunch, Billy Friedkin and I would sit and come up with ideas. That’s how that chase developed, so it was one of my favorites of all time.

 

Crave Online: Did you teach Renee Russo how to fight in Lethal Weapon 3?

Buddy Joe Hooker: I was there. I can’t take complete credit for it.

 

Crave Online: I fell in love with her from that.

Buddy Joe Hooker: Oh yeah, she’s great.