As he considered career options during his later teens, ‘stunt man’ was not something that guidance counsellors had on their lists or that he thought of as a legitimate career possibility. He became an outdoors instructor after a brief stint in the military, and by his early 20s was working as a rock climbing instructor in the Peak District. A rock climber friend asked if he could assist someone from London who needed to learn to climb as part of his training to join the British stunt registry, a prospect he found intriguing. As he trained and befriended the would be stunt man, Foster realised that he too could undergo the training required to join the registry, and thus his childhood dream might become a reality.
After a nearly 4 year training programme, Foster qualified to join the stunt registry in the late 1990s, a hugely fulfilling achievement in and of itself, and work in television and features followed in quick succession. When he landed a couple of weeks on Die Another Day in 2003 Foster felt that he had surpassed his dreams, as the Bond films are a personal touchstone for him. From there he went on to work on some of the biggest films of the oughties, including Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, Casino Royale and Sherlock Holmes, in which he was thrilled to also have a small speaking part, for as he put it ‘I got to say the word ‘Bond’ in a Bond movie, which was the icing on the cake’.
I spoke with Glenn on a blustery London February afternoon, while he sat basking in the early morning warmth in front of his house near Albuquerque, NM.
HuG: Are you dividing your time equally between the U.S. and the UK now?
GF: I can essentially be based anywhere, and I’m enjoying a newfound existence in the U.S. My girlfriend is here, who I met while we were doing Due Date. I kind of fell in love with Albuquerque and New Mexico. I love the outdoors and the space the place has to offer, and the climate is just phenomenal. I’m sitting outside on the curb right now (HuG: at this point I could, on cue, hear birds in the background).
HuG: How did you first come to double for Robert Downey Jr. and how did it develop into a multi-film, ongoing relationship?
GF: I’d just finished filming Quantum of Solace and was coming off a pretty extensive run of films, including going from Dark Knight on to Quantum, which was 7 or 8 months of really hard work. I took some time out and went to France for the summer, riding my bike and enjoying French life while I became a local in my village there. I got a call to come back to the UK to double Robert Downey Jr. on a new Sherlock project, but I was having such a good time there, and it had been such a busy year already, that, well, I wasn’t hesitant as such but I wasn’t blown over by the prospect either, although of course it was an honour to be offered the chance to work with someone as iconic as Robert Downey Jr.
I was having such a good time in France that it was really going to have to be a big pull to get me to come back to work on Sherlock, and sure enough they talked me into it as it was a big pull, working with Guy Richie, Robert Downey, and Jude Law. It was a big movie, so in the end I said OK.
I was quite nonchalant about the whole thing as I’m not someone who gets star struck; we’re all professionals at the end of the day. We did some pretty big action sequences for the movie, and there was one week where we were doing some crazy things, and Robert came up to me in the corridor at the end of the week and said ‘hey, you’ve had a pretty big week this week, how was it all?’ I was my usual nonchalant self, and responded that yeah, it was good, it had been an enjoyable week and it all seemed to go well. I think he really liked that understated British approach, and the relationship basically started right there and then. He asked if I could work in the States, and I said I probably could if the paper work was sorted, and he then asked would I want to, and I said of course, I’d love that opportunity.
We left it at that and I didn’t think anything more about it, and he came and found me on set a few days later and said ‘So, you’re going to be doing Iron Man (2),’ and I was just like ‘WHAT??’ It just went from there, and I did Iron Man 2, and Due Date, and Sherlock 2 we just finished, and we’re set to start The Avengers in the next couple of months.
HuG: There are a LOT of stunt people listed in the credits of Due Date; what exactly did they all do? As the film’s a comedy there isn’t that much in the way of overt stunts, so were most of them drivers?
GF: We had sections of freeway locked down in New Mexico, with 20 or so drivers surrounding the film unit. At one point we had a 7 mile lock down near Albuquerque so we used stunt drivers to fill up the traffic scenes, and there’s also the chase sequence with the trailer and the Mexican Border Patrol truck. There are also people who are there more for the safety element than strictly as stunt type people. There were days when 20 guys would be there doing something legitimately stunt orientated, like the car flip, so there were some pretty stunt heavy days. But it certainly does get lost within the movie and within the edit unless you’re aware of what it takes to construct those sequences. When the car comes off the bridge, there are construction workers all around that particular area leading up to it, and after the car comes off the bridge and onto the road below there are cars driving in and around that area. For a lot of that you couldn’t put your average member of the public/extra into that situation.
HuG: The profession is often divided into specialities, what are yours? What don’t you do and why?
GF: I’ve pretty much made it my job to be physically capable of doing a lot of things. I wouldn’t say I was particularly a specialist in any one area, but equally I wouldn’t say that I won’t attempt anything. If I know something is coming up on a movie I’ll spend a month or so training to build up a fairly good level of competency. Being attached to someone like Robert, his films are so varied that it’s good to have all around physical ability, so that’s really where I target myself, to be as adaptable as possible.
One area that I would be hesitant about going into in any great depth would be horses. I was never a big fan of horses growing up and there are people who have really mastered that, who really speak the language of horses and probably grew up with them and therefore have inbuilt intuition as to how they operate. I would be happy to let those people step up and take over.
HuG: Is there an age at which most stunt people retire? Obviously it depends on one’s level of continued fitness but people’s reflexes etc slow down regardless of how much they work to retain fitness.
GF: I don’t think so, it very much depends on the individual. It depends on how lucky you are with injuries, and how well you’ve managed to maintain yourself physically. I know a number of people who are still at the top of their game from a performing point of view in their late 40s both in the UK and in the U.S. I would say that someone in their late 40s would probably not relish the prospect of doing the sort of things we were probably doing in our early 20s, such as hitting concrete repeatedly. Any one of us will get up there and do it a few times, but obviously the older you get the more time it takes to recover from those things. But there’s no reason why, if you’re fit and healthy and taking care of yourself, giving yourself time to recover and maintaining the joints and the muscles, there’s no reason why we can’t continue. I personally feel no different physically at the age of 40 than I did when I was 28. I have no real aches and pains when I wake up in the morning, and I still feel that I can do the sorts of things I did when I was in my mid to late 20s.
HuG: You’re a lucky man, considering what you do for a living. I guess to some extent it’s a combination of DNA and whatever else, right?
GF: I think as well it’s a lot to do with how much attention you pay to yourself physically when you’re younger, and I think that really sets the tone for your adulthood. I think certainly genetics play a major role, but if you establish that foundation at a young age and maintain it it stays with you, it becomes something that is so ingrained and so well established that it takes a lot longer for it to dissipate and disappear, and even with a period of inactivity you can still fire that motor up after a couple of weeks. The harder part is trying to establish that foundation or condition later in life, because if you didn’t have it when you were younger it’s a much more difficult process.
HuG: Tell me about what working on the Bond films means to you.
GF: To be part of the process of working with Daniel on Casino Royale and Quantum was pretty surreal, even when I think about it now if I really dwell on it. I was such a big Roger Moore fan during the ‘70s and of the films he was doing at the time. I’ve really got to kind of join the dots between the movies that I was watching then and the ones that I was actually being a part of, and really sort of make a conscious effort to think that it’s all part of the same thing. It’s very easy to become jaded on a day-to- day basis and a little bit complacent and accept it as just another day at work, but it’s a lot more than that. I’m very conscious to really prick myself on a fairly regular basis to be very appreciative and grateful for the world I find myself in.
HuG: I clearly recall thinking while watching the first Bourne film at the cinema in 2002 that I was watching a ‘new Bond,’ as it represented something that the Bond franchise was lacking at that stage. Bond had become very moribund and kind of interchangeable with other action franchises like Die Hard.
When I saw Casino Royale in 2006, it was clear from the first vicious bathroom fight sequence how much the reimagining of Bond had been influenced by the Bourne franchise. What’s your take on that influence as someone who worked on both the Daniel Craig Bonds and on The Bourne Ultimatum?
GF: That was actually me in that fight sequence. The buzz around at that particular time was that Casino Royale very much had to live up to what Bourne was establishing. It was a very conscious move on their part to being Daniel in and give it that edge, and that darker, more aggressive feel. It worked.
HuG: It sure did. Sometimes that’s all it takes to initiate change within a genre, one film that reimagines the style of a genre or the way its narrative is presented, and then imitation becomes the sincerest form of flattery.
GF: The business did it again with the reinvention of Sherlock Holmes.
HuG: The Batman films must have been quite extraordinary to work on.
GF: They were, especially the first one because it was shot, for the most part, entirely indoors at Cardington, which was a mind-blowing experience. To be inside that old Zeppelin hanger with the streets of New York in front of you, roads and stop signs and monorails and skyscrapers, the whole thing situated in the unlikely location of Bedfordshire, it was very interesting. It was also incredibly interesting to work for someone like Chris Nolan, who’s so in control of his environment and knows exactly what he wants. It was an honour to have been part of that.
HuG: Have you ever witnessed or been party to an incident in which an actor insists on doing his own stunt or stunts, despite the fact that it’s clearly not a wise thing for the person a film may rest upon to put himself at risk?
GF: I haven’t witnessed it myself. I was aware of an actor who reacted in a seemingly unreasonable way at something that he was doing, resulting in him getting a bang to the arm. This was someone who was of very high stature at the time and he reacted in a very irrational, childish way, and stormed off leaving everybody sitting around looking at each other feeling sort of bewildered.
I’ve been very fortunate to have always had experiences with people who know their limits, and who seem to have their egos in check. They also appreciate that you’re there to do a job as much as they’re there to do a job, and if it’s not crucial to the action, i.e. you can’t really tell if it’s them or not, most of the time the actor will simply say ‘OK, it’s over to you’ and walk away from it and leave you to it.
Daniel Craig is not the biggest fan of heights, yet we had him doing some stuff on Quantum jumping out of windows towards the roofs of oncoming buses, and jumping gaps in the streets of Sienna. He really had to overcome quite a lot to be able to do it, really testing himself by getting out there and doing it. You can clearly see that it’s him doing those things, which is equally impressive. I’ve had a number of people ask me who did the Quantum bits in the streets of Sienna, and when I tell them it was Daniel they are really quite shocked.
As I say I have been pretty lucky not to have to deal with the egos. I do know a pretty funny story I was told by a stunt guy I know in the UK. He was introduced to an actor that he was going to be doubling and the actor basically took the stance when meeting this guy, he shook his hand and said ‘Yeah, I like to do all my own stunts,’ in a really serious tone, to which my friend responded ‘Yeah, I normally like to do all my own acting.’
Due Date is out on DVD and Blu-ray on February 28th
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