“What Vic means to me, and to many of my contemporaries, is his capacity to do the impossible. He can make the wildly improbably seem totally credible. He can perform amazing feats, as well as planning them for other people to do safely.” – Steven Spielberg
By Charlotte Kinzie
I’d be willing to bet money on the fact that you’re seen some of Vic Armstrong’s work. He’s worked with Spielberg, Branagh, Polanski, Sean Connery, Sophia Loren, Ian McKellen, George Lazenby, George C. Scott, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Reeves and Tom Cruise to name a few. Still not ringing a bell? That’s probably because Vic has spent a lot of time behind the camera or in front of it in disguise.
Vic Armstrong really is the world’s greatest stuntman. That’s why the title of his new autobiography is so appropriate.
“The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman” is now available in paperback from Titan books and it’s well-worth a read.
Vic came from a world of horses. His roots were in the heart of Scotland; his ancestors were farmers, his father and grand-father farriers. And that is where Vic’s love of horses came from. From the time he was a child he was involved in the care of the horses that were in their lives. He even had aspirations of becoming a jockey and starved his six-foot tall self to meet the weight requirements.
Then things changed. A few chance encounters led to Vic becoming interested in the movie industry. His motto “mind over matter” made him unstoppable when it came to stunts. It seems that his standard answer was “yes, I can do it,” even when he wasn’t sure. He tells tales in the book of nearly flipping motorcycles with side-cars because he’d never driven them before, trying previously untested stunts and over-coming a fear of heights.
One of the first films that Vic was involved in was called “The Bells of Hell Go Ting-A-Ling-A-Ling.” It was cancelled but he made lasting connections. Those connections boosted his career. He writes of how stunt performers were often considered “numbers” and once injured were replaced quickly without thought for their income or employment. But he worked his ass off and his bold confidence made a name for him.
It hasn’t all been fun and games. There are stories in Vic’s memoirs that will curl your hair. What about a seemingly jinxed green jockey jersey that was always around when stunt men were injured. Vic himself thought he took a bad fall in a scene involving that jersey only to realize years later when watching the film that he’d hit a branch with his arm, broken the arm and punched himself in the face! I couldn’t help but smile at the way he relays these stories. He doesn’t seem to think of anything as a failure, but more of a way to learn something.
After falling through a poorly braced platform and crushing both heels Vic remembers feeling as though he was letting people down.
“You feel you’ve failed if you have an accident; it’s this strange stupid ego stuntmen have, plus there’s the need to keep working.” – Vic Armstrong (p. 72)
This book is packed full of stories that had me quite unable to stop reading. Do you remember the conveyor belt scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)? Just before that scene was to film Ford actually sustained a nasty back injury and Vic stepped in. He looked so much like Ford that people were known to mistake the two of them on set. Vic doubled for Ford so filming could continue and close-ups were filmed once Ford was well enough.
How about the rousing scene in “Henry V” (1989) when Kenneth Branagh cries out “God for Harry, England and St George” while his horse rears up. Not only was Vic behind the stunts and training in that scene but the horse was Triana and belonged to Vic.
Vic has done everything from stunts to directing and there are stories from nearly every film he’s worked on. His candor is refreshing; his honesty makes the book a pleasure to read.
There are over 800 photos in this book, many of which haven’t been released before and are from Vic’s own collection. Read it – you’ll enjoy it even if you’re like me and think you don’t know much about stunt work.
- ISBN: 9781848568747
- Dimensions: 234 x 156mm
- Hardback with DJ: 352pp +16pp colour photos
- Publication date: 20 May 2011
- Illustration detail: B&W photos throughout, with colour section
- All authors:
Vic Armstrong, Robert Sellers