Let’s be honest. If there’s no real risk of death, there’s no action movie. CGI has its perks, but for those edge of the seat scenes that have your finger nails off, you want Bond swinging from a weak branch above a pit of flames, don’t you? Whilst cinematics have gained revolutionary means of cheating our senses, it’s reassuring to learn that many productions still put real human beings in danger, and without, it would seem, any reasonable consideration for their nerves.
Meet the man who blurs the line between dramatics and death. Described by some as ‘the modern day Indiana Jones’, Nicholas Daines has been tumbling from buildings and escaping rolling cars for a quarter of a century- and it looks rather good on him. As he approaches his fiftieth birthday, the Hollywood stunt double is certainly not slowing down anytime soon.
“I literally fell into the business,” says Nicholas. “I really wanted to be the face of TV commercials. I remember at school I was absolutely in awe of this girl who was on a Bachelor’s soup ad. I just couldn’t believe this girl from school was in my home on the TV and we were all watching her. I’d always dreamt of being in the movies, but as you get into the entertainment business, it’s a labyrinth.
“Whilst I was finding my feet, I did quite a bit of background work. I was filming on a British TV series called ‘The Bill’ and there was a stunt being performed. It was a car knockdown where the stuntman was standing on a trailer platform on the back of a vehicle that was reversing. He literally just had to jump onto the back windshield as if he’d been run over. I remember looking at that and thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. I could do that and with a double twist.’ I was an international gymnast and it occurred to me I could use that as the tool to make my mark in the industry.”
Nicholas is currently on set of the new ‘Indiana Jones 5’ movie where it’s action as usual.
“There’s a lot of wirework involved on this set,” he says. “You can almost guarantee that wherever I am I’ll be flying around at height. Working in heavy costumes whilst fighting and jumping and creating a ton of action is a challenge, to say the least.”
Having been nominated for a World Stunt Award for the best work at height, Nicholas knows a thing or two about creating sensational movie scenes.
“Tom Cruise is an exception because he really is a phenomenal athlete. He does a lot of his own stunts”
Without real danger, there is no action movie, but do stunt men and women get enough credit?
“Accidents happen all the time and careers finish all the time, but the public doesn’t see that,” says Nicholas. “Even the simplest stunt can go wrong and it’s not always the big movies that require the riskiest acts. Ironically, the most dangerous stunt I’ve ever performed was for a BBC TV show ‘Waking the Dead’ where I was doubling Claire Goose. It was an 80-foot fall from a seven-story building. I had to jump from the top of the building with one and three-quarter somersaults onto an airbag.
“When you’re looking at an airbag from the top of a building that high, it looks like a postage stamp and you’re just thinking, ‘How the hell am I going to land on that and not kill myself?’. The irony, I mean, you’d think James Bond or Indiana Jones would be more of a challenge, but the hardest day of my career was spent playing a woman because none of the girls on the register would do it. I was shitting myself. I had to really dig deep and trust in my physical abilities. It’s not always in one take either. Sometimes the director will ask you to perform a stunt several times over and each time you’re thinking ‘phew, I’ve survived another jump’. I didn’t sleep probably for two weeks before that stunt. I would go off to Crystal Palace to the 10-meter diving board to get myself prepared for the somersault sequence.”
It may come as a surprise to some that in actual fact, the small screen takes pride of place in the daredevil trophy cabinet.
“I had to fall fighting Daniel Craig where I fell off this beautiful glacier in Switzerland and plummeted to my death”
Despite being in his 50th year, Nicholas claims he’s at his peak and there’s no reason why others can’t follow suit.
“Athletes today are performing well past what would have previously been considered a peak age for their sport or discipline,” he says. “I believe it’s thanks to a combination of access to improved education and a better understanding of nutrition. Raise the bar and people will go to it.
“The game has blown wide open. We’re seeing the likes of Tom Brady performing at NFL level in his forties and Serena Williams dominating the tennis court at 39/40. The key is consistency and it’s never too late to start.
“Working in heavy costumes whilst fighting and jumping and creating a ton of action is a challenge, to say the least”
“Sometimes it is okay to reduce the load and take away those stressors so that when you come back to it, you’re even better. That’s the key to longevity and performance at an older age in any sport.
“During lockdown I also discovered resistance bands and I’ve kept that up. In actual fact, I’ve never been so ripped in my life and it’s all thanks to bands. They’re brilliant. No matter what level you’re at, you can definitely benefit from band workouts. I was training with a friend of mine who’s a huge bodybuilder and he was getting really great results and has also continued to use them post-lockdown.”