More than 100 production-spec vehicles were totaled in the filming of "A Good Day to Die Hard," and when we were offered a chance to speak with Steve Davison, the action movie's stunt coordinator, we didn't hesitate.
Davison is a veteran Hollywood stuntman with over two decades of experience, and when the DVD/Blu-ray release of the movie goes on sale on June 4, it'll have a behind-the-scenes "Anatomy of a Car Chase" feature as part of more than two hours of footage and commentary. If you're into digital files, the movie is already available online via DigitalHD for purchase and download.
Davison and his team worked for months on perfecting some of the most intense, vehicle-heavy, non-computer generated scenes that we've seen in a Hollywood action flick as of late. They worked hand-in-hand with vehicle supplier Mercedes-Benz, and below we get a better idea of what it's like to be a stunt coordinator.
MT: How does "A Good Day to Die Hard" compare in terms of execution difficulty to the long list of films that you've worked on?
SD: [While] every film has its challenges, I had done "Behind Enemy Lines" with John Moore, and he challenged me on a lot of rigs on that and a lot of the stunts. When he called me for this I knew that it would be big and I knew that it would be a challenge. That was one of the reasons I took it because it is part of what makes our job fun -- trying to execute.
This is at the top of my top five films, definitely, in terms of difficulty and challenge.
Where there any stunts in the script that had you scratching your head prior to filming?
Our approach as we read it was to do everything real and try to keep away from the CGI world. The only CGI things that we were trying to have were the backgrounds and buildings, and pretending that we were always in Russia. We tried to keep all the stunts real 100 percent unless it was visual backgrounds and stuff. And at the top of accomplishments with this one was that we did just about everything real.
What was it like working with Mercedes-Benz?
They were amazing. They gave us so many vehicles, and as everyone knows, Mercedes perform as good as any car you could possibly have right off the floor. We didn't have to modify a lot. We had to come up with some rigs to make the cars spin at 45 mph and a full 360 degrees without losing speed, so we stayed away from the brake systems and we went into some other tricky stuff that we figured out.
Why'd you stay away from the brake systems?
We didn't want to slow down during the 360 moves, so we went to a system we used -- it would take a while to explain -- but it worked for us very well. [The system was used on] the Unimog when it did its 360 and turned over on top of the cars, and also the Sprinter van we had to do 360s with.
How many vehicles were used during production?
We crashed about 150 cars. We went through about six or seven Sprinter vans … and then we had one that would go as fast as you wanted to go in reverse, we switched the drivetrain around so we could shift the gears, and we were going in reverse as fast as we wanted to go. You know, specialized pieces like that.
Were they all production vehicles, or were there any shell mock-ups that were used?
We took shells off and put them onto a trailer to shoot interiors, but no, their cars are just such a fantastic product that it was simple to make their stuff work. And we had a lot of promo cars too.
What was the hardest stunt for you and your team in this film?
The hardest stunt in the film? Boy, there was a few of them. The hotel sequence was big, but the stunt with huge Mi-26 helicopter was really, really tough because it was so big. And with the MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected), we built those from scratch. We built two stunt ones and we built one hero -- [they're called that] because inside and outside were good. And then we built one trophy truck with a body on it so that we could do the jump, the big jump.
How long did the chase take to film?
Well, the whole chase was a good month-long process.
Any actors do their own stunts? Was there anyone who was enthusiastic about getting behind the wheel?
Jai Courtney just did a show with Tom Cruise, so he recently had some wheel time. Obviously Bruce Willis has had a lot of wheel time throughout his career. He did a lot of his own close-up driving. Jai did really good. For a young guy he was very controlled, that's what you want. When you put somebody behind the wheel you don't want to get them out of control. And he was really sharp.
If you can name one, what would you say is the most memorable stunt you've undertaken in your career?
Boy, I've worked on over 150 films. I actually had to jump off the cliff on "Behind Enemy Lines." That was a tough one to figure out with a helicopter and a guy hanging and a guy jumping off a cliff and grabbing hold of each other. That was a good challenge. The Die Hard piece when they jump out of the hotel and go through all the construction -- that was a good challenge. "Long Kiss Goodnight" we had some really, really big stunts. There were a few in there too. So there isn't one that's a standout.
Oh, and there were a few Robert Rodriguez films. A couple were actually big in "Desperado" and "From Dusk Till Dawn." We "killed" a total of 98 guys from beginning to end in that one.
Your favorite actor and director that you've worked with?
Oh, don't put me there! If I don't put anybody recent, they'll be like, "Why didn't you mention me?"
You know what, I'll say the greatest actress was Halle Berry. On "Catwoman" she was amazing. I mean, she's hanging in this harness, just bruising herself, and I go, "You gotta get out of this," and she goes, "Oh no, I want to do it the way the director wants to." I'm like, "You're crazy!" She's a really sweet lady.
John Moore is one of my favorites. He's got such a great action mind and loves stunts. … Ruben Fleischer I just worked with, he was very great too. But I've worked with a lot of great people.
If you could name one favorite type of stunt -- like a car chase, gunfight, massive explosion, etc. -- what would it be?
One of the most mentally challenging ones is being on fire because you really only see fire, so everything you have to do is by feel and memory. But I'd have to say, if I had to choose one type, it would be a big car chase. Those are always a big challenge because you maybe have to come up with new stuff. And they're doing a big chase on this "Captain America" one right now -- I'm just the stunt guy on this one -- but they got some real good stuff that they're going to do. I can't really talk about any of it. But it should be good.
Lastly, for our car-loving audience, what Mercedes-Benz would you put in your garage and why?
Well, the new GLK they had was something. That was quite a car. The G-Wagen has always been a favorite. The Sprinter vans are great because you can put motorcycles in them. I mean, it depends on my application. The [S]550s are always a favorite.
If I had a choice, and all four of them were lined up, oh, I'd take the 550. Four-door. You can't beat that!