Hollywood Bulldogs: The Rise and Falls of the Great British Stuntman is new Britbox film that charts the rise of UK stuntmen in the Hollywood scene of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties – who can be be seen falling, crashing and getting beaten up in the Indiana Jones movies, 007 franchise and Star Wars.
We spoke to one of the documentary’s stars, Rocky Taylor, about doubling Sean Connery, learning to fight and almost dying – twice.
Rocky Taylor learned to throw good screen punches by sitting in bed, tossing his pillows in the air and trying to hit them on the way down.
“I’m a John Wayne style of puncher,” says the 76-year-old now. “I love fight scenes. It’s no good if you can’t throw punches. It’s like a dance routine.”
Taylor is one of the crop of British stuntmen celebrated in the Britbox exclusive documentary. After getting their breaks in British TV series like The Avengers and The Saint, he and colleagues including Jim Dowdall (the Stormtrooper shot when Luke and Leia swing across the chasm in Star Wars), Paul Weston (James Bond in the Dalton movies) and Vic Armstrong (every time it’s not Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones, it’s him) took the stunt world by storm, working on some of the most iconic action sequences of all-time.
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“The heart of stunt work is keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut,” says Taylor, who learned his trade doubling for Steed (Patrick Macnee) in The Avengers. “The way I learned to be a stuntman was doing the job. I was a black belt in judo, so I could do falls. When I did a fight scene, I could throw someone over my shoulder.”
During that time in the business, everything was a bit more rough and ready. “I found an Army course in Aldershot that had a skid pan,” he says. “Me and couple of others took our own cars down and skidded on the skid pan and learned how to control a car. My own training.”
Once he was established as a go-to performer, Taylor’s output was prolific. The Dirty Dozen, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Tim Burton’s Batman and A Bridge Too Far are a tiny percentage of his credits. He also has a Guinness World Record as the only stuntman to double for two Bonds in one year – Roger Moore in Octopussy and Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again.
In fact, he became a bit of a regular stand-in for the latter after stepping in for him during the motorbike/sidecar chase in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. The double that was lined up by stunt co-ordinator Vic Armstrong was nixed by Steven Spielberg because he didn’t look enough like the Scot. Someone said that Taylor had done him before, so he got in costume.
“Spielberg said, ‘Rocky, I could shoot on you very close, you’re the perfect double,’” Taylor remembers. “When we come out of the box, you can’t tell the difference. [Although Sean’s] about three inches taller than me.”
Thanks to Last Crusade, Taylor ended up travelling to Argentina for Highlander 2: The Quickening and getting to know Connery.
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“He was a man’s man,” says Taylor. “I had a bet with him once, a £10 bet on the tennis and I lost. I came into work, stuck the tenner to my head and said, ‘there you are Sean’. He loved a bet, he loved a little pound note. You couldn’t get too close to him. You wouldn’t do that with Sean. You’d keep your distance. Not like Roger [Moore]. You’d go out and have a beer with Roger.”
In fact, Taylor shared a drink with Roger Moore at one of the most important moments in the actor’s life.
“I was walking down the corridor at Pinewood Studios with another stuntman called Les Crawford and right at the very bottom, a head popped round the corner.”
It was Roger Moore, who asked the pair to come and join him in his dressing room.
“He said, ‘you’re now looking at James Bond, I just signed the contract.’ We had a bottle of champagne and danced around, saying, ‘I’m James Bond! I’m James Bond!’ It was fabulous.”
But while his career has had many highs, Taylor has also been one of the stuntmen to suffer a serious injury on set. In fact, one of the funniest scenes in Hollywood Bulldogs is where pretty much every contributor takes the time to say how awful cult English filmmaker Michael Winner was.
Taylor has more reason than most to be angry with the late director. On the set of 1985’s Death Wish 3, he was tasked with jumping from a burning building into a trench filled with boxes to break his fall. Unbeknownst to Taylor and the rest of the crew, Winner decided to turn up the pyrotechnics so that the fire raged far higher than was originally intended.
“I couldn’t even see where to go because the flames were so big,” says Taylor. “All you could hear was Michael Winner shouting, ‘jump, Rocky, jump!’ Because it was a purpose-built thing it was just burning and burning and the walls started collapsing and the floor started creaking and I thought, ‘God, I’m going to go in a minute’, so I ran through the flames with my hands up. I just missed the bed by about a foot.”
Seriously injured, he underwent several operations in hospital. While he was there, Winner showed up with reporters for a photo-op.
“[He] came to the hospital and whispered, ‘don’t think you can sue me Rocky, because you can’t win.’”
It took him five years to get back to work, when he returned as a double for lead actor Michael Elphick on the U.K. TV series Boon.
“I could do cars, I could do bikes. I didn’t really want to do falls because of my back,” he says. “I had nuts and bolts inside me. I didn’t want to do falling down the stairs.”
Now in his mid-70s, he was seriously ill with Covid-19 last year but managed to beat it and is still keen to work. “I’m not retired yet,” he says. “When the phone rings, I’m working.”
He’s sanguine about the role of traditional role of stunt people in the age of digital effects.
“In my heart, I can see stuntmen fading away,” he says. “There’s lots of dummies going on now. Now you can put an inch-thick wire [on someone] and they can CGI it out.”
Nevertheless, he adds, “If you do a 30-foot fall, they can make it 900-foot, but you have to do the 30-foot first.”
He has many fond memories of a life in the business, working to make the big stars look good.
“On Tomorrow Never Dies, we were doing a big fight scene with Pierce Brosnan,” he says.
“It was July, we’re all sweaty. We went outside afterwards and I said to one of the stunt guys, ‘Pierce’s working well, isn’t he? I’ll tell him when he comes out.’ He came out all tired and I looked at him and said, ‘Pierce, we’re reckon you’re one of the best.’ He went, ‘that’s great, thanks Rocky.’ I said, ‘oh, only in the fight scene, not as an actor.’
"He laughed his b******s off, which was nice.”
Hollywood Bulldogs launches exclusively on BritBox on 24 June.