Rob Jarman: “Getting Chinned By Bane Was Fun”
Jumping off spaceships, brawling with Batman villains and leaping off a six-storey building – it’s all in a day’s work for British stuntman Rob Jarman.
The daredevil action expert pulled off astonishing feats for some of 2012′s biggest blockbusters, but perhaps his most famous recent turn came in hit BBC drama Sherlock – where he quite literally took the plunge for the series’ much talked-about finale.
“I jumped off the hospital roof, and it was a six-storey drop into an airbag,” he says. “I wasn’t frightened about getting hurt though – I was more frightened about messing it up. I’d been told to make sure I didn’t take Sherlock’s iPhone over with me, and that was all I was thinking about. They don’t mind having to find a new stuntman, but iPhones cost a lot of money!”
Plummeting off a high-rise is just one of the many extraordinary things that Rob can point to on his CV. But then we are talking about a man who got his big break when he “jumped off a quarry into a lake while on fire”.
In his five years as a professional stuntman, the 30-year-old has worked with some of the world’s biggest directors and doubled for some of Hollywood’s hottest up-and-coming stars.
“There’s always the worry that you’re going to accidentally punch some A-List superstar in the face on your first day,” he laughs. “But fortunately that’s never happened to me.
“Most of the time when you’re rehearsing with big names they just come across as nice, ordinary people. Doubling for Michael Fassbender on Prometheus was a pleasure. He’s a great guy. He actually did most of his own stunts, and he likes motorbikes too so we got on like a house on fire. A lot of actors are into having a bit of an adrenaline-rush themselves.
“Benedict Cumberbatch has been really great to work with too. I actually knew him before we worked together on Sherlock, because I met him while filming War Horse.”
Working on that Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg epic was a dream come true for Rob – who had always wanted to perform in one of the director’s movies.
“It was quite a thing,” he says. “It was an epic experience. The Somme re-enactment took weeks, there was probably about thirty stunt guys and over a hundred extras in the trenches, and when we were running across No Man’s Land it felt one hundred per cent real. There were mortars going off everywhere and bullets popping all around, and it was actually pretty terrifying. I imagine it was quite easy to film, because we were all bricking ourselves!”
Rob’s handiwork recently appeared on the big screen in hit Batman sequel The Dark Knight Rises, and Alien prequel Prometheus.
“We filmed Prometheus at Pinewood on an absolutely incredible set,” he says. “They had these quad-bikes that had been expensively-converted into moon buggys, and we filmed a scene where I had to jump one out of the back of a spaceship. They had four of them, they cost about £40,000 each, and every time I did the jump the buggy completely collapsed and I ended up killing the whole four. Luckily, we got the shot we needed.”
Rob was sitting around at home when he got a phone call asking him to come to London to shoot The Dark Knight Rises – and the very next day he found himself going toe-to-toe with Batman villain Bane, played by beefed-up hardman actor Tom Hardy.
“He looked genuinely intimidating,” says Rob. “He was huge – and built like a bag of wet cement.
“I was filming a fight scene with Bane, there were fifteen of us scrapping and then I got to take on the man himself. I got chinned – and that was me well and truly out of the equation.”
Rob admits he enjoys the “thrill” that comes with doing stunts, and often dices with death away from professional engagements too.
Back in 2007 he went down the Olympic bobsleigh circuit in Lillehammer on a pedal-bike – reaching speeds of 56mph in the process.
“As far as I’m aware, I’m still the only person who’s done it,” he says. “The main danger was that they still had the cameras up from the Olympics, so I had to remember to duck at the right times – otherwise they could’ve wiped my head clean off.”
Growing up on a farm in Yorkshire, the thrill-seeker developed a passion for motorbikes and horse-riding, but it was his exploits as an extreme cyclist that soon got him noticed. After a bike magazine shoot led to the suggestion that he train as a professional stuntman, he never looked back.
Rob is now a black belt in karate, an expert mountaineer, a coach for the British mountainbiking team, a scuba dive master, a stunt horse rider – and he also has a British motor racing licence to boot.
Of course, even for a trained professional stunts are a dangerous line of work, and Rob has picked up some serious injuries over the years.
“I detached my retinas on Captain America when I got close-lined off a bike,” he recalls. “And in 2011 I was shooting a commercial for Berghaus in Italy when I landed heavy and head-butted my handlebars, which sent me cartwheeling down the mountain-side.
“I broke my right arm, my collarbone, and my shoulderblade. I had bleeds on my lung and my brain. I can’t afford to have another concussion for a while.
“I actually turned down the offer to work on Skyfall because I was still recovering from injury when I got the call – and I know it was the right decision. There’s no regrets.”
When it comes to the danger involved in film stunts, Rob explains that the risk varies considerably.
“Getting run over by cars is always the worst one. Being set on fire usually means big money, and stair-falls are your bread and butter really.
“They are all really well staged and rehearsed of course. Otherwise you might as well pay a lunatic to do it.”
Perhaps Rob’s most dramatic incident on set was an accident while filming TV soap Eastenders in 2011, when another stuntman was left fighting for his life.
“The scene involved us fighting on Southend Pier, and then falling about forty feet into the sea,” he explains. “But the other stuntman hit his head on the way down. I heard it and I knew instantly it was bad. He was unconscious when we went into the water but I managed to pull him out.
“My initial thoughts were that he was dead. Luckily he recovered pretty well and is now working again. Having walked away from that, it’s now in the back of my mind that if something does go wrong, it could be curtains.
“When I was starting out I wanted to jump off all the biggest buildings, get hit by every car and get blown up over and over again. But one of the veterans took me to one side and said: ‘Look mate, if you want to be doing this in thirty years’ time, you can’t carry on like that’.”
When he’s not defying death on film and TV sets, Rob works as a personal trainer around Yorkshire – and clients can expect a taste of Hollywood action when they hire him too.
“I like to bring some of my stunt experience into the personal training. I offer sword-fighting and rock-climbing, for example, and my clients might end up learning a routine that I did for a big movie like Robin Hood.
“I want it to be active and fun. I’m not just going to have someone running on a treadmill. People get a bit of an insight into my life really through this. My clients seem to enjoy that side of it.”
Rob Jarman’s personal website is at www.rob-jarman.com
A shorter version of this interview was published in Beyond Magazine last year. For more information, head to www.beyondmags.com