[INTERVIEW] Stunt master Steven McMichael

Steven McMichael‘s most recent job was as the on-screen combat coordinator for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. He’s been in that industry for nearly 20 years, choreographing combat scenes for action films like I Robot, The Fantastic Four, Blade: Trinity, and X-Men.  He’s also performed his fair share of stunts on film.  This former US Marine is not afraid to get his hands dirty!  He’s also a fitness expert, husband, and father, and a spokesperson for Dove Men+Care products.  I recently had the chance to bounce a few questions off him:

TFL: Steven, you’ve performed at some of the highest levels, from serving in the Marines to pulling off physically demanding roles as a stunt double in blockbuster action movies.  At some point you must have realized that you can’t get by on what nature gave you alone; you have to take care of yourself if you want to continue to perform at your peak.  When did that realization hit?  What impact did it have on you?

Steven McMichael: I had the mentality that I was invincible for the first 10 years of stunt performing. It wasn’t until I started getting injuries that I realized that I have to figure out how to minimize injury. Stuntwork has such a broad scope that it’s impossible to train for everything. In addition, stretching and warm-up time is often not possible due to the circumstances such as SPFX make-up, prosthesics, costume, and erratic on-set scheduling changes. A good example of this was when I was performing one of the biggest stunts of my career doubling for Tom Welling (Clark Kent) on the pilot of the TV series Smallville. Those who have seen the show may remember the scene – I was posing as Clark Kent when he was hit by Lex Luthor in a Porsche going 30 mph. Both the Porsche and I went flying off the bridge. That one really hurt!

TFL: We can probably all make a pretty good guess at some of the things you do to stay on top of your game – weight training, aerobic exercise, etc.  Are there any elements of taking care of yourself that came as a surprise to you?  How important is skin care in terms of keeping you in shape and ready for your unique line of work?

SM: Appearance is very important in the film industry, so caring for my skin is vital to maintaining the best mindset to perform and choreograph fight scenes and design stunts.  Additionally, wearing prosthetics can really take a toll on your skin, which came as a surprise to me. The glue and the materials used can not only cause irritation, they can be toxic. To help keep my skin healthy and fight irritation, I use Dove Men+Care products, specifically Fresh Awake Body and Face Wash and Aqua Impact Deo/AP. Not only do these products fight skin irritation and moisturize my skin, but they also keep me smelling fresh (Aqua Impact deo/AP fights odor and wetness for 48 hours), which is crucial as I am often in close contact with A-list actors!

TFL: A quick read of your IMDB profile shows you’ve worked on an amazing collection of productions, including some movies with pretty big names attached to them.  What’s that been like for you?  Do you have a “famous celebrity” story you can share?

SM: I am not someone who turns to jelly when I’m working with name talent. My job is to make them look good, and we all put our pants on the same way in the morning. However, I have been in awe of the physical performances of people such as Hugh Jackman, Will Smith, and Milla Jovovich. On the set of I Robot, waiting between action sequences we (group of stunt performers) were talking with Will Smith at the Craft Service table (green room) and he told us a hilarious story about how when he was a kid, he shocked his dad with the utility box when their basement flooded. He was so down-to-earth, and I love that he felt comfortable enough to tell us childhood stories.

TFL: You career has always included a fair share of travel.  Do you have any fitness and workout tips for guys who are always on the go?

SM: Strength bands. They’re lightweight, storable, and portable. Isometric exercise is great for strength and cardio conditioning at all levels. There’s a great deal of workout ideas available on YouTube. I would work out with these in my hotel room in the morning and again when I got back in the evening. I would also recommend downloading iFitness if you have an iPhone; this app provides exercises, stretches, demos and also tracks your fitness progress.

TFL: As a husband and father, how have you tackled the work-life balance issue?

SM: First of all, my wife was a stunt performer, so she understands the unique aspects of this business. I commonly would leave before the kids got up and came home when they were in bed. No matter what kind of day I had, watching the kids sleep always made me feel lucky to be a dad. I really made the time count with my family when I was home on days off or on the weekends. When out of the country, I don’t know what I would do without Skype. During The Hobbit I would Skype with my family at least twice a day and text whenever I could to stay in touch. 

TFL: What is one indispensable parenting tip for dads who are just starting out?

SM: Make sure you give your wife a break whenever you can so she can recharge and take care of herself as well. It’s important for you, because you need that precious alone time with your baby. When my kids were infants, I enjoyed taking them for walks in the baby walker or front carrier; it was a great way to interact with my kids and develop that personal connection. I would also go biking with a baby chariot; that is a special experience to share.

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