Although the name Mark Kubr may not be instantly recognisable, you've definitely seen his work on screen before.
All told, Kubr has 120 credits to his name and has worked on films such as Iron Man, The Nice Guys, Old School, Michael Mann's Collateral, Little Miss Sunshine and TV shows such as CSI: Miami, House, 24, Angel and many more. Kubr's career began, funnily enough, on Baywatch where he served as a stunt surfer and one of his earliest credits was in Cheers as a walk-on character called Thorsten.
All told, Kubr has spent close to thirty years in the industry and is considered to be one of the most experienced stuntmen working today. We spoke to Kubr about his work on La La Land as the stunt coordinator, how he got into the industry initially and some of the hairier moments in his career.
To start off with, how did you get into stunt work?
I really had no desire to be a stuntman at all, initially. When I was young, I really liked filmmaking, photography, and the visual part of movies. Even taking stills. So, when I was playing a volleyball tournament, there was this scout that asked if I wanted to become a model. I did that, travelled the world as a print model and then that progressed into acting - and I was just a terrible actor! (laughs) There was a movie and they were looking for a stunt double for me.
I got talking to the stunt coordinator and I told him I came from an athletic background, so on and and he explained that this was there the action was. And I thought, I can do this, but I didn't realise I was taking a job from someone. So, he took me under his wing and explained that I was, y'know, a good actor and in good shape, I should pursue action acting - few lines and get hit. I just... started working, I guess. I got an amazing career and I got to do what I love and now I'm bridging the gap into stunt coordination. When I was young, I really wanted to tell stories visually and now that's gone on into La La Land and stuff.
Working on so many productions as you have, The Nice Guys, Iron Man, 1408, all of these films, how involved is it for you?
You have to listen to the stunt coordinator, the director and the actor and balance them all in your head. When I was working on The Nice Guys, for example, I walk into a restaurant on PCP and Russell Crowe's sitting at a bar. He fights me, beats the living crap out of me. We rehearsed the fight between myself, Russell's stunt double and the stunt coordinator. We rehearsed it about five or six times. I don't get starstruck anymore, but I'm a Russell Crowe fanatic, man. So, anyway, I get to work and he doesn't even wanna look at me. I'm sitting in my little trailer thinking, "What have I done?"
So, his stunt double and the stunt coordinator shows him the fight without me and they come to my trailer and we've got six or seven versions of this fight. The stunt coordinator goes to me that Russell doesn't like any of these scenes. I go, "You gotta be kidding me!" I'm in heart-attack mode. I'm about to fight Russell Crowe in front of Joel Silver and Shane Black. He directed Iron Man 3 and we did that fight with Robert Downey Jr., it turned out really well so I thought I'm good. So, I'm a nervous wreck. Turns out, Russell is one of the nicest human beings on the planet and, y'know, he had his vision; he didn't want an elaborate thing. I go into the restaurant, I'm all strung out on PCP as my character, Russell does his moves with just real grace, we had a real shotgun for the scene, and it came off beautifully. I still get, I mean, this is how I feed my family. But, I'm blessed. People throw it around, but I really am.
Without going into specifics, was there one set that was particularly bad or rough?
Oh yeah, I've got one! So, I've got long blonde hair and, on film sets, they've got D-spots and non-D-spots for, like, stuntmen. Non-descript spots where you're acting, you've got to do something, but it's.. y'know, you're in the background. So, anyway, I'm on set with a really, really well-known director and it's a massive film. There's at least a hundred extras, twenty stunt guys, I'm way in the back, I must be a bobby pin. So, I hear, "CUT! CUT!", and the director comes running and he's standing between me and the stunt coordinator. The director goes, "If I see this guy with the blonde hair in another frame or shot!", and the stunt coordinator is getting yelled at my expense and I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Really. That was probably the worst experience I had on set.
On La La Land, you wouldn't imagine there'd be much in the way of work for a stunt coordinator. On a film like this, where do you come in?
The film was brought to me by a dear, dear friend, Charlie Craughwell. He couldn't do the movie and he gave it to me. I met Damien and there were certain parts that involved stunts. Lemme say, I wholly respect dancers. Mandy Moore was the dance choreographer on this, the athleticism that goes into a dancer. It's incredible. The stunt guys were watching all their work during rehearsal, on top of cars, all in unison. Really incredible stuff. So, one scene involves a dance party in this Hollywood home and it was an all night, he had about thirty dancers going around the pool and I knew what we were up against because we had to intertwine this stunt into the dance and the camera. So, the stuntman's on top of two storeys and he dives. We've got a regular camera and an underwater one for when he lands in the pool.
We did it thirty-five times. Thirty-five. The costumer had something like five different tuxedos for him and we went through them all. By the end, he was doing it wet all night long. Literally. The stuntman, his name was Steven White, I hired him for his athleticism and I knew he could do this and I knew we were gonna do this over and over and over again. He got a standing ovation by the time it was done and it was all because of Damien.
We showed Damien what kind of jump he wanted, we rehearsed it a few days beforehand, I took him to a pool to show a few ideas we thought were pretty cool. I asked Steven what the jump was, it'ss called a butterfly front-full. You take off with one foot and the back leg kicks up and arms flare out and pull into a twist. It's a front flip with a full twist and he went vertical because the pool was only six feet deep. So, he had to scoot his knees up to his chest so he wouldn't break his ankles. He did that thirty-three times in a tuxedo with leather shoes. They actually had to drill a hole in his shoes because he was holding so much water in them. I kept looking at his eyes, watching him, making sure. I went to Damien and I was like, "We can't do this many times." But it's an amazing, amazing jump.
Same with the freeway sequence. We rehearsed it for, like, four or five days. There was a parkour guy I had to hire, we had to get people doing flips off of a car. A friend of me suggested a top gymnast from UCLA, I was running out of people to try and she came in and she just nailed it in one go. That was her first job.
Is there a shortage of stunt people? Is there a lack of qualified stunt people?
Oh, no. Not at all. But, what made La La Land so special is to intertwine with dance routines. A friend of mine, he's a pro-skateboarder. It's a specific look, it's not just about talent with Damien, it's a L.A. look and we had to use that athleticism, but also the appearance. But, he leads the whole shot in. His name is Cameron, he's got long, blonde hair. I couldn't get a hold of him, y'know, so he was skating. I had to drive down to Venice and I had to convince him, y'know? He did it, Damien loved it, we had the BMX guy and the parkour guy. It's not about crazy stunts, it's about finding the right people to intertwine into Damien's vision and the dancing vision.
So, even after they did the stunt, they had to go into a dance move. Like, the BMX guy was moving his bike in time with the dancers, the parkour guy did a flip off the car and threw his hands up in the air and seem like it was part of the dance routine. It wasn't people getting shot or cars being wrecked, it was this one specific time where we combined stunts and dancing and it was just, for lack of a better word, poetic.
Is there any one particular genre that directors seem to be more involved?
It usually depends on how many people are involved, y'know? How many cameras are rolling at the same time, how many extras, how many cars starting lighting, how many explosions. The thing with Damien, he had a specific thing in his head that he pulled off brilliantly. He knew what he wanted, he was very kind doing it and, in his vision, the camera had to enter the water the same time the stuntman did. It's difficult to answer. For La La Land, going back to one with the dance sequence, it's a big ask, y'know?
What was the strongest director you've worked with, in terms of stunts and so on?
There's a lot of guys like that. There was a great friend of mine that hired me and my son a couple of times, David Ellis. He directed Final Destination. He was a celebrated and honoured stuntman, he went into Second Unit and then he became a full-fledged director from that. He really paved the way for, hopefully, guys like me to move into First Unit directing where you working with the leads. But, yeah, David Ellis, he was a pioneer. He made people look at stunt guys.
You're looking to move into directing yourself?
Yeah, I've become friends with some actors. I'm doing a documentary about how to keep trades in the educational system in America, about auto-mechanics and about how our schools are doing away with arts and trades in our school. I mean, let's face it, not everyone is going to go to a four-year school. A friend of mine is now a professor of automechanics at El Camino College, he donated a car, we're kinda doing a thing about he's become a productive citizen, how automechanics changed his life and how kids under his tutelage and their lives are being changed. They can get a trade, they can earn some money and go to a four-year university.
It's the same with a set. Everyone has a job to do.
Ego must play a part on a set, though? You must get some actors that, I don't know, think they know more than you.
Yeah, it happens. I mean, it's all an act. I mean, I doubled Mickey Rourke and he supposed to be one of the toughest eggs to crack. It may start off that way, but he's really gracious and kind underneath. At some point, you have to look in a mirror and say, "I'm being ridiculous." Y'know, 99% of the people are humble and ready to work. It's been an amazing thing for me, I have nothing but positive things to say about it.
If you had one piece of advice to someone who wants to become a stunt actor, what would it be?
(pause) Wow. Diligence, I guess. Pursue it with everything you have. Be an asset to people. Some of the best stunt people - I mean, the really big ones - are still the ones that are picking up the pads, sweeping out the truck, washing 'em down. They're willing to do all that and these pads are cumbersome, man. Be an asset. Don't be a hindrance to anybody.