James (Bam-Bam) Bamford has been burned alive, bashed with furniture and thrown out of high places thousands of times.
The 42-year-old stuntman, stunt coordinator and president of Stunts Canada has performed and managed stunts for more than a hundred movies and TV shows like Get Carter, Blade Trinity, Battlestar Galactica and Stargate Atlantis. If you saw the trailer for the recent movie Watchmen, that was Bamford getting kneed in the chest by Night Owl in a prison fight scene.
Bamford was a juvenile corrections officer and taught martial arts before getting into his start in stunts about 17 years ago.
A stunt coordinator called him looking for a stunt double who could do martial arts for the TV show Cobra and tall, trim Bamford fit the bill perfectly. The director nicknamed him Bam-Bam that first day on set and the name has stuck with Bamford since. Bamford doubled for David Duchovny for most of The X-Files’ entire run and was primary stunt coordinator on the recently ended series Stargate Atlantis.
Throughout his stunt career Bamford has worked with dozens of action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vin Diesel. Gwyneth Paltrow smashed him over the head with a stool in the film Duets and he has been light on fire, thrown off cliffs and hurled through windows more times that he could ever count. While some people probably think that all sounds like a barrel of fun — and Bamford insists that it certainly is — doing stunts correctly and safely is much harder than it looks.
“People see the easy days and think, ‘I could do that.’ They don’t see the days you break your arm,” Bamford said.
“It takes an incredible amount of concentration and an incredible amount of athletic ability to perform a stunt correctly. Just to jump off a building you have to train your brain to allow you to do it. A stuntman is not a daredevil,” he added.
While safety is paramount, no stunt is 100 per cent safe — that’s why stunt people get hired in the first place.
“We’re a calculated risk but there’s always that risk. You try to make a stunt as foolproof as possible but the more variables you add, the more risk there is. For a 30-second fight sequence, the audience has no idea how much rehearsal goes into it. Prep is everything,” Bamford said.
When things go wrong, they can go very wrong very quickly, like one time Bamford performed a sword-fighting scene with an actor who went off of the choreography. Bamford got his nose sliced open and barely missed losing an eye, all because of one small change the actor had made to his movements, without warning Bamford in advance.
In recent years Bamford has focused more on stunt coordinating and second-unit directing and says being on the other side of the lens is just as fun and challenging.
“Getting the actor to perform their own stuff safely — that’s an art in-and-of itself. It’s very rewarding to know you’ve gotten them to do things they didn’t think they could do,” he said.