On a private road on the grounds of a palatial estate in Bedfordshire outside London, under the roaring flight path of Luton airport, a group of professional stunt drivers are recreating a scene from National Treasure 2 for the edification of the international press. Groups of journalists are being rotated through the site, packed into a series of cars, and driven wildly down the road while a truck tosses beer kegs at them, in an attempt to duplicate a scene from the movie shot a year earlier in downtown London.
Overseeing it all is Graham Kelly, a 30-year movie stunt veteran who had the title “action vehicle supervisor” for the Disney film starring Nicolas Cage and Jon Voigt. The beard and wild hair, he explains, were grown in recently to double Anthony Hopkins in The Wolf Man, then in production in England. Four times today he’ll stand just next to the country road with his walkie-talkie giving cues and anxiously watching his team of stunt drivers hurl journalists around the inside of specially-prepared cars while the beer kegs — actually made of fibreglass and foam rubber — rain down on them and bounce around the road.
“I sort of fell into it really,” he recalls, looking back on how he ended up here. “A friend of mine, my best friend, his father was a stunt man. He naturally progressed into stunts and I went with him.
Nowadays, it’s a much different kettle of fish becoming a stunt man. They have very stringent rules. You have to have six qualifications up to a gold standard in things like martial arts, riding, diving, all these kind of things, before you’re eligible to become a stunt man. You only ever get the best people.”
The car chase that anchors the first half of National Treasure 2 is considered one of the biggest, and certainly the fastest, that’s ever been filmed in central London. It took six weeks to shoot, with Kelly and his team rehearsing every collision and rollover on a course outside the city, and shooting at a breakneck pace over the weekends, when the business and tourist heart of London could be safely locked down and dressed up.
“The thing about stunts,” Kelly tells us, “is that the smallest stunt has to be done as properly as the biggest stunt, and it’s the smallest stunt that’ll get you hurt and not the biggest stunts, because there’s so much preparation taken into high falls and fire jobs and car turnovers and that. I specialize in horses, and basically it’s you, the horse and the ground, and it hurts a lot more than rolling a car. Horse boys have the hardest job in films, I think, and I am one, so, of course, I’ll say that.”