X Games judge doubles as stuntman
Most people in the FMX industry know Regis Harrington as a former Supercross pro and now the head judge at X Games and Red Bull X-Fighters. What they probably don't realize is that they (and you) have probably seen him in the past year on the silver screen, as his career as a stunt man has taken off.
He has appeared in movies such as "Transformers 2," "Priest," "Torque," "Contraband" and the upcoming "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter." In most cases you would not notice him as he is thrown down, blown up and generally abused in front of you.
Seems like a radical career change for such a humble guy, so we dug a little deeper to discover what it is all about:
ESPN.com: So how on earth did you become a stunt guy?
Harrington: Well, it started when I was racing, back in El Cajon [Calif.]. They did a Disney movie called "Motocrossed" -- it was where the sister became the brother after the brother got hurt. It was just like the "Parent Trap," but it had to do with motorcycles and a set of twins.
I was down and out in between races -- it was after the 2000 season with 2001 coming up and I didn't have any money. I was an extra on the movie. At lunch they let us ride, and I was one of the faster guys and I was smaller, so they came to me and asked me if I wanted to be in the movie, and I actually doubled, riding for the sister!
That just very slowly started a little career that is pretty much wide open right now. Over the next 10 years, I did a couple of gigs here and there. Then the opportunity arose, and now I am doing everything I can.
But now you are not just doing the motorcycle stunts anymore, right?
No, I'm not just doing the motorcycle stuff. I am still known as a motorcycle specialist, or a motorcycle guy, you could say, but last year I was fortunate enough to get into two of the biggest movies that were to come out this year. I did "Batman: the Dark Knight Returns," which comes out July 20, and I did "The Bourne Legacy" with Jeremy Renner instead of Matt Damon. On both those big shows I rode motorcycles, but all the other shows that I did, probably about 20 last year, were all just fighting and driving, and I got lit on fire one time! I'm doing just everything they ask of me now.
What's it like to get set on fire?
That was the one and only stunt that before we actually went rolling and went to film that I almost said I couldn't do it. But I knew that if I did that it would ruin my reputation as being [a guy who says] he could do it. So I had to swallow my nervousness and get it done. It was a full-fire burn. On that you have a crew to rely on and I wore many layers of clothing with gel. The lead on that one was Mark Chadwick; he's a fire specialist. He just looked right at me and said, "It's my job not to make you burn and it's your job to run when you need to run." We worked as a team and it got done. I didn't feel one ounce of heat on me.
You didn't feel the fire at all?
No, actually I didn't. Right before they called "action" he told me to remain calm and he would actually push me when I needed to go. I actually saw the flames first, which made me really nervous, and my natural instinct was to run. He had me hold there until I got going really big, then I did the action and they put me out. I swear, I did not feel the fire at all with the precautions that he took. I smelled burned clothes and smoke, but he did a great job.
What was the movie?
That one was called "Fire with Fire," and I play a white supremacist guy that gets blown up in a building. It has Josh Duhamel in it and 50 Cent. It hasn't come out yet, but it should be coming out in the next few months.
Was that the scariest stunt you have ever done?
Yeah, I would say so. It's really weird because being a motorcycle guy, all of my bosses and the Hollywood people, people behind the scenes, they just get blown away by the motorcycle stunts. To me that comes natural because I am used to it. I have been in a couple of other situations this year, on a motorcycle, where I was really uncomfortable, but I wasn't actually scared like I was when I was doing the fire thing. With fire I'm not in control. The fire kind of goes on its own.
What is the most fun stunt you ever did?
Well, the funnest show I have ever worked on to date has been "Batman." We had such a great crew. I worked with Dave Castillo, who comes from the motocross industry, and another young up-and-comer stunt guy who is pretty solid, Riley Harper. Just a bunch of good dudes, and I have got to tell you it was a lot of fun; we all got along really well. It was a big movie with a big budget and lots of good action.
Some of the other stuff that I have done that I really like was a year ago I got to fight Mark Wahlberg for a movie called "Contraband" that released earlier this year. I was doubling an actor called Giovanni Ribisi.
There is famously the moment at the athlete lounge at X Games last year where Mark Wahlberg screamed your name across the room.
[Laughs.] Yeah, that had to have been one of the highlights! Last year I was really lucky and got to double Giovanni in two movies that Mark was the star in, so I wouldn't say that we were good friends, but we became on a first-name basis because we spent quite a bit of time together.
At X Games it was right after one of our FMX events and right after skate vert, I went into the athlete lounge and there was a big group around Wahlberg. I just heard him call my name, so I turned around and everybody got really quiet -- like how in the heck did I know the guy? He gave me a big high-five and a hug and made me feel pretty good, made me feel like I was his boy in front of everybody, in front of all of my peers from the motocross industry, so it was really cool. [Laughs.]
How do you get these gigs? Where do they come from?
Basically I am my own boss and I keep up to date by computer and word of mouth on what shows are starting and who is running that particular show. It reminds me of my racing days, when you wanted to find a sponsor you had to go out and call someone and introduce yourself and sell yourself. Your name just starts slowly building up and building a reputation.
I have had a few coordinators calling me and seeking me out because I am starting to build that name, but there's really nowhere you can go out and just sign up for it; it's one of the hardest things to get into. I have had a lot of my motocross friends telling me they want to get into it, but you have to fully commit to it and spend a lot of time shaking hands and just going up to movie sets and introducing yourself. You just have to hustle your way onto a show. It's pretty tough to do sometimes, but it seems to be paying off for me right now.
You actually moved out of Southern California, right?
Yeah. You see, Hollywood is the mecca of all things TV and movies, but with the financial crisis that California started going through they kind of took all their tax cash incentives away from production companies. Now they offer that huge tax incentive in Louisiana.
I was at a weird point in my stunt career where I was not a veteran stunt guy and I had not made a name for myself, but I really wanted to do it. I picked up everything and the family and we moved to Louisiana so I could have a better chance of making it. I'm able to work for the same people that make movies in L.A., but I am all the way out here.
What are the directors really like?
Some of them are really cool. Really hands-on. Some of them I never even talk to. I work for a stunt coordinator and he is in charge of the whole stunt department, so he really works hand-in-hand with the director and the first assistant director and they set up the shot. Then the coordinator will report to us and ask us to do something. I don't really work with the director unless they come over and specifically tell me to do something.
You have been doing this for a while now. Any major injuries?
No, thankfully. I have done some pretty big wrecks on motorcycles and I have done some pretty big falls down some stairs onto my back on concrete, but you spend so much time rehearsing and getting it right. It's not like the motocross days when you hit the "eject" button and you did not know what was going to happen.
When you prep for the whole day for a crash then it goes onto my shoulders that I know what I need to do. I have laid down street bikes, I have crashed dirt bikes, I have crashed into the side of cars, but when you have as much time as you need to prepare for it you can escape uninjured. I've got bumps and bruises, but thankfully until now no severe injuries.
What have you got coming up next?
I have been on a great run and at the beginning of the year I was in Manila in the Philippines for two and a half months where we did the "Bourne Legacy." I am heading to Boston on Monday and doubling someone in the movie "Grown Ups 2." I will be up there a week and then I come home and I am pretty much unemployed when I get back. Each movie you get may be your last for a while, you never know.
But you still have X Games coming up at the end of June and you are the head judge for FMX. So what is more scary: Being set on fire, or being head judge at X?
[Laughs.] Oh, being head judge at Best Trick makes me way more nervous!