Movie stunt work for a freestyle motocross rider is usually relatively safe compared with the normal job of backflip double grabs and KODs, but more than anything these jobs are highly desirable. You get to work on a big production set, sometimes in an exotic location, and spend most of your time waiting to do a stunt that will only last about a minute in the movie.
This all rings true for Australian FMX star Robbie Maddison, who received the call on a Friday and by Monday was on a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, to double for actor Daniel Craig as James Bond in the latest edition of the Agent 007 franchise, "Skyfall."
This call came days after Maddison was cleared to ride after recovering from back surgery he needed from his New Year's Eve "No Limits" long distance jump record attempt. Having only been cleared to start riding but not jumping, Maddison was reassured by the stunt coordinator, "The stunts you can do with your eyes blindfolded."
When he got there, to his surprise, there was a nice 20-foot drop to flat that landed down on some shiny polished tiles. This jump would later become infamous for another stunt rider and a historic, 330-year-old shop and a crystal glass window.
Maddison, being the professional he is, stepped up to the plate a little uncertain of whether his back would be able to take the impact and made it through without any painful extra compressions to his back.
"At times it was challenging," Maddison said about shooting the stunts on a narrow catwalk on rooftops with numerous sharp metal objects. Throw in the fact he wasn't wearing a helmet while riding a bike heavily loaded down with saddlebags, a giant desert tank and massive metal reinforcements to hold it all together, and this stunt work was truly memorable for Maddison in his portrayal of the iconic movie character known for his style, class, charm and kick-ass fighting ability.
While taking in the peaceful end of a day out riding recently in Temecula, Calif., I had a chance to speak with Maddison about working on the movie -- which opens Friday -- his X Games crash and the life of an FMX rider.
Do you follow the Bond series of movies?
Yeah, I've seen a few with Pierce Brosnan, I've seen "Casino Royale," and not sure I know all the names but, yeah, the Bond movies are always cool to watch. I remember when we had "007" the video game back when I was a teenager and we used to always play that. So I wouldn't say I'm always the biggest Bond fan but I'm definitely pumped on a few of the movies I've seen.
Do you have a favorite Bond actor?
I always liked the Bond girl [laughs]. They always portrayed the Bond girl in the films so sexy, it's hard not to love them. But Bond is always such a legend, he can do everything, he's a sick fighter, he always catches the bad guys. I like Bond and the way he's portrayed, he's always one step in front of his opponent or the bad guy.
Speaking of Bond girls, can they really shoot laser beams out of their eyes?
I worked with one of the Bond girls, but I can't remember their names but, yeah I think she did shoot laser beams out of her eyes or her boobs [laughs], no disrespect there. Yeah, the talent for the Bond girls was there, and I haven't seen the movie yet, but definitely the ones in the movie can definitely shoot laser beams or at least take an X-ray of you, X-ray vision [laughs].
I heard there was a mishap with a stunt guy and a pretty historic glass window in the bazaar.
Yeah, that was around the time when I first got on set and my first days there consisted of me catching up with the crew that had already been there working on the film for about five months' filming.
The very first part I had to do -- because there was another guy, a French guy who doubled Bond, but halfway through the filming they realized they didn't like the way he looked so that's when I was brought in. So the first few days I was doing the catch-up thing and the very first day they said, "This is the stunt you're going to do: You're going to ride off this scaffolding and through this window and drop down here into the bazaar [which is like the shopping center] and so when you land down there you head straight ahead to the left up a small incline," but it was on these shiny, polished-type ancient tiles that was slippery at the best of times with shoes on, let alone trying to make a 90-degree turn on a dirt bike.
Lee Morrison, who doubled the bad guy, I think he went off of it and just flat landed it a bit but anyone that rides knows when you land into an incline it's way worse than if you were landing on flat ground. I think he landed, got a little bit whiskey throttle and overjudged how the tile surface he was on was and just pushed the front wheel down and washed out through the front of the store. I think it was a 350-year-old jewelry store and that definitely put a hurt on production, and everything moving forward. Even when we left after finishing filming that store was still closed. But I just want to make it clear that mishap wasn't me [laughs].
I know that definitely impacted Red Bull X-Fighters, too, when they came in a short time later [to Istanbul]. When they saw the dirt bikes coming back into town, the Bond movie kind of left a bad taste in the city's mouth, and that's why the X-Fighters had some serious problems with their production.
But, yeah, it was a bit of a shame because we were all trying so hard to be respectful of their culture and make sure everything was all right. We'd go film on Sundays so not to disrupt business during the week. We were really trying to be respectful of the area. The city is so ancient and just being able to go there and see it, let alone get to ride on the rooftops was just cool to be able to do that.
Riding on the rooftops looked like it was no joke in parts. It seemed like in sections you were really riding on a 2- or 3-foot-wide catwalk plank with a big drop on parts?
The area that those rooftops covered was huge, it went equal distance in every direction. The grand bazaar covers a huge area. We'd film on this section and then go film on that section, at times it was challenging -- we had a small catwalk-type pathway built in to the rooftops and some parts were only a 3-foot drop but in other spots it was two stories down. That whole place is like a maze, walking around down there in the bazaar is hard to find your way, it was easy to get lost, there was tunnels and hallways everywhere.
The one section that I did where I come along on the rooftop and the bad guy hits the water cart, falls and splashes and I make a right-hand turn and drop down was super safe but it actually didn't exist. The special effects guys made that whole thing look like it was part of the other existing roofs. It's insane the work the special effects did! All the work they did looked like it was actually part of the bazaar.
The one stunt that I did do, though, where I crashed -- if I would've rolled a few feet further, I would've impaled myself into some rickety, old metal stuff. A lot of the rooftops have old air conditioning units with metal stakes coming up, things that can stab yourself if you were to fall on them. It definitely was not a place you'd want to ride with no helmet.
So what kind of bike did you ride?
We rode a Honda CRF 250 with bags on the sides and a huge desert type tank. I actually went to this rock quarry to test out the bike when I got on set and I found this road gap and hit that. And then I found this step down that was about the same size I had to do in the movie so I hit that and snapped off both of the saddle bags [laughs]. I picked them up and rode them back to the stunts guys and said "here's your bags" [laughs].
Was this Bond movie pre- or post-X Games injury?
Yeah, it was right before X Games. I had my back surgery after New Year's and halfway through healing from that I got called in to do the Bond movie. I had been cleared to start riding but not to start jumping. I asked them if there was any jumping and they said, "just a tiny bit and the stunts you can do with your eyes blindfolded." But when I got there I looked at the rooftop drop stunt and it was a two-story drop to flat ground. But I got through it without compressing my back and got through the two months of Bond filming, came home and had about four weeks of riding before X where I had another mishap.
So you're all healed up from X Games? What actually happened?
Yeah, I mean I'll just say it because of how close I came to dying, it kind of took the wind out of my sail for a minute. I broke the second rib which then pushed down on my aorta. If it had actually gone and ruptured my aorta, which it was already pressuring pretty good, I would've had about 20 seconds to live after that, the doctor said. And when you have a wife, kid you really have to have some solid reasons why you want to get back on and keep risking it, you know.
But I feel good back on the bike again and I'm definitely more aware of the risks I'm taking, everything happens for a reason. I feel good though being back on the bike, just the other day I started getting my Cordova flips back, getting that flow back. It just takes a while sometimes and no matter what you know, [it's] how you feel and you have to go at your pace.
There was a movement a while back for Australia to sever ties with the British monarchy. Did that ever enter your mind while you were working on a British film and playing a character serving for "her majesty's secret service"?
No, it never entered my mind because I have the worst memory, but anything that doesn't concern me I don't pay attention to. I think about dirt bikes 24/7, my kid, and my missus and keep the rest out of my mind. I wish everyone the best but try to keep it simple and stay out of every one's drama. Pretty sure they didn't sever ties because she's still on all our money.