IF you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be on fire, Nick Gillard is the man to ask.
He is a celebrated stuntman, stunt coordinator and fight director who is responsible for film and TV stunt scenes in the Star Wars prequels, Wanted, Labyrinth, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and various Bond films.
Nick, who lives in Brighton, has been set on fire more than 100 times for Hollywood movies and television shows, and holds the world record for the longest fire stunt in the movie Alien 3 – a full burn without air for more than two minutes.
He’s talking about his astonishing 40-year career at Brighton’s Theatre Royal on February 25.
“Fire is the singular most dangerous stunt you ever do,” he says. “I love it. The feeling of doing it is unlike anything else, especially where it’s big fire that’s over your head. You can’t breathe and you can feel intense heat. Fear becomes a different thing when you do stunts for a living.
“It is such an unpredictable stunt because fire moves. And your primal instincts tell you that you are in terrible trouble but in your mind you know you have to go through with it. You have to move and sometimes run when you’re on fire but panicking is the worst thing you can do. You have to overcome your brain.
“Afterwards, it becomes a very spiritual thing because you feel so calm.”
He adds, “I’m not an adrenaline junkie – I have to do this over and over again because it’s my job and I use my brain before, during and afterwards. I’ve never pulled out of a fire stunt.”
Meticulous preparation is the key to successful stunts, according to Nick. Of course he wears a specialist fire suit and on sets he is also accompanied by his specialist team and other safety professionals on each set. “A couple of years ago, I had to run down a street for 200 metres on fire,” explains Nick. “Along the route were eight professional firefighters ready to jump into action if I used the signal of emergency. They would immediately put me out if I hit the floor with my arms out, so my face was in the dirt and couldn’t burn, and I could also breathe.”
Using the catchphrase ‘If you’re going to have a shave, have a close one’, Nick runs Danger-Inc, the innovative company behind stunts in movies and TV dramas including the Star Wars prequels, Wanted, Sleepy Hollow, Labyrinth, Seven Years in Tibet, Spooks, Da Vinci’s Demons, Rillington Place, Black Mirror and The White Princess.
His long and impressive CV lists him as the stunt coordinator for films such as Notting Hill and Sleepy Hollow and TV shows ranging from Minder and Red Dwarf to Spooks and Rillington Place. He performed as a stunt double for Tom Cruise in Legend, for Christian Slater in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and for David Bowie in Labyrinth, and he’s worked as a stunt performer with actors Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Piers Brosnan and Daniel Craig in Bond movies including The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, Tomorrow Never Dies, The Living Daylights and Goldeneye.
“The Bond movies are stunt-based and they lead the way,” says Nick. “Out of the Bond actors, Roger Moore was my favourite, a lovely, charming man and a real gent. Timothy Dalton was nice, a bit more serious. And Piers was lovely too. I didn’t have much to do with Daniel Craig.”
Among Nick’s many stunts is a 200-foot powerboat jump over two bridges in the 1988 Dutch horror film
Above: Nick’s boat stunt in the movie Amsterdamned
Main picture, top: Nick performs a fire stunt in the TV series Spooks
Below: Nick with David Bowie when he performed as the star’s stunt double in the movie Labyrinth
Above: Nick with the actors Samuel L Jackson and Ewan McGregor on the set of the Star Wars movie
Below: Nick in a helicopter in the 2002 movie Reign of Fire
Above: on the set of Seven Years in Tibet
Below: Nick in costume in Interview with a Vampire
Amsterdamned, where a serial killer hiding in Amsterdam’s canals embarks on a gruesome murder rampage.
“We couldn’t practice the stunt beforehand because there was only one boat and there wasn’t much of it left afterwards,” says Nick. “The run-up to the jump had to start a mile away in order to reach the right speed of 70mph – and that mile building up speed was a beautiful thing. As the boat jumped, all my senses seemed to be extra sensitive and I saw every bird that flew past and heard every sound in minute detail. It was lovely.”
Nick’s route into stunt work was unconventional. He grew up in Brighton and as his father was in the Navy, he was sent at the age of 12 to train on a military ship in Kent. “They taught the old-school way and I didn’t fancy it,” recalls Nick. “ My parents were leaving to go abroad so I left and joined a circus in Arundel. I’d seen an ad in the paper for male riders for a jousting show. I could ride a horse, so I rang the man and he said to come over.
“I left my school in Patcham at 14 and joined the circus full time. My parents didn’t know.”
Four years later, Nick was working with the Moscow State Circus as one of the world’s greatest horse trick riders and at 18 was put on the British Stunt Register, the professional register for stunt performers and coordinators.
In 1977, he was invited to perform stunts on the movie The Thief of Baghdad. “I remember watching the Burt Reynolds movie Hooper, which was all about stunts and stuntmen and there was a scene where they were all sitting around. I thought they looked so cool and glamorous – and that’s what I wanted to do.”
He went on to become one of the UK’s and USA’s youngest stunt coordinators, working all over the world in large battle sequences, extreme fire work, working with all weapons, all vehicles and all kinds of horse work.
Over the next few months, he is set to work on the BBC TV remake of the War of the Worlds, and the second series of the crime drama Dark Heart, starring Tom Riley.
“I’m taking the summer off, though,” Nick says. “In a way, I’m looking froward to stopping the stunts because normal life is so lovely and calm.”
An Audience with Nick Gillard is at Brighton Theatre Royal, New Road, Brighton, at 7.45pm on Sunday February 25. Tickets £11.90-£16.90. Phone 0844 871 7650 or visit atgtickets.com.