My Crazy Life As Arnold Schwarzenegger's Stunt Double
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While Hollywood's top action stars are very skilled at wearing tuxedos and chatting with TV hosts, credit for their craziest onscreen shenanigans belongs to the often-underrated stunt performers. Stunt doubles (or "stunties," as they strongly prefer not to be called) race speeding cars, fall from senseless heights, and set themselves on fire for our entertainment, risking injury and death all so we won't have to watch movies about architects or whatever. We talked to Peter Kent, who doubled for Arnold Schwarzenegger in 15 different films. He told us ...
I Only Became A Stuntman Because I Lied To James Cameron
I wasn't supposed to be a stuntman. When James Cameron brought me on for The Terminator, he only hired me as Arnold's stand-in for lighting. Then he looked at me and asked, "Have you done stunts before?" Needing the money, I said, "Yeah." It's not the recommended entryway into a stunt career -- you're supposed to train first, then come on as part of a union -- but The Terminator was a crazy guerrilla production that repeatedly broke the law, so it seemed appropriate.
Next thing you know, I'm driving cars and firing shotguns. Which was very basic stuff compared to the gags [stunts] I'd be doing later. Yet even from the start, there was some craziness. Like the ball bearings incident.
Terminator's big shoot-out is in a police station with glass dividers between cubicles. I was opening fire with a machine gun full of blanks, while the effects guy was going to break the glass by shooting steel ball bearings. His device was powered with compressed air, like from a diving tank, and it looked like a full-on rifle. It had a large bore in it and fired bearings the size of your thumb. You get hit with that, it could kill you.
Just as Jim called action, I saw the stunt guys playing the detectives poised to run. And I called "Cut!" Which is something you should never do. That's the director's prerogative, and he doesn't like it when other people say the cool stuff. Jim said, "Peter, what the fuck are you doing?!" And I said, "Jim, Jim. This guy right here, he's diving through the frame right there, isn't he?" Stunt guy nodded. And I said to the effects guy, "And you're shooting there, aren't you?" Effects guy nodded. And I said, "Jim, if he dives into the shot, he's gonna get shot in the head with that steel ball bearing." Stunt guy and effects guy looked at each other. There was sort of a long beat there, and Jim goes, "Oh. Good call."
"Thanks for preventing the manslaughter charge!" -- Jim
So that's how it began for me. Later, we did Commando, and there's a scene where Arnold swings across the galleria on a banner. I was quite gung-ho to do it. But it turns out that actual stunts require actual training, so veteran Bob Yerkes did Arnold in that scene -- even though he's only like five-foot-nine. Bob took me under his wing and invited me to his stunt school, where I learned what stunts are really like.
The Safety Gear Is Not As "Professional" As You Might Hope
Stunt coordinators never handed me any kind of protective gear. You outfit yourself; that's part of the job. I'd head to the sporting goods shop and load up a duffel bag with football pads, hockey pads. Which sounds kind of silly, but the really silly part is that a lot of the time, I wouldn't even be allowed to wear them. I'd put on a big pair of bulky football shoulder pads to see how it would look with a jacket over it, and it'd be like "Uh, no." So I'd take it off.
Today, there's specialized stuff with such a low profile you barely see it. It looks like thin foam from a wetsuit, yet when you hit it with something like a hammer, it suddenly hardens into a shell. Figure skaters wear it now, even.
In Last Action Hero, a helicopter shreds the elevator outside a hotel. When the elevator tilts 45 degrees, I get flung forward, and there's a sort of crossbeam there. I told the stunt coordinator, "I'm going to put some pads on," but he said, "Nope. Too visible." So I went back to my bag -- I happened to have a fiberglass chest plate from another film, and I put that on. The coordinator -- one of the old stunt guys, all broken up -- was like, "Nah, you don't need that, kid. What you gonna wear that for?" I wore it anyway. I got flung forward and hit the upright, and when we finished the gag, my T-shirt was torn in half down the middle, and the solid fiberglass plate was cracked right in half. But for the plate, that would have been my sternum.
Basically what's happening in the GIF, except in my chest.
I Wore A Rubber Arnold Face For Months In T2
Without prosthetics, I'd say the resemblance between me and Arnold is pretty close.
The kid and the bear, not so much.
But it wasn't close enough for the studio. So when I did Terminator 2, I wore latex prosthetics to look more like him. Applying it took three, four hours every day, which added some money to my pocket, sure, but it was extremely uncomfortable. It played hell with my face. If the skin was cut up, they'd simply glue right over it. I wore this thing for 66 consecutive days. When we did the fight scene in the steel mill, I had to get a pair of surgical scissors and snip a hole in the latex near my eye because a cup of sweat ballooned out between the rubber and my face, and it was burning my eyes so I couldn't see.
If you watch, say, the tanker chase, you'll see me with the Arnold mask, climbing from the pickup to the tanker. But only in the original cut. In the remaster, released to theaters this year, Jim went over and put Arnold's face in digitally.
That jump from one truck to the other is a big step, and that throws your balance off -- also, you're going 60 mph with no wires holding you. So I took a wooden crate and screwed it into the floor of the pickup to guide me. I took a bunch of finishing nails and hammered them up from the underside so the points went up. I was wearing big motorcycle boots with a thick sole, so my first step onto the nails gave me a good solid grip.
Right before shooting this, Jim said, "We're going to go to lunch and then do this." It was 4 in the morning, I obviously wasn't hungry, so I said I'd really like to do it right now. So Jim just grabbed his bullhorn and said, "OK, we're calling grace for lunch," which means they push lunch back and the crew of 300 gets paid extra. So me not wanting to wait cost the studio an extra $20,000.
Jim said, "Peter, if you pull this off, I'll give you the brass balls award." Later on, he said he'd never do that stunt today. It was much too dangerous. That's nice to hear after the fact.
To Safely Light Yourself On Fire, You Must First Freeze Your Nuts Off
When they set me on fire, or even put me near fire, they first covered me with a protectant gel, which had to be kept cold in an ice bucket. Once it warmed up, it tended to slough off, and obviously that's not ideal when it's the only thing keeping your skin "not aflame." But it was pretty brutal when you had to strip naked and pull on a pair of long underwear covered in frozen goop. Today's gels and suits are far superior, but you still have to hold your breath. Breathe, and you'll suck the fire into your lungs.
You don't want to know what happens if you fart.
In T2, Arnold points an M79 grenade launcher at the doors of Cyberdyne, and that's me right there. When we were first shooting, I looked at the ground, and there was this huge bag of naphthalene (basically mothballs), cork, and all the debris that was supposed to come out. And some gasoline, just enough to make a nice fireball. I was like, "Holy shit, that's a big bomb." And Jim says, "Listen. The Terminator does not flinch. If you flinch, you're gonna have to do it again."
It's one of those gags you tell yourself you're not going to do again. You get paid for doing it again, yes, but that's not the point. You really, really don't want a do-over on walking into a bomb.
I had a wig on my head, covered in fire gel to keep my own hair from burning, and my face was heavily gelled. I had the suit on, and I was shivering right before they called it, because I was wearing the ice-cold Nomex. Jim called action, and boom -- this huge explosion went off in my face. I stepped through the door, and I heard him call cut. I turned around, and the whole crew erupted in laughter.
The blast had blown the hairpiece back on my head, so it was standing straight up like a fright wig. My whole face was completely black -- all you could see was my eyes -- and I had a pretty substantial burn on my forehead, right at the hairline. But I was like, "What the fuck are you laughing at? I got it right. I don't have to do it again."
"I'll be back ... Hopefully ..."
Adrenaline Is A Hell Of A Drug
During stage combat, you're supposed to pull punches and not make contact. But I've been hit a few times. All stunt performers have. Baywatch was one of the first times I really got hammered. The other guy, a young Australian man, he said to me, "Aye yeah, no problem, mate. I've done a lot of fights. I'm good to go." We ran the scene, and of course he punched me square in the mouth.
When you hear "Action," the adrenaline runs. Say you're doing a car gag, and everyone rehearses at 30 mph. That's your set speed. Then they call action, and the next thing you know the guy's coming in at 50 -- adrenaline! -- and everything goes to shit. If it doesn't totally go to shit, it's called "hero-ing out." Sometimes when you're taking the really hard hits, you hero out and don't feel anything. Not until later.
In Last Action Hero, Arnold is running across the roofs of these taxis in the rain, then one cranks onto the curb and spits him off, and he rolls onto the pavement. That was me. And those taxis were really slippery in cowboy boots, even after I covered the roofs with sandpaper to get some traction. When I rolled off and hit the windshield, it would break, and the energy dispersed through it.
On the third take, the windshield didn't break. So I hit it really hard with my lower back, at the wrong angle and landed in traffic. Girls in the crew were screaming, everyone screaming -- "Cut, cut, stop the cars!" Plus it was movie rain, which is 30 times heavier than anything nature can deliver, so the stunt drivers on the road couldn't see where I was. I just made myself as skinny as possible and prayed like hell.
When I first got up, my back was a little sore. But when I woke up the next morning in the hotel, I was pissing blood.
I Made Arnold Fart On Penelope Ann Miller
I can do Arnold's voice. I never had to as part of the job -- it was purely for fun, a product of hanging around the guy for 15 years, working out in the same gym with him every day. At this hotel in Chicago where we stayed while filming Red Heat, I called down to the front desk, all "Yah, this is Ahnold here. I'm in Peter Kent's room. Can I get the steak and the lahbster and eeh couple glasses of wine, and send them up here ... ooh, and the cheesecake."
When we checked out, he was like, "Gawdammit, why do I have all these charges over here. All this food, I never ordered this food."
The front desk lady said, "Well, yes you did, sir. You said send it up to Mr. Kent's room."
And then Arnold looked at me and said, "I'll KILL you, you bastard!"
But I paid him back. I often made the guy spaghetti when I visited his house, where we'd look at scripts together. We'd hang out on the grass. Then choppers would arrive, paparazzi leaning out. And Arnold would be like, "Get down. We have to go inside. They want to nab photos of me in my bathing suit!"
When we were working on Kindergarten Cop, he was playing opposite Penelope Ann Miller -- a bit of a pain to deal with. It was her first real movie, but she was ordering people around, especially the stunt guys. So, knowing the two had a scene together in a small confined space for a long time, I ... made some spaghetti sauce for Arnold. I juiced up broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, and anything else that gives you gas, and I poured it into the sauce, and gave it to him for lunch. When they did lines, he began farting uncontrollably.
Penelope complained to the director, saying, "I can't work with this. It's horrific, and it stinks, and he just won't stop." Arnold came up to me, grabbed me by the shoulders, and said, "Peter, Peter, oh no. What have you done to me?!"
Somehow, that wasn't the end of my career. This was ...
The Accident That Ended My Career
We used to have a saying: "If you're not holding your guts in your hand at the end of the day, you've got nothing to complain about."
That may sound a bit extreme, but you know, it's something you buy into when you first start. You know you're going to get a broken bone or two, some scrapes and cuts, plenty of bruises, that all goes with the territory. We've seen a few high-profile stunt people die this summer, but that's not a new trend. It's the nature of the beast. Performing is definitely safer than it's ever been, but Murphy's Law still kicks in.
By 1995, I'd broken some things, sure. Then came Eraser. It was the scene where Arnold and James Caan are fighting, and Vanessa Williams is sort of the damsel in distress. They're up atop a shipping container, and Arnold is struggling up the side. He gets shot in the shoulder, then takes a running leap and climbs onto the bottom end of the container -- that was all me. That's pretty hard, latching onto a flat traveling object from a trampoline jump, grabbing it with one hand, then hanging there. I broke a finger doing that.
Arnold takes a crowbar and smashes the gear holding the shipping container up, and the box falls 100 feet to the dock and shatters. We had cable cutters on all four corners of the box. But when we did the scene, the final cable held. There wasn't sufficient voltage in the system to fire the last cutter. (The cutters had been wired wrong, in series instead of parallel, applying voltage unevenly.) This was a big cable -- as thick as my wrist -- and we used aerospace cutters, which they apparently use on the space shuttle, hopefully with greater success.
Add it all up, and you get three tons of metal spinning on one angry axis. That's when the wire holding me unspooled and let me fly. James Caan's stunt guy slid down the box. Me, I dropped straight past it. Then the whole container spun around and smacked me toward the warehouse wall. And then it happened again. And again. It just kept sucking me back in and swatting me out.
I broke my collarbone, my shoulder blade, my ankle, and three separate ribs. The next day, I got a call from some oblivious PA asking if I was coming in. I said I wasn't. I was done as a stunt performer.
Well, not quite. Eight weeks later, I was all healed up, and popped back in for a couple more scenes. But I was done after that. Ten years was plenty. I mean, it's not like I'm going to be an action star in my 70s. That would be crazy.
Peter Kent went on acting in non-stunt roles for the next 20 years, and now runs his own stunt school. Ryan Menezes is an editor and interviewer here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter for bits cut from this article and other stuff no one should see.
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