It’s a stunt performer’s job to bolster an actor’s performance, add pizzazz to an explosion, dramatize a fall. As Eddie Braun says in the first line of his documentary “Stuntman,” which premieres Sunday at Los Angeles Film Festival, “I’m the face you never see.”
In “Stuntman,” director Kurt Mattila documents Braun’s attempt to execute the most dangerous stunt of his life. Over the course of more than four years, Braun sets out to honor stunt icon Evel Knievel, by planning to do what his hero couldn’t: man a rocket that clears Idaho’s Snake River Canyon. (Knievel tried and failed the jump in 1974.)
The movie, which is still seeking distribution but is executive produced by Dwayne Johnson’s Seven Bucks Productions, also gives viewers an insider look at what it’s like to be a member of the stunt community. Braun, 55, who (spoiler alert!) survived the jump in 2016, chatted with USA TODAY about the perks and hardships of his job. Here’s what we learned about his life as a stuntman.
He detonates explosions with an “Easy” button.
“I kind of have a twisted sense of humor,” Braun laughs. That explains why in many jobs where he has to drive a car that gets propelled to the side and rolls horizontally – a cannon roll, in industry speak – he detonates a bomb inside the vehicle with a red button labeled “Easy.”
The visual joke about how Braun makes that difficult move look simple “lightens the tension,” he says.
He got a tattoo to help identify his body.
Before Braun did launch his rocket, which he dubbed “Evel Spirit,” he tattooed a Knievel quote on his body so that he could be identified “if I’m blown to bits.”
The quote: “Bones heal. Chicks dig scars. Pain is temporary. Glory is forever.”
Braun’s only other tattoo is a stingray, which he and his actor pals Charlie Sheen, Nicolas Cage and Cary Elwes and musician Phil Roy all got in the late ‘80s. The five friends each own a 1967 Corvette Stingray 427. “So we became the Stingrays.”
Another thing Braun has on him in case of an emergency on a job: a helmet that’s labeled with his blood type and allergies (type 0 positive; no penicillin).
Actors have given him generous gifts.
One of Braun’s most prized possessions is a 1967 Rolex, gifted to him by Sheen after Braun did a dangerous stunt sequence – twice – from the 21st floor while doubling on the actor’s thriller “Shadow Conspiracy.” It’s engraved on the back: “Eddie, You da man. Love and peace, Charlie.”
On a movie where Braun doubled for Tony Danza, the stuntman sustained a broken nose and had his eyes swollen shut before having to return to the set for another take. Danza sent “a beautiful cashmere robe, a magnum bottle of Dom Perignon and the sweetest note,” says Braun.
Once, Sheen even handed Braun a $1 million check “for me to stop doing stunts” after Braun broke his leg in three places while doubling for the star. “I told him I was a stuntman long before we met, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
He often relies on a ‘SWAG.’
The term, which stands for a “scientific wild a– guess,” describes the process of combining instinct and experience when attempting a new stunt. Is his guess ever way off?
“The rocket was,” Braun says. “I was hoping to clear a canyon that was a quarter-mile wide. We did our SWAG and I ended up literally clearing it by a mile.”
The work is as scary and painful as it looks.
“At work, we always get hurt,” says Braun, who says he’s afraid of heights and sometimes has to remind people that he doesn’t have superpowers. “So when I hear a producer say, ‘We don’t want to hurt anybody,’ then I say, ‘We can’t do it.’ ”
Braun has saved a few mementos from his time spent hospital-bound as a result of work injuries: “I have a paperweight of a rod that was in my ankle,” he says, plus plenty of gowns and scrubs.
He’s talked openly about his death.
Braun, a husband and father of four, knew that his Canyon River rocket launch could be a death sentence, so he wanted to prepare. “I would be foolish if I didn’t.”
He gave one friend “power of attorney to pull the plug on me,” assigned another the job of calling his wife if things went wrong, and made sure someone would cover him with an American flag if he died. He wanted the documentary’s cameras to keep rolling, regardless of what happened.
He asked his son to walk his daughters down the aisle at their weddings. “I wanted it to be very clear that if I don’t come back, life goes on,” he says.
Braun thought the jump would be his swan song, but he’s still doing stunt work, taking much-less-dangerous jobs on TV’s “Mom” and “The Ranch.” He’s confident he’s never going to man a rocket across Snake River Canyon again.