Behind the thrilling choreography of our stage combat and the mystique of the Jedi
approach to battle is the wisdom and expertise of a film industry veteran: our resident stunt coordinator, Nick Gillard
. The Star Wars
galaxy is a dangerous place. Blaster bolts sear the air, and lightsaber
s clash in electrified battle. Gillard guides our actors and stunt players through this kind of harrowing action and brings a special dimension to the stunts of Star Wars
: Episode I.
Nick Gillard was charged with the responsibility of training two new Jedi Knights - Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor. To do this, Gillard had to create a fictional martial art that has an authentic, time-honored feel. Rather than assembling a pastiche of various martial arts, Gillard worked to create a distinctive technique that is based on the fact that the Jedi have specifically "chosen the sword as their weapon." To be able to use such a "short range weapon," he says, against "people who are firing laser guns at you," one must use a fighting style based on speed and economy of movement. Every sword stroke must count. Gillard was extremely pleased with the progress of his Jedi. "They're outstanding," Gillard exclaims. "We really landed on our feet with Liam and Ewan. They are now as fast as any of the stunt guys they're fighting at the moment."
With the actors doing their own swordplay, Gillard felt that they were able to "give more to the parts because they can understand the parts better." The stunt work will be a natural outgrowth of the acting and won't be done for its own sake, which, for Gillard, is to be avoided. He prefers the stuntwork woven into the fabric of the film rather than paraded for the sake of spectacle. "If," he says, "the fight is good enough, and gritty enough...then you don't need gimmicks."
Gillard talks a lot about "dedication" and "knuckling down" when it comes to planning out the stunt work. The computers and 3-D stunt modeling software in his office are proof that he means it. He does not believe in shortcuts, and recognizes the value of trust and caution. "Fear is good because it keeps you on your toes," Gillard says.
This attitude has helped Gillard reach the top of his profession. Although he is reluctant to brag about his exploits, the fact is that he holds several unofficial world's records - including a 200-foot power boat jump over two bridges in the film Amsterdammed, and a full fire burn without air for over two minutes on Alien 3. ("Full fire burn" means that you don't breathe while you are on fire, lest the oxygen in your lungs ignite.) Gillard has been on fire at least 100 times. Whether you realize it or not, you have seen Gillard on countless "World's Greatest Stunts" videos and in such blockbusters as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (in the boat and tank battle sequences) and Interview with the Vampire (where he doubled for Tom Cruise). He was also the Alien Queen in Aliens, and his sword work has been displayed in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Three Musketeers, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and Henry V.
Gillard's stunt career can be traced to what he calls "an accident." At age twelve, he "accidentally" ran away from military school to join the circus. By the time he was sixteen, he was a world-class horse-trick rider with the Moscow State Circus. It was then that he was offered his first stunt work on The Thief of Baghdad, and he became hooked. When asked why, he answers: "they fed us." The idea of getting paid and fed to do stuntwork was simply astounding to him, and soon he was sampling the catering on one set after another, the first set being a small little sci-fi film called Star Wars.
Gillard, who was nineteen at the time, felt that the film was "beautifully written," and was extremely impressed by the amount of thought that went into the production design. The lived-in look of the spaceships, covered with dirt and battle scars, was the kind of touch that made the Star Wars
universe seem real to him. That, and the fact that the special effects only contributed to a good story, turned Gillard into a fan for life. Soon, young Nick Gillard's "greatest ambition" was to coordinate the stunts for a subsequent chapter of the Star Wars
saga. 35 films and 20 years later, Gillard found his career coming full circle.
Despite this serious side, however, he seems to have a weakness for Star Wars toys. Gillard has been seen raiding the "big box of cool stuff" sitting in the publicity office, usually walking off with the lightsabers. He claims it's for research purposes, though. After all, he is the resident Jedi Master.