The Fall Guy Is Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, & David Leitch’s Love Letter to Action Moviemaking

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This article appears in the SXSW 2024 issue of Den of Geek magazine. Check out all of our SXSW coverage here.

The Fall Guy wasn’t supposed to be a romance. Or at least it didn’t start out that way. But when Ryan Gosling came on board to collaborate on the script, the shape of the wildly ambitious action film changed. Director David Leitch was reminded of what his cinematographer Jonathan Sela would always say: “I want to do a sweeping romance. All we do is punch people in the face. Stop punching and start kissing!” That was ringing in Leitch’s head when Gosling came up with a revolutionary idea. “He said, ‘What if we lean into the love story?’” Leitch recalls. “‘Let’s just go down that road in the outline and experiment with it.’ We started to lean into it more and more, and we started to feel that it felt so much more original.” 

“We call it a love bomb,” David Leitch’s producing partner Kelly McCormick laughs. 

As Gosling tells Den of Geek magazine when we speak to him ahead of the movie’s world premiere at SXSW 2024, it was a choice that felt natural for the film.

“It’s such a love letter to stunts, a love letter to action, a love letter to filmmaking! It’s a love letter to the crew. And that love is at the heart of it. So we felt that it had to be that way from a story perspective as well.” 

Playing The Fall Guy’s leading man is no easy feat. Gosling stars as Colt Seavers, a trusty, unseen stuntman who must use all his talents to solve the mysterious disappearance of the leading man of his ex-girlfriend’s directorial debut. For Gosling, the film was a chance to share his love of cinema and making movies, which was a central force for making the love story at the heart of the film so prominent.

“It’s such a romantic endeavor, just to make a film in general. And that romance is at the core of all of it,” Gosling gushes. “Every time we reconnected to the love story, it just felt like it kept energizing the movie as it went forward.” 

The Origin of The Fall Guy

Reimagining the classic ’80s TV series about Lee Majors’ stuntman turned bounty hunter was something of a dream for Leitch, himself a stunt coordinator turned blockbuster director. 

“As stunt people who grew up in the ’80s, we watched it religiously on Fridays.” It was also a chance for Leitch to create a love letter to the blue-collar stunt people who get these films made. “They’re the people who really create these action sequences and bring them to life,” Leitch says. “The script says, ‘and they conquered Rome,’ then you see a hundred stunt people choreograph a battle scene. There’s so much that stunt performers do in the creative process, and I wanted to tell that story.”  

It wasn’t just the stunt aspect of the show that made its impact on a young Leitch, but also the wish fulfillment of the Hollywood insider. The series featured industry cameos and gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the business, which a young Leitch was enthusiastic about. “While on these wacky adventures, Colt would use other departments like costume, makeup, and props,” Leitch recalls. “So it didn’t just get you excited about stunts; it started to get you excited about moviemaking.” That was something the team wanted to build into the world of The Fall Guy, and thanks to their film-within-a-film framework, they achieved that magical balance. 

Making a Fake Movie

Along with being an action, comedy, and romance, The Fall Guy is also a movie about the magic of making a film. Like The Artist, Be Kind Rewind, Adaptation, and many more before it, The Fall Guy takes us behind the curtain as we follow the crew on their quest to make Metalstorm. But the difference here is The Fall Guy wants us to feel like part of the below-the-line crew.

Who’s making that fictional film? That would be Jodie Moreno, Colt’s ex-girlfriend and a debut director who’s helming the special effects extravaganza known as Metalstorm. As fans of the original will know, in the TV series, Jodie was the hair and makeup artist, but it was McCormick who decided there was more to be explored by reimagining her as a director. Played by Emily Blunt, Jodie is a firecracker who’s also relatably terrified, exhausted, and stressed about her first big helming gig, and that’s before her ex shows up. 

“I didn’t want her to be severe and tough and together,” Blunt says. “It’s okay for her to feel like she’s in way over her head. It’s okay that she’s white-knuckling it. And then, when Colt shows up, the thread breaks. I like that she’s just as messy and eccentric as the rest of them. We really worked hard on building those colors, so she wasn’t just some presupposed idea of what a female director should be.” 

Like Gosling, Blunt was enchanted by the chance to make a love letter to making movies, which she has a deep passion for. “I love the system—obviously—of making films,” she laughs. “I think there’s a curiosity about how it’s done. And I think this is an opportunity for us to romanticize it and make a spectacle of it but also to show the reality and grind of what it really looks like when you’re making movies. The chaos, how everyone is held together with duct tape by the end of the movie. You get to see all those wonderful little nuances that ground it and romanticize it all the more at the same time.” 

“So much of filmmaking is almost like what we’re doing right now,” Gosling says, referring to our interview. “It’s two people trying to have a conversation with all this chaos around them. At any given moment, there are people trying to have a conversation, whether it’s at craft services or on set, or it’s base camp, or it’s in front of the camera or behind the camera, and it’s just chaos around them. So it all had to center around that idea.”

Metalstorm is a big budget special effects-filled romp that follows a cosmic cowboy, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Tom Ryder, who falls in love with an intergalactic alien brought to life by Teresa Palmer. It’s an epic space opera that could make or break Jodie’s career, but Leitch uses it as a romantic reflection of the journey at the heart of The Fall Guy, something Gosling feels rings particularly true about filmmaking. “When you make a movie, the movie starts to mirror your life, and your life starts to mirror the movie. It’s very strange,” Gosling says. 

“I think it happens in every department, whether you’re in costumes or special effects, or makeup, or hair, or the camera department. Everyone sees the movie through the lens of their part in it,” the actor continues. “So you’re trying to relate your life to the movie and the movie to your life so that it feels authentic; what I love so much about this is the way that we have their relationship mirroring the story and the story mirroring what’s going on in their life. It’s very special, and I’m sure it happens in a lot of different endeavors, but I love that about filmmaking. It’s a hard thing to capture, and I think the movie does that.” 

Shooting Sydney

Just like the jet-setting hero in the original TV series, The Fall Guy begins in LA before throwing its cast into an international adventure as they head to Sydney to shoot Metalstorm. Weaving in their own experiences and realities about filmmaking was key to the entire creative team, so even the film’s choice to film in Sydney was a meta in-joke, as it’s known as a more affordable location to shoot.

“We shot Sydney for a couple of reasons,” McCormick explains. “Definitely the incentives but also because no one ever shoots Sydney for Sydney at that scale,” meaning the city is usually used as a stand-in for another location rather than as the setting for a big picture.

It was also an opportunity for the creative team to pay homage to the city and its filmmaking community after a rough period during COVID. “It was almost like an insider thing, but then it turned out to be this beautiful love letter to Australia as well,” she says. “They really opened their arms to us. We got to shoot the Harbor Bridge; we had a proper crew from Sydney, who had never gotten to shoot the Harbor Bridge. And they opened the Opera House for us for multiple days.” 

The Fall Guy’s daring sequence on the steps of the Sydney Opera House takes place as Jodie aims to film an epic one-shot with Colt standing in for Tom at the center of a brutal fight. It’s romantic, bombastic, and brilliant acting as a midpoint crescendo for the film. Just thinking about the sequence moves Blunt, too, taking her back to shooting the huge moment. “It’s giving me goosebumps talking about it because that scene is everything; it’s the impossible shot. And yet, people do it. They do it. Somehow, it just happens in the end.”

It reminded Blunt of another “impossible shot” while filming A Quiet Place Part II. Inspired by Children of Men, John Krasinski decided to shoot a car chase and crash as a one-shot but was told over and over that it couldn’t be done. “He said, ‘No, I promise you it can,’” Blunt recalls. The eventual solution was to drill a hole in the ceiling of the car where the camera then went through. “They rehearsed it for two weeks, and he was able to do it. It’s like a million things have to come together to make something impossible happen.” For Blunt, The Fall Guy’s Sydney Opera House battle captures that unique feeling perfectly. 

“That’s maybe what I love most about that scene. It’s the insular joy you feel with your cast. That’s really difficult for anyone else to get in on. It’s an insular world. It’s so intense. You have these very accelerated friendships with people, very exciting relationships. And it’s the secret language and secret world, and I think we were able to capture all of that.”

That Time Ryan Gosling Jumped Off a Building

As the title might hint, this isn’t just a film about making movies and falling in love; it’s about a guy falling off things. The Fall Guy is a look at the unseen heroes behind your favorite films, featuring unbelievable practical stunts and a commitment to in-camera work that feels almost like a lost art. “We set out to do old-school practical stunts that pay homage to some really classic gags like the high fall, the cannon roll, the big car jump. Things now that you might do in visual effects or augment with visual effects, we decided to do it practically because this is a movie about stunt people,” Leitch explains.

That meant bringing in some of the best of the best in the world of stunts. The legendary Troy Brown—whose work has been seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Iron Man 2, the Fast & Furious franchise, Preacher, and Godzilla to mention just a few—executes the high fall, and Marvel Studios’ stalwart Ben Jenkin gets set on fire many, many times. So, was there a stunt that felt like it could be impossible to bring to life?

“Every single one of those bigger stunts, you were racing within the bounds of safety like we always do, wondering if you’re gonna be able to pull it off. One in particular?” Leitch ponders. “No, it was a lot!”

It was a journey back to Leitch’s practical roots when there was less of a reliance on CG and more of a dedication to practical effects. That meant having a lead actor who was willing to take his own role to the next level, including a 12-story drop from the top of a building. “Ryan on the descender is real,” McCormick shares. “And that’s really a rigger’s dream to get an actor on a rig that high. That Ryan trusted everyone to do that himself and had fun doing it was pretty special for the whole team to be honest. And what you can feel in the movie is how much morale-building that actually does when you’re risking it all and making these stunt peoples’ dreams come true. To do these really big stunts and really go for it, that’s what they got into it for so that energy infuses the whole project.” 

How was that experience for Gosling?

“Terrifying!” he shudders. “I had developed a fear of heights before this film. I knew it was coming. I mean, it’s called The Fall Guy; I knew he was going to take a fall. He’s not falling off his chair!”

A Collaborative Spirit

That huge stunt was made possible by not only the incredible work of the stunt team on set but also the collaborative spirit at the heart of The Fall Guy.

“David and I worked so closely on this and on the script,” Gosling says. “He got a hotel room by my house, and we spent a week holed up in there, basically personalizing the script. We’ve both been at this for a while now from different ends of the business. So we were trying to make sure that just every nuance of it, every character, every dynamic or story—not necessarily based on anyone specific—was an amalgamation of all of these experiences that we’ve had and people we’ve met. We tried to make sure that it felt authentic in that way, not just how it literally is but how it feels and how it’s felt to be making movies all these years.” 

All that preparation meant that Gosling knew the stunt was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier. “When you get there, it’s completely different. I would’ve been happy to be the first actor to say, ‘I did none of my own stunts,’” the actor laughs. “If it’s a celebration of stunt performers, let them do their thing. But with a former stunt performer director, it was never gonna go down that way. It felt very important that I do a couple of them, and I completely got why.”

That unbelievable stunt opens the movie and establishes the character of Colt Seavers, which was a challenge for Gosling, who was juggling his own fears alongside his performance. “There’s a five-minute scene that leads up to this 12-story drop. It’s all part of this long one-shot. Everything had to go right,” Gosling recalls. “But then also in the back of my mind is the knowledge that the end of the scene was jumping 12 stories off this building, trying to act like a guy for whom this is just another day at the office, but for me, it’s facing a major fear.” 

“It’s funny to me when I watch it because I see the most scared guy in the world trying to act like the coolest guy ever. It’s partly why I put on sunglasses right before because I knew you could see the fear in my eyes.”

Just watching it was scary enough for his co-star Blunt, who was in awe of his courage. 

“I was very scared for him,” Blunt says. “And he was so brave to do it because I’m not great with heights, especially not now. And I just thought it was unbelievable watching him do that. I mean, you could have heard a pin drop; everyone was just staring up at him. Then everyone is cheering for him at the end. So deserving of it. I don’t know if I would have done it.” 

Animals Do Stunts, Too! 

One of the best running gags in the movie shows that Gosling really can have winning chemistry with anyone, even a Belgian stunt dog named Jean-Claude. The two are brought together as Colt tries to find Metalstorm’s missing leading man and adds another layer of charm and hilarity to the film. But as Gosling explains, the story behind Jean-Claude’s addition to the film is a moving and personal one. “Eva [Mendes, Gosling’s wife] had a dog who’s passed now named Hugo, and he was from Belgium,” Gosling says. “He was an attack dog, and all of his commands were in French; he was such a beautiful little soldier. So that was an homage to him, who was one of the best dogs I ever, ever knew.” 

The canine character also gave the film a chance to pay respect to animal actors, an often overlooked part of cinema. During the 2024 Oscar Luncheon, Gosling met a legendary new addition to the tradition, Anatomy of a Fall’s Messi, who gave the actor quite a fright. “I walked in, and he was just laying there, and they were performing CPR on him. And I was so disturbed. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ And they said, ‘He choked on a bone.’ I was upset that everyone was so relaxed, and he was just staring at me with these crystal blue eyes. So I went in to make a move, and someone gave him a command, and he jumped up and almost took a bow!” When Den of Geek points out Messi is another dog who likely took commands in French, Gosling laughs, “Yes! He was a Bon Garçon!”

He concludes, “That’s a whole other side of the business; I’m so glad that we had an opportunity to work that into the film, as it’s such a fun part of our business.” 

As for moments that Gosling and Blunt think fans should be looking forward to when The Fall Guy hits theaters, “This movie is filled with them. It’s full of surprises,” Gosling teases. For Blunt, though, it’s all about those wild stunts and how the third act plays out: “All the showdowns, all the interweaving narratives coming together to converge at some crazy showstopper! I’m excited to see it with an audience. And I feel like South By is the perfect place!” 

The Fall Guy will have its world premiere at SXSW on March 12 at the Paramount Theater, and hits cinemas on May 3.

The post The Fall Guy Is Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, & David Leitch’s Love Letter to Action Moviemaking appeared first on Den of Geek.

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