I first met Mike Carpenter at a tiny gas station in the middle of nowhere. Okay, slight exaggeration. I was about 20 minutes from Kamloops and as I drove down the secondary highway I looked over and the Impala was parked at the side of the road. That is a vehicle you recognize when you see it. I knew that there was a crew filming driving scenes but I had no idea they were so close to my home.
I pulled into the gas station that was around the next corner and parked. I asked a young guy with a radio if I could watch and he said sure and showed me how to stay out-of-the-way. The Impala sped down the road and whipped into the gas station. She pulled up to the pumps and ‘Sam’ and ‘Dean’ got out and hurried into the small store. Only it wasn’t the ‘Sam’ and ‘Dean’ viewers are used to seeing each week on their TVs. The two men who climbed out of the Impala were Mike Carpenter and Jessie Blu; stunt doubles for Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.
I introduced myself and Mike asked if I wanted to get a photo with the two of them and the car. I could never turn down an offer like that. And off they went; back to filming.
While I was standing there watching I realized that most of my knowledge about stunts came from a book I’d read recently; “The True Adventures of The World’s Greatest Stuntman” by Vic Armstrong. Mike seemed like an approachable fellow so I asked him for an interview.
Not only is Mike approachable but he’s a story-teller. It was an absolute pleasure to get to speak with him and, I’ve got to say, I learned a lot. Like many fans of “Supernatural” I’ve developed a real interest in the behind-the-scenes people and Mike was glad to share about his stunt work.
Thanks to the fans at All-Supernatural on LiveJournal for contributing questions! We ran out of time but I think we got around to most of the topics you brought up. (write_light, shattershockred, quickreaver, jennytork, mdfawn, playthefool, cuddyclothes, moon_lover68, bloodlessdreamz, redheadforever, sarahk_1963, peepingdru)
Mike: Hit me!
IMP: Are there any stunts that are made more difficult or easier by the fact that you’re so tall? (Mike is over 6’4″)
Mike: It’s definitely more difficult when it comes to gymnastic-y type stuff. I mean, I’ve got a lot of legs and arms to move around. So from that perspective, definitely, anything you do that is gymnastic-y is tougher for big guys. And it hurts a little more when you hit the ground when you’re big. You don’t see many 6′ 4″ cirque du soleil guys. I’m sure they’re out there but you don’t see too many of them, right?
IMP: You went through the Church window in “Sacrifice“, the “Supernatural” season finale, right?
IMP: And you guys were joking on twitter about the fall mat blowing away?
Mike: Well, I wasn’t joking. That wasn’t a joke. [laughs] It was pretty funny ’cause it was… what we had was a scaffold runway about 8 or 10 feet high and then a candy glass window. I was lined up to the window but I was blind on my landing so it was an educated guessing game on where I was gonna land. But when I went to do the jump the second time this huge gust of wind came up so they stopped right when I was about to go through the window because the lighting balloon blew over. They didn’t have proper light so they stopped.
It was quite funny ’cause I looked down over the deck and I saw the wind pick up one of the pads and that took off too. That would have been, mid-air, to see one of my pads blowing away. I would have had to flair out I guess and hope that I was gonna land on the pads.
IMP: What’s the highest you can fall from?
Mike: Oh God, there’s guys that have done 80 or one hundred footers.
IMP: I was reading Vic Armstrong’s book “The Greatest Stuntman in the World”, and thinking about how things have changed. When Vic started, he just threw himself out of a tree and if he didn’t hurt himself; great! Things have changed a lot since then.
Mike: Things have evolved. I’ve always said, maybe some people have a different philosophy, but ‘I’m a stunt man not a stupid man.’ I wanna work today and I wanna work tomorrow and the next day. For me, I wanna be prepared and safe and look after my body because it’s my tool.
IMP: Have you hurt yourself significantly doing stunt work?
Mike: I have, I wouldn’t say significantly. I think, probably, I’ve hurt myself more playing hockey than I ever have doing stunts. So I think, I have had more bumps and bruises. Light sprains. Nothing that really comes to mind. Nothing too tremendous.
IMP: Is it uncommon these days for people to break bones?
Mike: Oh, it happens. I’ve had stitches, big deal. I broke a bone in my wrist but I didn’t even know until four months later. My brother’s a chiropractor which comes in really handy. I went in and he gave me an x-ray of my wrist ’cause it was bugging me and he said, ‘well, that’s because you broke it.’ Great, didn’t even know I did that. I guess when I go through the list there’s things that I have done but I just try to forget about those things and move forward.
IMP: You’ve been with the “Supernatural” since the beginning. How have dealt with doubling for Jared, he was so young, he bulked up, he’s slimmed down, he got older…
Mike: [Laughs] That was a lot of work, especially a couple of years ago when he just got massive. I saw he was just getting bigger and bigger and I was in the gym, it didn’t end.
IMP: So you have to keep up with that?
Mike: I did to a point. The beauty of it is, when he got huge I could still wear my pads and cheat it like that. So he’s bouncin’ around but now, the weight he’s at, I think we’re pretty close. We’re pretty even. He’s just at a good size where he’s comfortable so that’s been alright; I just maintain. I double for a lot of other actors too so I just try to split the difference.
IMP: So when you’re working a lot with one actor in particular, how much can you change and still work with other actors?
Mike: You can’t. You just hope that there are other actors that are built the same. There seems to be a fair amount of those guys out there which makes it easier. A lot of times the work is based on our shape, or body type, or look. When guys are looking for a body double they’ll match up. They’ll look at guys that can do the work and then they’ll match them up. It’s like ‘Cinderella’; if the shoe fits, you’ve got the job.
IMP: You act as well, right?
Mike: A little bit of acting, yeah.
IMP: Is that something you want to do more of or are you happier doing stunt work?
Mike: It would be fun to do more but then I’ve gotta figure out the magic of the casting room and how to book more jobs. Being in that world has really helped because you build relationships with directors, you build relationships with producers. A lot of it is really trust. Because you go in and do smaller things and then eventually it begins to grow.
But acting is the same thing. It’s a tremendous amount of training and putting in the hours. So, I think if I was really gonna get serious about acting, maybe once “Supernatural” tones down, maybe I would just go at it full bore and focus and really practice and learn the craft. But you know what? I’m still young and strong and I wanna have fun doing stunts. Acting is gonna be my retirement job. [Laughs].
IMP: So is a long term show like “Supernatural” a good job to get?
Mike: Oh… awesome! It’s been a real blessing, to tell you the truth. With a lot of this kind of work, it’s feast or famine. And to know that I’ve got a, somewhat steady, job for 9 months a year for the last 8 seasons has been awesome. You do get times when it’s stressful. Actors deal with that every day; we’re very similar from that sense.
One thing about auditions is that you learn disappointment. Because there’s things, in the last year, I booked an acting job. My agent phoned me and said you’re the director’s first choice and I’ll let you know after the weekend.. I was like, this is good. Usually, the director makes the decision but they have to go through the agency. Then I got a message Monday morning saying no dice on the commercial. Your ego gets bruised and you feel like, what’s wrong with me? What didn’t they like? Then I found out that the commercial just went away in general. So you do learn to deal with rejection.
Being recently single, learning to deal with rejection has been really easy when it comes to dating so I lack a lot of fear! [Laughs] ‘No’ doesn’t bother me nearly as much anymore! [Laughs].
IMP: “Supernatural” fans are really aware of who is behind-the-scenes on the show. Do you find that you get recognized more for your work there?
Mike: You know, I haven’t had that problem. The odd time, a lot of times it’ll be that I build relationships with people and – like I play a lot of hockey – and they might hear that so-and-so works in the movies so they’ll go on Google. One of the guys, I just love the guy; he plays on my line with me. He was like “I was looking at your resume,” and I was like “you know my resume better than I do!”
Knowing that you can give people a little lift from knowing that you were a part of something; we don’t always get to see that. It’s kind of a nice feeling. That’s the rewarding part of the business. I’m gonna do a really stupid stunt; this is gonna suck and it’s gonna hurt and it’s probably not a very wise thing to do but years later people [are still] watching it. There’s something about it that makes it worth it besides just chasing the dollars.
IMP: Do you have any favorite stunts, something you love doing?
Mike: I guess, the stunts that I love the most are doing the things that I enjoy doing the most in my day to day. I’ve said hockey. I’ve had quite a few jobs doing hockey work. I’m always excited to do those, they are hard work but they’re always fun to do. I’m a skier so if I can get a skiing or a snowboarding one I get really excited about those. I think the ones that are really applicable to the things that I love to do in my everyday life.
IMP: Are hockey stunts… stunts? Or is it just playing hockey.
Mike: Well, no because there’s a lot of body checking. There’s choreography that goes into it. Oh, and you know what? Playin’ monsters. I love doin’ stuff like getting’ to play the bad guy.
IMP: The scarecrow!
Mike: Yeah! That was fun; I loved doing that. I’m certainly far from a bad guy in real life so to get the chance to do that, I really enjoy it.
IMP: So the other side of that is are there stunts that you just wouldn’t agree to do?
Mike: Well, yeah. If I got called to go do something like, if someone asked me to ski off a cliff or base jump. ‘Get someone who does that on the weekends, ’cause that’s not what I do.’ Most things I would say yes to, but unless it’s a specialty type stunt then I wouldn’t say no. Even a specialty one I think that I could do. Just certain things you need a specialist and those are the people you bring in for certain gags. Just like someone who is gonna jump a motorcycle 200 feet. You bring in guys that are pros to do that. Most stunt people are very, some of them are world class in certain things but it’s pretty hard to do world class in everything. A lot of stunt people are just very athletic well-rounded people. They’re not gonna be the best fighter in the world, they’re not gonna be the best motorcycle rider in the world, but they’re gonna be very competent at a lot of those things.
IMP: Do you study martial arts as well?
Mike: Yeah, when I was younger I did kick-boxing. And now I just do a little bit of training just to keep fresh with it. I still work on it a bit. Probably not as much as I should. I’m too busy healing from being sore to want to go to the Dojo.
IMP: So what’s the process from the time you are offered a job? Does it come through your representation?
Mike: For stunts? Usually, I don’t get stunt work through an agent. A lot of it is through building relationships with coordinators. Then your resume kind of gets out there in the community. If I’m a stunt co-ordinator and I see [your] resume but I don’t know you. It’s on my desk and you’re the right look and size and everything for a particular character. I might look at the resume you have and look at the name of the coordinator, phone that coordinator and then ask about you. And then from there, it’s like, “Hey. Can you come down and meet me? Let’s talk.” You build relationships.
Sometimes, you might have to rehearse or they’ll test you to see your physicality. It grows from there. Once you’ve worked for certain people and done a good job, usually, you’ll find yourself working more and more. If you maybe haven’t done the best job you might not be getting a call. It’s kind of like that.
IMP: You probably can’t say much about it but you were on “Elysium”, right?
Mike: The assistant, my friend – the AD [Assistant Director] just sent me a message. He’s gonna be doing a new movie. It’s not in Vancouver. But… “Elysium” is probably the best or one of the best film making experiences of my life. It’s gonna be a cool project. Have you seen the trailer? You know the robots? I was the robots. The robots, we had our mo-cap stuff and then instead of wearing a costume they painted a costume on us. So there was me and my friend Keith did a lot of it. There were a lot of us. Keith and I went to Mexico. I got to be the main robot. It was kinda fun.
Jodie Foster. I just loved working with her. I remember showing up on set and I had a big trench coat over my grey suit and she goes “Are you the man in the gray suit. Let me see.” [Laughs] And she was giggling all day long. I felt like a chunk of meat for a day around her, it was pretty funny. She was havin’ fun. She was definitely making me red in the cheeks, for sure. She’s great; she’s a sweetheart. I really liked her.
And Matt Damon. He was a real Prince to work with. I enjoyed it. Even doing that character, I was running lines and doing scenes with him. A lot of times I might feel nervous when I’m doing something with a big star but I didn’t feel intimidated or nervous. That, to me, is a real star; someone that is so confident with where they’re at. I’ve worked with some and it’s not like that. He puts you in a comfort zone. We’re workin’, we’re a team.
IMP: Do you have a stunt on “Supernatural” you’re most proud of? Something that was really cool?
Mike: The one I thought was the dumbest was the car hit.
IMP: … but it looked really cool!
Mike: …it looked good. That was the one I was most proud of because I survived it. The one the other night was pretty cool [Mike going through a candy glass window in “Sacrifice”]. That took a couple of days to film that little sequence. That was a fun one.
IMP: At what point do you take over from an actor?
Mike: Depending on what show, if there’s a big fight. They’ll do a master and they’ll put the doubles in. They’ll do a big wide shot and shoot the whole fight with the doubles. A lot of times they shoot the lead actor over the double’s shoulder so there’s a whole fight on the actor’s face. Or they’ll do body-shots, like ¾ so we’re always hiding our faces. A lot of the close ups they use the actors.
A lot of times on “Supernatural“, the boys [Jared & Jensen] do it because they’ll shoot it in pieces. They might do a fight where there are three moves, four moves, cut move to the next step. Three, four moves, cut. It’s not an elaborate thing where you’ve gotta learn 40 or 50 moves.
We do a lot of that on “Continuum“. The guy I double over there, Victor Webster, he’s a really experienced martial artist. I learn the fights and I’m there. If there is a stunt thrown in it then I’m there for that. But then, mainly, he’ll do his own thing. I’ve worked with the co-ordinator on there, Kimani [Ray Smith]; he’s a really talented fight co-ordinator. He had a dance background but the dancing and the choreography really rolls into fighting. I see with him, with his body, with his movements, from work. He’ll come up with cool little things. The way that he moves his body [from dancing]; he’s in touch with every limb and every joint. He’s actually been great; I’ve learned a lot of cool stuff just working on that show and building the fights.
IMP: So in a regular, say 30 or 40 second fight on “Supernatural” we might be seeing you and Jared switching?
Mike: Yeah, for sure. You just know it. Which is good. Sometimes, even I’ll watch it and I don’t even remember if I did it or not.
IMP: There was one in an episode where one of you ended up with your head in a laundry hamper? Who was that?
Mike: Oh that was me. In the laundry basket. That was pretty funny. I was like, how am I gonna hit that. And then son of a gun, when I hit it I got stuck in the laundry basket. [Laughs] They loved it. The director loved it. I couldn’t do it again if I tried! And that was good ’cause that was a one-taker, I was happy about that. Yeah, they loved it. It was just visually something different. Like, what the hell? He’s stuck in a laundry hamper? I thought I was gonna bounce off it but I got stuck in it [mimes trying to fight his way out]
IMP: Do you guys get involved in the pranks that happen on set?
Mike: I don’t think we’re there enough to be involved. The other day I walked in, I went in to get my wardrobe one day and they gave me way over-sized clothes. I put the jeans on and they were huge. This is awesome; I look like a 12 year old boy going to the skate park. So I took a picture and sent it to Jared and said ‘nice wardrobe.’ He sent back laughter. We’re always just kidding around.
IMP: It seems like a great place to work – is that standard for the industry?
Mike: I think when a show is secure; it’s been around for a while. The nerves and everything goes away. That thing is like a factory now; it’s so dialed. They don’t really have any trouble making their days. Everything is down to a formula. Whereas, some shows, like pilot season; the first couple of episodes of a new series – it’s stressful. Because everyone is flailing and getting used to how the whole thing is gonna work. You scramble. Working on MOW’s [Movie of the Week] I always hated because it’s a battle till the end. It’s never a nice formula or clockwork. Features are great because you’ve got nothing but time on those things. You’ll sit there for 15 hours and they’ll shoot 1/8th of a page [laughs].
On “Supernatural“, everybody just knows they’re jobs so well now. We’re not there all the time, when I show up it’s always a warm welcome.
The road trip I did up to Kamloops was great. I don’t get to hang out much with the teamsters except at Craft Service. To do all the car stuff and get to know all those guys was really cool. We were out for about five days, went all over, Cache Creek, Ashcroft, Kamloops, Hope, all over. That was nice. Usually my interaction is fighting with them over the donuts. [Laughs] We had a great time with them and we really got to appreciate how hard they work. The responsibility.
IMP: What’s next?
Mike: Well, “Godzilla“! Some more “Continuum“. Gonna go meet my body and maybe they need another robot or something! I did the JJ Abrams pilot… was called “Human” but they changed the name to “Almost Human“. It’ll be filming here. I’m gonna make my career out of being a robot, I swear. So if that goes I’ll, hopefully, be really busy.
IMP: and Season 9 on “Supernatural“?
Mike: yup, as much as they’ll have me.