Peter This week, we’re talking to someone who is the very essence of action packed. Over the past three decades. You’ve seen him countless times on TV and on the big screen, crashing cars at high speed and jumping from seven-storey buildings when not in the thick of a swashbuckling sword fight. You can be forgiven for not knowing his name for the formidable Glenn Marks is one of Britain’s top movie stuntman and stunt coordinators. He’s done the dangerous work for some of the biggest names in the business. Glenn, welcome on our travel podcast. So when did this all start for you?
Glenn This started when after I left school, I went to drama school, and I was very lucky. I’d gotten a tour with Sir Antony Quayle’s company, Compass, we were doing King Lear, were doing Shakespeare round the UK, including Northern Ireland. And I wrote to a few agents to try and get an agent because I didn’t have one – I got that off my own back. And I kept buying theatre tickets in the West End for these agents to turn up the next day. You’d have to buy the tickets yourself, so I was spending a fortune on tickets. And then you’d go the next day with these tickets, and they go: ‘No,’ but you don’t get any money back. And then you’d speak to agents’ secretary: ‘No, they’re coming tonight’. So then you’d buy…you couldn’t stick them up in the gods…buy some nice tickets.
And by the end of the run in the West End, a few months, I was on my own and that was it. Phone wasn’t ringing. And I thought, well, I’m not going to end up in another show in the West End with actors that big in it, and I was, I think, 19, 20 years old. I haven’t got an agent, I’m not going to get very far. I like the business, so maybe I’ll do something else. I got a couple of telly jobs and they actually got somebody to double me one day and he looked nothing like me – riding a horse bareback. And I’ve plenty of horses at home so I said: ‘He’s rubbish. I’ll do it.’ And it’s not like today with health and safety, so I jumped on this horse bareback, galloped a few fields and jumped off in the end, and they went: ‘Oh well, alright, you can do that.’ Got chatting to this stunt guy and there were virtually no young stunt guys on the stunt register.
So I looked into it and I joined and never looked back. Thirty-two years later, I’m still doing it. So that’s how I got onto the stunt register and why I joined. And then, you know, I suppose there must be something in it that’s still appealing or else I wouldn’t be doing it three decades later.
Felice So when you started, did you have to do any sort of training on the job?
Glenn Yes, it’s very different now, but the principles are the same. So anybody who wants to join, I’d say the easiest way to find out: you go online and you Google The British Stunt Register and it says how to join. And in a brief nutshell, you need your Equity card, so you have to join the actors union. You need to do some live shows, and then you need – I think it’s still six – qualifications from amateur sports to instructor standard. But they’re quite varied, so you can’t have more than two qualifications in one category.
So say boxing, martial arts is your thing and you’ve got 100 black belts, it doesn’t matter – you’ve still got to go and do four other qualifications to instructor standard to get there. So that could be scuba diving, it could be mountain climbing, it could be gymnastics, whatever it is. People who are training to get on the stunt registrar, I say to them trampolining and gymnastics are pretty much a must. You have to have a fighting, but I’d say do fencing as well. Scuba diving, although it’s expensive, is a good one to do because when you’re 30 metres down, you clear your mask in cold water and all this sort of thing, it prepares you quite well for being on the stunt register.
If you think getting on and then you’re going to just be a glorified supporting artist running around firing a gun, you can forget it because you’re going to be doing a lot more than that. So you need to go into it with your eyes open. I say to people, it’s pretty much like doing a university degree. It’s going to take you at least three to five years and it will cost you the same as a university degree. And there’s no guarantee of getting a single day’s work when you join. Back in the late ‘80s when I joined, I was the only one who joined the register for 18 months. Each quarter now I think they limit it 50 or 60 applicants and they’ve got hundreds waiting to get on. And there was only about 150 people, 200, on the stunt register. Now we have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and anywhere over 200 a year joining. And I don’t know where all the work’s going to come from for them. So I wish them luck.
Once you’re on the stunt register, there’s five levels to go through to become a co-ordinator. So nobody’s going to ring you up and go: ‘Here’s your next James Bond film and you’re in charge mate,’ on day one. So you have to pay your dues. And it’s not paying your dues to a coordinator like me, it’s paying your dues to the industry to learn and then to teach stunt performers what to do. Because I imagine that everybody coming on my film set has never done it before, because I like them to do it my way because – touch wood – over 32 years no accidents, claims, or convictions. So in a way, I must be doing something right. So I figured if I came from the acting side, I’m no Olympic athlete at all, but I can get through what I’ve done in 32 years I must be on the right line, on the right course.
Because what you don’t want – and it happens every year somebody dies or somebody’s in a wheelchair or loses limbs or something – and, you know, I wouldn’t want to live with myself if that was the trail of devastation I left behind me. Because everybody who comes to work – it doesn’t matter if there’s some people, actors, crew, supporting artists, whoever they are, they’ve all got families and friends, and they’re doing their job. So you can’t be hurting them or putting them in a position where, one they don’t know what they’re doing, or two they can hurt themselves. So that’s my job – to get a script, break it down, say what the stunts are.
If I put my foot down and I say an actor is not doing this, there’s a very good reason why and that’s really because actors do acting and stunt men do stunts. And I’ll make it look like it’s the actor doing it, but generally, I don’t let them do anything dangerous. I’ve got to make sure they’re there at the end of the film in the same physical and mental condition as when they started. I’ve been coordinating for 27 years now.
Peter You’re still doing some stunts yourself, do you?
Glenn Yes, because I still love it. So if I read a script and there’s a really meaty something, I think: ‘I’ll do that one,’ or I might go: ‘No, I won’t do it.’ But generally when you coordinate, you end up doing most of the stunts anyway because you’re either teaching the stunt people to do it, or in rehearsals, or you’re teaching the actors what you want them to do.
Peter So you go to wherever that location is and that can be anywhere in the world, can it?
Glenn Yes. And I’ve travelled a bit too much over the last 10 years. What with Netflix, Amazon, Sky, with these massive budgets, they are pushing the boundaries more and more, so we travel far afield. And last year, to give you an example, I was in Greece, Prague, Germany, Spain, India, Morocco. I can’t even remember where else. I just kept getting on airplanes and going away. And then I did turn down some time in Eastern Europe – about six months on one job, I turned another one down somewhere else because I’d just started something, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai and wherever else, you know, they really do push it today.
Peter Truth be told, you’re happiest in Wiltshire aren’t you?
Glenn Well, that’s where home is, but there’s very little filming on my doorstep. So it doesn’t matter where you live today, you’re going to be travelling. So I rack up anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 miles in the car. I think my record in a year is about 80 or 90 different flights, and I don’t know how many train journeys. It depends if you want to go into film or TV. And they’re very similar in respects, but very different.
So stunt performers, if they start getting employed by the coordinators who do the big movies, they go: ‘Yeah, great, I’m on the movies.’ But after about 10 or 15 years of being away from home and hardly ever seeing family and loved ones, they go: ‘I wish I did TV and I got home a bit.’ And the guys who are doing TV go: ‘I wish I was doing films and I was on Batman and the Bond film.’ So the grass is always greener. It depends when you get on, who employs you, and which route your career takes or which route you wish your career to take.
Felice So one of your earliest films was Robin Hood Prince of Thieves?
Glenn Yes, and then I did the Ridley Scott Robin Hood, and I hope before I retire I’ll do another Robin Hood as well.’
Felice Where did you film those?
Glenn Burnham Beaches for Robin Hood’s camp, we were at Shepperton Studios for Nottingham Castle for the interior, and then we were down on the beaches somewhere I think, unless I’m getting the two muddled up – all over the place.
Peter What kind of stunts did you have to do for that, for example?
Glenn Riding horses, loads of fighting, loads of bows and arrows. And I’ll give you one lovely example that does make me tickle now health and safety has changed – I’m quite a good archer, it’s something I’ve just done and I love firing arrows, and I have targets and bows and arrows at home. So I was up with a chap called Gabe Cronnelley, the stunt guy who’s an excellent archer. And I say to him: ‘From 250 yards, Gabe, if I put up this target, if someone stood there, where would it be?’
He comes from Southern Ireland and he says: ‘Oh Jesus…you are 250 yards away every time I put the arrow in your mouth? That’s all I need. Something that big. I don’t need the whole target. Just put a big orange there and I’ll hit it.’
So we were up on these gangways and we were given the fire arrows. So arrows with some wadding on it. And you’ve got a bit of fire and it’s got fuel on it – petrol or whatever they use, IPA. And you dip it in, you pull up, you buy back…and they wanted us to shoot the fire arrows into these straw huts. So we fired off about five or six each and there were lots more arrows there, and the director goes: ‘Keep firing.’ And I went: ‘No, I’m not firing any more.’ And he goes: ‘You’re a bloody stuntman, fire those arrows.’ And I go: ‘No, no, because the arrows aren’t true.’ If you fire an arrow that isn’t true, it’ll go off one way or go off the other, and there’s no saying where it’ll go. And you’ve got camera crew. He was swearing so much, I went: ‘OK then, I’ll fire one – but if I kill someone, mate, it’s on you.’
So I fired this arrow and it went sort of 90 degrees and landed behind the crew and the first assistant director shouted: ‘What are you doing now?’ “I haven’t got any more straight arrows. I’m not firing anymore because I’ll kill somebody.’ He said: ‘Right, cut the cameras.’ The director was going gone mad. There are a few of us who are really good archers and I’ll that arrow wherever you want, as long as it’s true. As long as it’s a straight arrow. It can be something bent as a five bob note – good luck to you.
We did loads on it and then in the final edit there’s a little sequence where I end up killing myself. So what’ll happen is you’re on Robin Hood’s gang one side in your green tights and whatever, and you’re fighting. And this particular time, I was firing a bow and arrow, and then they cut to when I was a Celt on a horse…and I got the arrow in my chest, because of makeup and costume and it’s all so quick, people don’t notice. But quite often when we see the edit back, like Wonder Woman recently – I shot myself on that. I was a German firing and then I was the English guy who died. You’d think with these massive budget, surely you’d get more people in? But it’s just the way it gets edited. Yeah, it’s quite nice to kill myself.
Glenn I had a lovely time on Poldark. That was months and not far from me, that was one that was at times nearly on my doorstep. We have so many stately homes around here in Wiltshire. They were based in Bristol, which is an hour from me, and I loved it. And then we would go down to Cornwall and between Cornwall and wherever, it was months and months of work. And I loved it – it was just great fun. Loads of stunts on it, loads to do.
But you’re not just doing that one show. So Poldark would last for me for six or seven months, because you got the prep beforehand and everything else. But while you’re doing that, and I call them my regulars – I’m very lucky that a director or producer I worked with before goes: ‘Oh, we want to do this show.’ And I can’t turn them down because otherwise they go to somebody else, and they don’t use you again. So while I was doing Poldark, I was doing Pennyworth, I was doing Coronation Street, I was doing about six other jobs. And then you try and fit them all in one to the other. And that’s fine when they’ve set their schedules, but you get one schedule on one production, and because an actor is ill or the weather changes and they lose a location or whatever…and suddenly you find you’ve got to be on five film sets in a day and obviously that doesn’t work. But it is one of my fond memories of filming, there’s a few of them, but Poldark was fun.
Felice Did you have to be Aidan Turner?
Glenn No actually, as it happened, I didn’t get a double in for Aidan at all. One, the stunts didn’t demand it – if it’s fighting and things like that, also that we did a lot of sword fighting on it. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll see it. But Aidan came from a dancing background and he’ll pick up a routine in absolutely no time. So I can come up with a routine and then variants within that, so what I do – I don’t mind telling some my secrets – if there’s a sword fight, there’s no point if it’s going to last four minutes trying to teach him four minutes, because nobody’d get that in their head.
So what I do is I number them. So I go: ‘Right, to get to this point where you’ve got some dialogue, that’s sequence one.’ So I’ll teach him sequence one, I’ll go through it two or three times until he knows it. And I had Vincent Regan on the other side, and Vincent is really good with a sabre, so I got lucky. And then I go: ‘Right. number two is this bit.’ And then when we actually came to shoot one of the sword fights, it was the last day and they were running out of time. And I said: ‘Well, look, if we go straight from three, miss out four and go to five, and you add a line in here. And they go: ‘Oh, yeah, I know where we’re going’. Camera here, and on we go. The whole sword fight was one bit. Well, after you get to that bit, we miss that bit out…and it just doesn’t work.
And over much time and money, on the show we’ve got, you never have enough time and money when you’re doing stunts generally. You always want another day, another week, more money, more people, more time. But you don’t have that luxury, so you have to cut your cloth and you have to take a step back. And however much you’re in love with the fight scene or something you’re doing, you’ve got to be prepared to chop it in half. And then sometimes, not on Poldark, sometimes we can sit with the editor and go: ‘Look, if you take that sequence and push that into that bit and double that up and then turn round and do that, that will look like another bit of the sequence.’ But we’re just replaying something and quite often we’ll catch the audience out, they won’t notice. And we end up actually doing some of that on Poldark. But I have to say, Aidan was a pleasure and just lovely. And when you get an actor, him and Vincent together, and then they put their character on what you give them it just brings the thing alive and it’s great fun.
Peter You’ve got your favourite actors and the actors you don’t like working with?
Glenn Well you normally find that the bigger the stars are, the nicer they are. They also understand that I’ve got a job to do. My job is to make them look good. So for any actor to fall out with a stunt coordinator would have to be pretty amateurish really, because you got to look at the bigger picture on why we’re there. I very rarely do interviews, certainly not on TV. I don’t talk on radio, I don’t have Facebook and all these things, and promote what I do – because I’m very lucky and the phone rings and I go to work.
So generally, actors give us a really easy time and the clever ones use us like a sponge and soak up everything they can off us. You know, we spend our whole career just doing the action scenes and there’s very little you can throw at me now in a script that in some variant or other I haven’t done. You always try and make it fresh, you don’t want to bring the same fights back at all, but as far as actual stunts go, if I hadn’t of covered it all in 32 years, then it would be a bit of a worry, really.
Actors I don’t like? Really, there was one who I think he was sort of up and coming and tried to get a little bit too big for his boots. So when we start with this big production meeting, as I said on Poldark, they’re around the table, there are no actors there, the actors are nowhere to be seen. And he stormed in halfway through this production meeting, He went: ‘Oy you? I’m the lead actor here, you’re just a stunt and you’ll do what I say.’ And he just starts swearing at me. And I thought: ‘Well, it’s a long film, I’ll get my own back.’ And the director and producer walked out the room, didn’t want a fight.
So about two weeks into it, the location manager came to me and he said: ‘Glenn, the director has found another location where you’re going to spin a car.’ And he goes: ‘Well, I think the car will actually fit.’ I said: ‘Look, I can’t leave set at the moment. How far is it?’ He goes: ‘It’s Highgate, we’re filming in London, it’s 20 minutes up the road.’ I said: ‘That’s great. At one o’clock when we break for lunch just be in car, ready to go. It takes me 20 minutes there, 20 minutes back and I’ll be there about 10, 15 minutes.’ He said: ‘We won’t get any lunch,’ I said: ‘I don’t mind if I miss a meal, we’ll get the caterers to do something.’
So we drove up to Highgate and I thought the same. I thought this car…that I can’t spin it without smashing it up. You’ve got a 10ft brick wall one side, a house the other side. So I measured it, went back, measured this car. And actually, if you measured obviously the perpendicular – don’t go from front to back because it’s wider on the spin when it’s coming round, so you’ve got to go from corner to corner – it would fit with about five inches either side.
So I took some cones from the location department. I said to the car suppliers: ‘You drive my car home, I’m taking this car.’ They didn’t like it, but they didn’t have a choice. And I went to my local Tesco car park and I chalked up where the road is and I put the cones down, did it the first time, I wiped the cones out on the right hand side. So I went a bit further left and then I wiped the cones out on the left side. So I put it in between, put a little chalk mark down, went down, and didn’t hit any cones. And I thought, that’s as wide as the street.
So I have a rule. If I can do a stunt in a car three times perfectly – and I mean perfectly – in a car park, then I should be able to do it on the location. So I measured out from the wall where the middle of the wheel was to start with, put a chalk mark. I measured out from the car park how many metres I needed and how far from each wall, and did a little chalk mark where the middle of the left-hand front wheel was so I could spin the car round. And I’m sitting there at about two in the morning going: ‘All right, I’ve got to be back on set soon, I’m going to give this a go, and if I smash it up I smash it up. I’m going to smash it up on the day anyway if I don’t get it right, so I might as well do it. So I went round. Perfect. It fitted. So I made my little chalk mark a bit bigger.
The next day we get there and I’m just dressed in normal clothes, and the director of photography says: ‘So Glenn, just as a guess I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll just put the car where it is.’ And I wandered down this tiny, little narrow street and I went, ‘I’ll just put a chalk mark here.’ And I covered over my previous chalk mark, ‘And I think the middle of the left-hand front will be there. But anyway, line the camera up and then focus can do distances.’ Because the focus chaps have got to go there and focus as I’m doing it, and get it right so everything’s in vision and not blurred, and I say: ‘I’ll just give it a go.’
So I went down, spun the car round, they all come running over and sure enough, the chalk mark’s in the middle of the wheel. They said: ‘How did you know that?’ I said: ‘You know, just a guess. That’s alright, we’ll go back to camera.’ And I call this lead actor over and I went: ‘And you told me you do all your own stunts Nick. Off you go, bye.’ I walked back to the camera and I was listening out for him, and I think: ‘If he gets in that car and gets the door shut, I’ll have to go and stop him because he will smash up the car.’ Because I had to rehearse, too. If I’d done it first time I’d have smashed up the car, and he can’t drive and I know I can drive.
So I’m standing there, I turn round and I can see him swallow, and I thought: ‘Right. I’ve got you now.’ And the producer, the production manager said: ‘What you doing?’ And I said: ‘That’s for calling me a James Blunt when we’re in the production meeting, so that will stop him.’ It’s actually rhyming slang for James Blunt. I actually really like him – I think it’s brilliant in your life to always be remembered as the rudest rhyming slang in the English dictionary, but there you go. I love his songs. And he called me over: ‘ No, I just did. I just made it up. I just guessed. It is easy. He’s got friends, family there, all showing off and everything.
And the third time I went over: ‘Now who feels the **** now?’ And I said: ‘When are you going to get it into your thick head that I’m here to make you look good? I’m not here to take away your glory,’ and I said: ‘You’ve been battling me for the last two weeks and what you did in the production meeting…’ I said: ‘You know, I’m just here to do a job that I love. Work with me and I’ll make you look really good.’ I said: ‘No, you come back behind the camera because we both know you can’t do this. If you really want to know, I rehearsed this last night and the chalk mark was already on the ground. I don’t leave things to chance. Now, the crew all think I’ve just turned up and done it, but I’m not that stupid. We’ve only got one car, I’m not going to write it off.’
After that, it was really nice and we got on fine. That’s about the only time I’ve had to pull an actor up because he’s just being, you know. But generally no, they’re really pleased to have the job, they’re being paid a fortune. We’re there to do the fun bit. Yes, you do have your favourites. I mean, there’s no question, there’s some just lovely. I mean, Jennifer Aniston, as far as leading ladies go, is just brilliant. Did Derailed with her – it was a hundred million dollar movie and we were just best mates. But now she doesn’t write. She doesn’t call. I don’t get emails, never hear from her again.
Felice And I know you said Eddie Redmayne was great to work with?
Glenn He was lovely but was talented, man. But this was The Theory of Everything with Eddie Redmayne, The Life of Stephen Hawking, and one of the locations – apart from having lots of lovely weeks in Cambridge – we were at Harrow School and there’s a scene where there’s a big statue of Queen Victoria and I was there that night. And Eddie was in the wheelchair and in the costume playing Stephen Hawking. And I walked up to him and I went: ‘Eddie, I’m just speechless at how physical you are, because you are Stephen Hawking – it’s just mind-boggling, it’s just a privilege to be on this film set and watch you work because you’re so talented.’
He said: ‘Well you’ve had to learn the walk and everything else,’ because I doubled him at one bit, doing some bits – when he did the fall, when he fell over, although we only used the stuff on Eddie in the end. And we had a movement coach, an American lady and forgive me I can’t remember her name, but she was brilliant and she would spend hours with Eddie and hours with myself and some of the stunties teaching us how to hold our shoulder and how to walk on our feet and our head and where our hands were. And it was just it was just a brilliant, brilliant experience.
And I really enjoyed it because the beginning of the film, I shot all that, the bicycle bit at the beginning. You might go: ‘Oh there are no stunts in there,’ but we were limited in time when we got to Cambridge and I had a couple of doubles. And then I had the actors for a bit, and James Marsh who was directing it said: ‘Look, can you shoot the beginning for me?’ Quite often as stunt coordinator, you get to second direct. So you’re given a unit and you go, I said: ‘Look, you know, to make it fun.’ And then he turned up in the afternoon when we’re going through the gates and doing that bit. And there it was, at the beginning of the movie. I thought: ‘I shot that, I found those locations.’ That’s really cool. I really enjoyed that. I love it when I’m giving my own film unit and I go off in second unit direct.
And we were in maybe it was Jesus College. So when you go into the entrance, they have chaps in waistcoats or tails, very smart – you can’t just walk into the college because they’re there at the reception and then when you go inside. So I’m waiting with the location manager to look at some location. And the porters were there. It was a nice warm day and it was obviously a dad and his daughter came in and the daughter was probably about to do her ‘A’ levels. And she’d obviously got herself so worried, poor little thing. She went up to these porter chaps and said, ‘I’m a suspected prudent. Can I have a look around, please?’ And I said, ‘I think you mean you’re a prospective student, but you’re not here to study English, are you?’ She went, ‘No,’ I said: ‘Perfect then, you’ll be all right.’ Then that lovely – I’m a suspected prudent. I love tongue twisters.
I get it quite a lot on film sets that sometimes people open their mouths and say things before their brain is engaged and it gives me many little stories of huge laughter and mirth. So I’ll give you an example. I was doing one film and my job was to run up this glass. It was a skyscraper in the City of London, so one of these glass skyscrapers. It was only about seventh floor, it wasn’t too high. And then you run through the glass and then you fall and land in an airbag. And what you do for that, you hear about the sugar glass, but you can’t make it that big. So it’s toughened glass and the special effects put charges on the glass and then it’s up to the special effects guys to press the button just before you run through it.
And if they don’t, you’re going to splat yourself into the glass because you’re at full pelt. And if they did it too early, you can’t use the shot because the glass is broken and I haven’t got there. So you have to put out of your mind as a performer that this toughened glass there in front of you. In my mind, the toughened glass isn’t there…and it’s just, you have to trust your special effects guy that he’s going to press the button.
When we looked back he’d pressed it seven frames before I hit it. So if you’re filming it 24, 25 frames a second that’s a blink of an eye. So that’s pretty good when you’re on the sprint. So if you’re sprinting you then can’t accelerate, you have to keep it a constant speed. So anyway I went through the glass, landed – the glass always gets there before you because you take some with you – no airbag cuts and bruises, fine. And the director came up to me all excited. He said: ‘That was great. Great. Now you know you’re going to jump again?’ I said: ‘Yes, that’s right. I’ll put the window in, it will take about an hour.’ ‘Great. Now, when you go next time, I want you to fall slower.’
I said: ‘When I’m falling through the air, you want me to decelerate to fall slower?’ He said, ‘Yes, yes. And then I’ll get the shot I want. So what do you think of that?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m a stunt man. I’ll fall any speed you like. You know, that was normal speed. I can fall quicker – or if I take a big, deep breath of air I’m sure I’ll fall a bit slower.’ ‘Great, we’ll do that.’ ‘But before you go, Mr Director, I said to him, ‘I don’t think you quite thought this through, have you?’
‘When you play it back and obviously doing a stunt man I’ll fall slower, but you haven’t accounted for the speed of the glass. So imagine the glass is falling at normal speed because of gravity and I’m going slow. So when you play it back, it’s going to…’ He said, ‘Oh, I didn’t think of that.’ I said, ‘Back in 1642, this very clever fellow was born. And nobody knows exactly when, but some years later, he was sat under a tree and an apple fell on his head. His name was Sir Isaac Newton and he came up with a theory of gravity and here in the City of London at 2.30 in the morning I’m not going to try and defy Newton’s laws on physics, because I’m nowhere near that clever. Just not in a thousand of my lifetimes could I be as clever as Newton was in those few seconds, or any of his lifetime, I’m just not in that league, I’m just a stuntman. So I’ll do the same and we’ll have a little chat with our lovely director of photography, and maybe he’ll turn the cameras over, over-crank it maybe 100 frames a second. Then when you play back before time, slower, the glass will be slower. I’ll be slower and you’ll get what you want.’
Then to my astonishment, he’s had no idea what I was talking about, he stopped the entire crew, barriers, people watching, everything – probably about 185 crew or something. He says: ‘Everybody stop right now. What we’re going to do now is we’re going to move the cameras. And what are we going to do with the cameras, again?’ ‘You can over-crank. Right? We’re going to over-crank. But the stuntman here – he won’t fall slower.’
And all the crew were looking at me. ‘It wasn’t me, mate. That’s your director. Isn’t that great? Slower. I mean, doing car chases I’ve had directors ask me to drive faster without going quicker.’ I mean, you try doing that. If you’re doing 80 you’re doing 80, you can’t say you did 100. Just drive faster and don’t go any quicker. They you go. Little things like that keep me amused on film.
Felice So where do you reckon is the most exotic location you’ve ever filmed? Would that be for Star Wars?
Glenn No, cause Star Wars was actually pretty boring – most time we’re at Pinewood Studios . The most exotic probably was…I’ve been quite a bit in the Caribbean as it happens. For The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carré, we were over a month in Greece, this magnificent resort, second most expensive resort in Greece. I mean, the crew were upset because the beers at the bar was 20 euros for a little bottle of beer.
We had our own private beach. I had this huge suite with the balcony overlooking the beach and Poseidon’s Temple in the distance. I mean, it was just magnificent. Some of the chateaux in France we’ve stayed at – too many to count, really. I mean, just beautiful places. We’ve been to private stately homes, I’ve been into the private parts that only the family or close friends would go to, that are not open to the general public, are a treat.
Peter So you specialise in setting yourself on fire?
Glenn Quite a bit of that. It wasn’t through choice. Trust me, it wasn’t through choice. So what happened when I first got on the stunt register? London’s Burning, so the older people of my generation remember, youngsters won’t even know what I’m talking about. But basically, it was a TV series about the fire brigade and Paul Knight was the producer on it and they had a huge budget. So to give you an idea, I think the budget was about £860,000 an episode…I might be wrong…and that’s back then. At the same time, The Bill was shooting an episode for £115,000. So it was a big budget and obviously being fired.
And in that time it was deemed acceptable to see lots of people on fire. It ended up we were being set on fire time after time. And I don’t mean just an arm or your leg, I mean full body burns with the flames 45ft above your head. And I seem to get my own fair share of fire jobs. And I used to think it was because everyone hated me until I twigged one day it was actually what’s in the script, and maybe because I’ve done it so often now, people keep ringing me to do them. And I still keep getting set on fire. I’ve done 197 full burns now, and I always said I’d stop at 200, so I’ve got three to go, but I might do 201 just to spite myself, then let the youngsters do it.
Felice Are these usually in a studio?
Glenn On location. Britannia last year was night shoots out on location. I’ve been asked to a couple more on Britannia coming up. Can’t tell you the sequence, we’re not allowed to. The last one I did actually was inside, and then you have to be careful because it wasn’t just me being on fire. I got hit by a fireball. So you need somewhere for that fire to escape. So it’s more than just being set on fire. There’s always…anybody can stand there and be set on fire to a degree, it’s just every fire job is different because normally you’re given 100 other things to do while you’re on fire. So, you know, it just depends what the sequence is.
Peter So has it ever gone wrong in your 197?
Glenn I have got burnt twice, but you learn pretty quick not to do it again. But I would say on the whole, no. I’m very formulaic when I do it. If you asked me to tell you what the formula is now, I’d have to rack my brains to write it down. But when I’m on the set and I’ve got all my equipment and I’ve got everything I need, I just go into my little zone. Normally at that point I’ll include the first assistant director, but he and the director are pretty much irrelevant to me, I have to ignore them and I’ll give them one way of doing it that we’ve decided agreed on before. I don’t think I’m being a dictator on this, but we don’t work in a democracy on a film set.
And when I’m doing something like a fire job or something that dangerous I really don’t want to hear anybody else’s voice. After I finished that, I’ll give the set back to them and thank you very much. But if you can live with me doing it and hearing my voice, and nobody interfering, then don’t have me on your film set because I have done hundreds and hundreds of these and I won’t have somebody tell me: ‘You shouldn’t be doing that. We should be doing this.’
Peter You spent quite a lot of time jumping off buildings?
Glenn Yes, high falls. My highest – you can Google it – is Harbour Exchange, Isle of Dogs. I went off the roof at 17 storeys. Two weeks before there was a harder one, although it was only 16 stories, and that was St George’s Heights in Liverpool. It was harder because I had to have my hands handcuffed behind my back and I was only wearing boxer shorts and a T-shirt, and it was pouring with rain. The other thing that made it hard on that particular one, was the canopy at the front for the entrance of the building was 12ft high and went out 16ft – and the edge of it was right where I knew I would land.
So obviously, you can’t land on concrete or have it in the way. So I had to build my rig big enough and tall enough to almost forget about this concrete canopy. So that I’d be safe. When I was up there, I was sitting on the edge and I put my foot over the rig that I’d put to land on, and it disappeared under my right foot. I went: ‘Maybe I didn’t build this big enough. That is rather small.’ I put a huge great big wide, I suppose a metre by a metre, plus sign on it. And the director of photography said: ‘Where are you going to land?’ I said: ‘The middle of that plus sign, of that cross.’
He went: ‘Yeah, but how many feet either way?’ I said: ‘No, none. I’ll be there. Otherwise you might as well just scoop me up with a shovel and put what’s left in a box.’ So the trick with those is that you mustn’t push, because you will travel…anyone who’s done trampolining or gymnastics knows you spot where you’re going to land and you don’t have anything else in your head other than that’s where you’re going to land. And you can’t muck about from that sort of height, because you won’t be here anymore.
Peter Well, how do you break the fall on something of 16 storeys high?
Glenn It depends. There are different ways of doing it. So I wouldn’t give a definitive on it. And I don’t really want to say, because I don’t want people to go out and try it. Now, with CGI and wires and things, I mean, I’ve done a lot higher, but on the wire. But then you’re on a descender. So it’s a very simple process of physics. The descender is basically a reel of aluminium, and it gets smaller. So if you think if you wind a wire around the thicker part, you’re going to get a lot more cable, then you will round the smaller part. So you make sure that you start the reel of cable, if you like, on the left-hand side where it’s thicker, and then as this descender’s built, it gets smaller. It’s the right-hand side. You have less cables. So you’ll then decelerate because it uses less cable as you come near the end is then got pretty much a motorbike handle with brakes on it.
So your wire man, your brake man, who’s going to slow you down and stop you crashing into rocks, water, whatever you say you do to drop of 400ft, you can’t hit water at terminal velocity from 400ft because you’ll die. It’s as simple as that. So he is then on the brakes. And what you’ve got to make sure is that you trust your wire man, because obviously if he brakes too hard it might snap, the cable will break. So there’s no point actually being on a cable. And if he goes too late again and if he goes too early, then go to do the stunt again. So you can rehearse with a weighted dummy, but you really need to trust your wire man. And I only use one wire man and he’s absolutely brilliant and he’s worked for me forever. And I think pretty much – we’re the same age – when he retires, I’ll have to retire because I don’t see how I could do jobs without him.
So that’s one way with wires, otherwise you build a landing rig to go in and you’d better build them properly because otherwise you’ll go straight through it. Dahl Robinson did the highest fall out of a helicopter 210ft into an airbag that NASA developed and a French guy tried two weeks later and he went straight through the airbag and died. He went a bit higher. And that airbag would have cost I don’t know how much to make and develop. A new production company is going to pay for it. So I have a limit that I will let stunt people jump from, because I know the limits, because I’ve been there myself.
So if they say: ‘Oh, it’s only 200ft, I’ll jump from that.’ I’m like: ‘It’s not going to happen, guys. You do it on a wire or will do it against green screen or you will do this or will do that.’ So there are different ways of doing it. So I do put limits on things. We’re not mad people who’ll just have a go at anything. You’ve got to be calculated what you do and know that whoever you’re putting that can walk away from it.
Peter So what’s been your most dangerous experience?
Glenn Well, normally the biggest stunts you’ve had most time to prepare for, they actually become your safest stunts. So I would say the jobs where they’re done on the fly. So you’d be in the middle of a production and they go: ‘Oh, we just want to go and do that.’ And you haven’t got the right equipment there.
There was a film I wasn’t coordinating, somebody else was but I happened to be up there and we were up in Whitby and they had the tall ships out. And for some reason the producer decided he wanted a shot of a couple of sailors – it was a period thing – at the top of one of the masts in the crow’s nest, climbing out of the crow’s nest, climbing out of a barrel, basically. And I spoke to the line producers and said: ‘Look, this is one 120ft up.’ He said: ‘Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s only going to be in the harbour.There’s no current.’
I said: ‘It’s still a 120ft up. I’ve got no harnesses, no ropes, no anything.’ I said: ‘Look, I don’t have a fear of heights and I’ll do it and I’ll climb up and down.’ I said,’but if this boat leaves the harbour, I won’t be in the crow’s nest.’ ‘No, no. It’s all shot in the harbour.’
So they filmed it from the side. Next thing I know, they’re pushing the boat off. And I thought, no this is never gone out to sea because the North Sea that day was really rough and there was another camera boat following us. And I said: ‘What are we doing guys? There’s no remit for this. Turn the boat back.’ ‘No, no, the producer wants the same thing out.’ So I went: ‘Right. I’m climbing out.’
Unfortunately, this all took a bit of time and my chance to climb out coincided with leaving the safety of the harbour. So now, because it’s so rough, the boat is pitching from left to right probably about 80ft, maybe 100ft. And it’s going full up and down with the swell, that you couldn’t climb out of the thing. It was just impossible. The other stunt guy with me, well, he went green and, you know, we saw the contents of his stomach over the last couple of days in this barrel. It was revolting. I’m lucky I don’t suffer from seasick. And the guy goes: ‘Action. Roll the cameras !’
And the boat’s over at sort of 45 degrees and all the crew are hanging on below. And I’m like, ‘Well, what would you think it’s like for us, 120ft up?’ I said to the first, you can tell that director what you can do with this call for action, if it doesn’t like it you can come up here. And I said, ‘I’ll try and give him one when we’re almost upright.’ So I went to climb out. I had a foot out and the boat. It just caught the worst possible moment. And I ended up and I’m quite strong for my body weight. And I was hanging on with two fingers and I could see the sea below and I thought: ‘Well, shall I drop now?’ But then I thought if I drop into the sea from 120ft – one is anybody going to come and get me? If the boat swells back, I’m on the deck and they might as well just get a shovel and a little bag or shove me overboard to feed the seagulls because they won’t be anything left. But I actually don’t know if I got about a hold on again when we tilt to the right to be able to get back onto the rigging again because you’re flying out sideways on this thing.
Fortunately as it hit me, I managed to get my legs through the rigging, my arms though it. And now the other guy, he was still at the bottom of the boat. ‘No, I can’t use that. I need both of you.’ I said, given us and passed me out that radio. So I told the director what I thought of him and I couldn’t get back in the boat physically and I could not get back in the barrel. And I said to the first: ‘Two things are going to happen,’ I said, ‘One is you’re going to turn the boat round now and you’re going to go back into the harbour and you’re going to shoot it again in the harbour,’ I said, ‘I don’t care that you’re the director on another boat,’ I said, ‘Otherwise I will get on that boat and I will put this director and you up here and you’ll see why it cannot be done.’
So we went back to the harbour I produced over a friend of mine. He was mortified. He was having to go to the producer, wouldn’t let me anywhere near him because I’d have knocked his head off. At the end of the day, why did that happen? You don’t know. For me, I have a golden rule. If you give the producer a camera, they will try and get…I can’t say this about everybody…but this particular producer was pushing it, and thought something in his head that it had to be done at sea in this ridiculous swell. So it’s things that are done on the hoof that can be really dangerous and you have to have the gumption to go: ‘No, I’m not doing this. That is too dangerous.’ The stunt coordinator was nowhere to be seen. I think he was throwing up somewhere and just, you know, things like that.
Animals can be tricky. I’ve been bitten to pieces by a couple of Alsatian. This dog got me big time, bit me once, blood spurted up in the air right through my ankle. Another one was going for my face. I managed to get my left arm up and he bit through my left wrist. I punch the hell out the dogs and I love dogs, I have my own but these ones would rip my face off if I hadn’t. And they’re supposed to be trained for film sets. They you go. The producer was like: ‘Oh my God. Oh my God.’ I said: ‘Well, I’ll go to hospital and have some stitches and I’ll come back. But those dogs are off the set.’ And I think half the crew disappeared by then anyway. So they’re probably about the worst two. Well, not much else,
Felice Any other animals? I mean, sort of like lions or elephants?
Glenn Black panthers, tarantulas, snakes, you name it, all over the place. Yes, loads of them all the time, you can’t be squeamish about that sort of thing. If you don’t like tarantulas and snakes then get another job, because you as a stuntman and you know you’re going to be the mug in there doing it. Alligators. Crocodiles. Doesn’t matter, it’s all the same.
Felice So, Doctor Who is one that you’ve done, isn’t it?
Glenn Yeah, I love working on Doctor Who. I did it at the time when David Tennant was there. I recently did the…it’s not out yet….the Denis Nielsen. He was a serial killer and we did a TV series about him; David Tennant was playing him. Before that I was on David’s last TV series, the one he did just before that. We get on great, I’ve known him for many, many years. I don’t really mind what the show is called or who it is, it’s mainly now about working with people I like and, you know, just not taking on too many shows at the same time that you can’t work on them. Well, at the moment with Coronavirus, it’s all been quiet for a bit, but then I start up again next week.
Felice And you’re the first stuntman going back to work next week?
Glenn Yes, back on set, aren’t I lucky? On Monday.
Felice Where will that be?
Glenn Manchester. Coronation Street. I’m not allowed to tell you the stuff we’re doing. Well, I’m actually doing a few episodes of Coronation Street, so yes, I’ll be coming and going quite a bit. So I’ll just take the philosophy that you’re lucky to be working. The job comes up, you take it, and there’s no point leaving halfway through to do a bigger and better job because you’re working anyway.
And when you’re finished, there’ll be something else. So you can’t stitch people up and leave halfway through a movie to go, ‘Oh, well, actually, now I’ve got the new Batman so I’m off to do a better one with better pay.’ You have to make your bed, you lie in it.
Peter And how have you spend your time during lockdown? Are you restless to get out there and be doing something?
Glenn No, I never imagined…I’m very lucky. I’m blessed. I’ve got lots of lovely children and twins who’re quite young…and I never imagined in my working career I would actually have this much time with the kids. In my head when this started, I always imagined this would go on for some time. And so I thought – enjoy it. The weather’s beautiful. We’re in a lovely part of Wiltshire. I’ve got acres and acres of land, I’m very lucky. Well, I decided to move out of London and you got a lot more in Wiltshire than you do in London – as far as land goes. And I decided to enjoy it and home-school the kids and work on the land. I’ve lost a stone in weight because of all the gardening and stone shifting I’ve done.
Peter Glenn, you have a military tank in your garden with a gateway onto the lane beyond. As always, during your remarkable career, I think I’m right in saying that it allows no margin at all for error?
Glenn Yeah, I still got the tank, it’s in the garden. That one’s an Abbott and it’s immaculate, all road legal. So I pick the kids up from school and then we do the village fete, the school fete, and have rented it out for film sets, driven over cars and through buildings…as you do. I slow down a bit to get through my gates, but I have an inch either he side – it is quite wide. So I get called quite a lot to do stunts with big rigs, the artics with trailers or buses. I got a licence for everything and the first time I turned up in the tank was like, I don’t think this will fit. And it literally is cigarette paper either side, but I’ve got it. As I lived here 11 years now, I know exactly which bit the road to turn in. So I just whizz her in quite fast and whizz through, and I haven’t taken the gates out yet. Yeah, but it’s 22 tonnes so it’s not too heavy. I would like a T-72, I think they’re 56 tonnes but they are just too wide and too big.
Peter Well I know that if anyone could find a way to do it, you will. Glenn Marks, thank you so much for coming on our travel podcast and the best of luck with post-viral Coronation Street and your next movie. Stay safe and we mean it. The phrase has a whole load of extra significance when applied to you and your life.
Glenn Thank you very much.
Felice That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please share this episode with at least one other person! Do also subscribe on Spotify, i-Tunes, Stitcher, or any of the many podcast providers – where you can give us a rating. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Stay safe and we’ll see you next week.
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