The small town of Smithers, Canada might be known for their world-class skiing and fishing, but if actor Ben Hernández Bray has anything to say about it, he never wants to visit the place again. Shooting the thriller “The Grey” there alongside actors Liam Neeson (“Taken”) and Dermot Mulroney (“J. Edgar”), Bray said the cast and crew had to be evacuated on a few occasions because of terrible snowstorms.
“It was about 20-30 degrees below zero with 80 mph winds,” Bray, who is of Irish and Mexican descent, told me during an interview last week. “Our heads were freezing so badly, we could barely say any of our dialogue.”
In “The Grey,” Bray plays Hernández, an airplane crash survivor who must survive in the wild while a pack of grey wolves stalk him and his team of oil drillers.
During our interview, Bray, who has worked as a stuntman in the film industry for nearly 20 years, talked about playing an actual character in a movie and how he thinks special effects have changed the way directors confront certain scenes in their movies.
Tell us about your character Hernández and what you liked so much about him.
He is obviously a bad guy, but he seems to be one of those guys that could’ve gone to the good side or the bad side at a young age. I just understood him as a guy who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I think there is a nice guy in Hernández, but he was just exposed to the wrong situations. But there is a soft spot to him. He has a heart.
Most of your career has been as a stuntman, so what is the experience like for you when you get the opportunity to play an actual character in a movie?
You get to be emotionally involved in a character at that moment. It’s an art form. It’s a different type of art than stunts. Stunts are more technical at times. As an actor, you come in as an emotional being. It was a fantastic experience.
How have special effects changed the film industry for you as a stuntman?
It’s affected us. We’re always worried about those things. I mean, special effects have its place in certain circumstances. I still think it’s hard to fool the audience. They know the difference between a CGI person and a live-action person. There have been times where I’ll be in a production meeting and the script will show a six-car pile up with people running out of the vehicles and a huge explosion. Then they say, “Instead of having 12 people running out we’re going to have five people and we’ll add smoke and fire later [with CGI].” That’s the tough part. The business is evolving. Some directors are OK with it and some directors like Joe Carnahan [of “The Grey”] love live action want to keep the film as real as possible.
So, no CGI wolves in “The Grey?”
Well, we use actual wolves, yes, but like I said there is a place for special effects. In “The Grey,” there are CGI wolves, but we also have real wolves. Here is a perfect example of having to use CGI in specific scenes. These grey wolves are much bigger than the average wolf. They are almost prehistoric. These wolves are so menacing and vicious, but real wolves are more like dogs. They’re not as vicious as the wolves in this story. So, there had to be CGI wolves in reference to the action.
When someone asks about your background as a stuntman, what films would you tell them to see to get a better sense of what you do?
Well, my background is boxing. I was the stunt coordinator on “The Fighter” with Mark Wahlberg, so I’d want them to see that. But I’d also want them to see “The A-Team,” which shows a mixture of CGI and action. Those two films would really show a young stuntman who wants to be part of the industry what it’s all about.