If you’ve seen an action movie or TV series in the last 25 years, chances are you’ve seen the work of stunt performer and actor Eddie J. Fernández.
Raised most of his life in Chicago, Fernández became a professional kick boxer by the age of 18. He got his break in 1984 when he was hired as a stunt double for the murder mystery “The Naked Face” starring Roger Moore, Rod Steiger, and Art Carney.
It’s been a long road since first entering the film industry as a stunt double. Since then, Fernández has worked as stunt performer in more than 105 feature films including “Backdraft,” “Natural Born Killers,” “Minority Report,” “Spider-Man 3,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “The Dark Knight.” He has also performed stunt work on TV series such as “24,” “The Shield,” and “CSI.”
Along with his stunt performances, Fernández has enjoyed landing speaking roles as an actor. In 2004, he played Officer Gomez in the Academy Award-winning film “Crash.” This year, he was featured in “The Mechanic” starring Jason Statham and “Limitless” starring Bradley Cooper.
During an exclusive interview with me, Fernández talked about how he has been able to stay relevant in the industry for all these years and why he’d rather take on a real explosion rather than one created by special effects.
Was the transition from stunt performer to actor natural for you?
Being a stunt performer for so many years was like getting on-the-job training. If you have people skills and common sense and you have the right attitude, you can pick up a lot of stuff. You always find yourself thinking, “I could have done that!” There is that moment when the camera is on you and you’re like, “Oh shit, what did I get myself into?” but I love it.
How do you keep up with all the younger stunt performers that come in wanting to do the same thing you are?
I see a lot of people coming out to L.A. thinking they have what it takes. I’ve seen a lot of people lose everything because of this business. They never make it. For me it’s all about working hard and keeping up with everyone. The days I get off, I don’t consider myself off because I’m trying to perfect my skills and profession. I go work out. I have cars I take to the racetrack. I practice my high falls.
Have injuries ever held you back?
Yeah, you do get hurt. I’ve been through two shoulder injures, an ankle injury, a couple of concussions. You’re out for a little bit, but if it’s in your heart you’ll bounce right back. That’s why you have to stay healthy in this business.
Does it get harder as the years pass?
Yeah, I don’t recover as quickly as the young birds. I wake up a little sorer than before. I wake up and it’s like snap, crackle, pop. But it’s just my bones. (Laughs) But if you stay fit, you’ve beaten half the battle of aging. You’ll still be able to do flips and fight scenes with all the young ones.
Do you think there should be an Oscar giving every year for Best Stunt Performer?
You know, we do all the hard work and make all the actors look good. (Laughs) I think we should be credited. I know the Emmys are crediting the stunt performers. The Emmys have responded, so hopefully the Oscars will one day do the same thing.
Why are some stunt performers credited and others uncredited for their work on a film?
Yeah, unfortunately it works like that sometimes. I did “The Dark Knight,” which had a big cast and a lot of stunt people. We did a lot on that set and even won the award for Best Ensemble Stunt Group from the Screen Actor’s Guild. But we did not get credited on the film. A lot of times it’s up to the production to make that decision. They have so many people, they can’t credit everyone. But as long as SAG knows it and as long as I know it and as long as I get my royalties that’s all I care about.
Have you had any actors you’re doubling come up to you and insist they can do their own stunt work?
Yeah, some actors feels like their healthy enough, but the production company won’t let them do that because if someone gets hurt it could hold up the movie and they lose money. But directors love that stuff. They want to see the actors doing physical stuff. Even though we are there to protect them, if there is something that’s not too dangerous I will work with an actor so he or she can do it themselves. It’s like a dance. We just have to go over the steps again and again. A lot of times they do pretty well.
How have special effects and CGI changed what you do?
Now, we don’t even need to do a big explosion on the set. They can just do it with computers. We’ve lost some work. Some people say, “Why are we going to put this stunt person at risk if we can just do something with CGI?” Yes, movies like “Avatar” have done some great things, but to me CGI isn’t perfected yet. You don’t always get quality. It’s not the same. As stunt people, we’re going to keep performing even though there is a magic camera.
So, are you OK with the term stuntman or would you rather be called an actor?
A lot of people will ask me, “So are you a stuntman?” and I’ll go, “No, I’m an ‘action actor.’” I do both. I’ve been putting that on my contract for about 17 years and it’s catching on. I always scratch “stuntman” out and put “action actor.”