Ric Roman Waugh is a wow of a salesman. I'm generally a fan of The Rock, but it's been some time since a Dwayne Johnson film held this much promise. After speaking with its passionate and knowledgeable ex-stuntman turned writer/director I can't wait for tomorrow night's screening.
Ric is the son of Fred M. Waugh, a veteran stunt performer who doubled for the likes of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Heston, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ric, who performed his first stunt at age 15, "hung up his spurs" in 2001 and has since set his mind on writing and directing.
His third feature, Snitch, tells the true story of a father (Dwayne Johnson) whose 18-year-old son (Rafi Gavron) is accused of dealing drugs. Under federal laws known as mandatory minimums, Gavron is sentenced to 10 years unless he rats out other drug traffickers. The kid is small potatoes and doesn’t know any of the high profile kingpins the government is after so dad enters the drug world in search of a bigger bust to help lessen his boy’s jail time.
Snitch, which co-stars Berry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, and Benjamin Bratt, opens Friday at a theatre near you. Click for showtimes.
Scott Marks: You were a stunt coordinator on something like 50 features. As a kid growing up at the movies, what stuntmen, in addition to your father, and specific stunts influenced you?
Ric Roman Waugh: There are a lot more credits than that. Unfortunately, IMBD was not around until 8 or 9 years ago. When I hung up the spurs, so to speak, you just worked. Luckily I worked constantly and was on a number of movies and television shows. Obviously, the person who had the most profound impact on my career was the guy I grew up around, my father. My father was considered one of the top stuntmen ever in the world. We just lost him last month to a battle with cancer.
SM: I did not know that. I’m sorry to learn of your loss.
RRW: Thank you. He was a legend in his own right, for sure. He carried a great legacy with him that we will carry on. He was one of the founding members of Stunts Unlimited, which consists of the top stuntmen in the world. I grew up around guys like Hal Needham, Ronnie Rondell, and Mickey Gilbert, who is my godfather. He did everything from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to The Sting and Cool Hand Luke.
SM: Are you old enough to have met legendary stuntman, Yakima Canutt?
RRW: Yes I am. I was very young when Yakima was still around and I know his daughter, Bernice Canutt. We lived in a little town called Agua Dolce in Sweetwater, CA. It’s where a lot of the stuntmen still live to this day. Legends like Terry Leonard, Mickey Gilbert, Jeff Dashnaw, who did *Django Unchained” for Quentin Tarantino, still live there. It was a great way to grow up.
It’s funny. When I was a baby, I was on the set of McQ with John Wayne. I was on Paint Your Wagon with Clint Eastwood, but when you’re a kid you’re not looking at these movie stars as heroes. I didn’t care about them. I cared about the stuntmen. I was watching what these guys would do and how they’d risk their lives and pull each other out of danger.
They’d set each other on fire and then make sure they were safe. You learn about loyalty and brotherhood, the kind of chemistry that happens between soldiers on the battlefield. It’s something that I always think about and carry with me. It’s something that Dwayne Johnson and I talk a lot about. He started in football and became the greatest wrestler of all time. His father and grandfather were professional wrestlers, so he also has a great legacy behind him. You learn about that brotherhood and sense of loyalty that you can’t get anywhere else.
SM: IMBD lists Courage as the first film you performed stunts on. Is that correct?
RRW: No. It was well before that.
SM: Courage was released in 1994. That would have made you 15 during the production. Aren’t their child labor laws in place to prevent this type of behavior?
RRW (Laughing): No. We actually have child stunt people. Mom or dad would take me to the set. I was doing stunts when I was a kid. I graduated school in 1986 and trust me: I was on sets long before that.
SM: What was the first stunt you ever took home a paycheck for?
RRW: Riding a bicycle off a roof when I was in my early teens. It was for a TV pilot. At this point, I don’t remember what it was called. I was like, ‘I’d do this at home. If you’re going to give me money for it, that’s great!’
SM: They Live, Total Recall, Hard Target, True Romance -- you performed stunts on a lot of films I enjoy, but one in particular stands out. I don’t recall too many stunts in Shakes the Clown.
RRW: That’s pretty funny, huh? If I remember correctly we did a couple of car jumps in that movie. Honestly, that whole era becomes a blur. What you remember more than any stunt are the set experiences, the good times that you had or the people you worked with. There was a point I was doubling Mel Gibson or Willem Dafoe, but it becomes more about that experience and the journey than individual stunts. It just becomes about going to work each day.
SM: What directors that you worked for have had the biggest influence on your career as a director?
RRW: I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of the greats from Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner to John McTiernan and Kathryn Bigelow, you name it, but Tony Scott by far had the most impact on me. The way that he treated people on set, the way that he was able to lead the charge, the way that he stayed true to who he was as a human being and his voice as a filmmaker...it had a profound impact on me. Not so much as the style of movie I want to make, but that you need to have the confidence in who you are and treat people with respect. Hopefully that’s something that I bring to the table.
SM: Have you ever doubled for a woman?
SM: I wasn’t talking about in the movies.
RRW: Ha! Ha! By the time I was coming up in the business that was not allowed anymore. And for good reason: there are phenomenal stuntwomen in the business. In my dad’s era -- shit, even Paint Your Wagon -- all the men were doubling women. There weren’t many stuntwomen back then, or very few.
SM: This is your third feature as a director and my first one of your films as a viewer. Where was I when In the Shadows opened? I read the plot synopses on IMBD (“A hit man, sent to kill a veteran Hollywood stuntman, falls in love with the target's daughter and decides to become a stunt-man himself”) and man does that sound like a great premise for a movie. I will seek it out.
RRW: Thank you! It’s been a big journey. It becomes about finding your voice as a filmmaker and the movies you want to make. The big leaping off point for me as a director was Felon and now Snitch. Making movies...I think a major fork in the road has finally happened. There are two types of action movies, the big hyper-real exploitation action movie tent-poles that they’re making now, and the other ones that I love which are the ones that hearken back to the ‘70’s era.
Snitch was all done for real and there was authentic roles and characters that you cared about. They were gritty and real and you felt the sense of danger they were in. We’re watching movies now like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. A lot of moves are working at the box office because people are going to see either kind. They’re going to see action thrillers that I like to make (like Snitch) or they’re going to see the huge, larger than life ones.
Since we’re talking about the stunt business, here’s an ex-stuntman that will tell you when you see the semi-chase in Snitch, that’s Dwayne Johnson behind the wheel wrecking cars and jackknifing at 70mph. We doubled him in only one shot which is the final shot in the movie. There are only two people in the world that can actually do that stunt. We did it live, for real -- no green screen and no cables.
SM: I must admit that it was a bit surprising to see Susan Sarandon in the trailer. She’s not a name one readily associates with action pictures. How did you manage to sign her on?
RRW: I think it’s the fact that everyone loves this story. We all have our own families and we talked about the age old question of how far one would go to protect their children. We would move heaven and earth, even check our own morality at the door if need be to protect them. This movie is a testament to that and why everybody came to the table. It’s not one of these movies that shows the escapism of a kid trapped in a different country or some uber bad guy kidnapped my kid and I have to get him back. You can live in New York City, Mississippi, or San Diego: this is a real world situation that could touch any of our kids.
SM: I’ve watched the trailer and it looks like a solid piece of action filmmaking. I see a lot of action blockbusters and pride myself on being a stickler for originality. What can we expect that’s different about Snitch?
RRW: If you are an action buff, what you’re going to love about this movie is that it’s not the voyeuristic escapism where you look at a screen and watch a lot of shit blow up.
SM: With all due respect, in checking out your filmography I see that you’ve blown up a lot of shit in your day.
RRW (Laughing): Tell me about it! Our eyes are glazed over because we’ve seen that so many times. In Snitch, we actually put you in the action from an ex-stuntman’s point-of-view. You are on the ride, behind the wheel with Dwayne Johnson feeling it for yourself. The ending semi sequence is a perfect example. I wanted to shoot it from the inside out, not the outside in. I wanted to put you on any freeway in America so that you become a participant in the action.