Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, and The Fall Guy team talk about unusual inspirations and hopes for many sequels

The Fall Guy
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Even if you didn’t grow up on action-packed '80s TV series The Fall Guy – which didn’t get quite the same traction in the UK as The A-Team, Knight Rider and Magnum P.I. – a cursory glance at the premise makes it sounds like perfect film-adaptation fodder. Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man) starred as Colt Seavers, a movie stuntman who uses his day-job skills in a side hustle as a bounty hunter. 


Total Film's The Fall Guy cover

(Image credit: Universal/Total Film)

This article first appeared in The Fall Guy issue of Total Film. Subscribe here to make sure you never miss an issue!

That premise also sounds perfect for director David Leitch, the stunt performer turned director behind the likes of John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw and Bullet Train, who tells Total Film that he ‘jumped at it immediately’ when the project found its way to his production and action design company, 87North, which he founded with his wife and producing partner Kelly McCormick.

Leitch did grow up on the '80s TV series, which was formative for him. ‘I watched it as a kid,’ he tells Total Film. ‘Colt Seavers was the coolest guy on the planet – this guy that wasn’t looking for the spotlight, but he had a pretty interesting set of skills because he was a stuntman.’ While the fun and tongue-in-cheek approach made for great Friday-night family viewing, for Leitch, it ran deeper than that. ‘For my generation of stunt people, it led to a lot of us to want to find out what that career was all about,’ he says.

Working with producer Guymon Casady, who’d brought the project to 87North, Leitch and McCormick quickly assembled a package – Ryan Gosling would star (and also produce), and Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3, Hobbs & Shaw) was on screenplay duties. Unsurprisingly, it was quickly snapped up by Universal, but like a stunt scrutinised and safety-tested from all angles, it underwent quite a transformation on its journey to the screen.

‘That first sizzle was basically an LA noir story, and that’s what we sold,’ says McCormick. While the film does retain noirish elements (and some tonal similarities with Gosling’s 2016 comedy thriller The Nice Guys), it’s a hell of a lot more besides. ‘We had an idea of the investigative engine of what we needed it to be,’ says Leitch.

‘It’s sort of like the origin story of the bounty hunter. He’s going to get his first mission to find a guy. But then as it started to evolve, we cast Emily Blunt as Jody, and then… the love story’s starting to take centre stage – and rightfully so. And Kelly and I are getting more excited about it because who wouldn’t want to wedge a sweeping Hollywood love story inside an action movie?’

That openness to reworking the script and finding the film reflects Leitch and McCormick’s attitude to shooting, and led to a genre mash-up. Yes, The Fall Guy features some of the biggest and most ambitious action set pieces you’ll see this year, but it’s also a riotously funny meta comedy about filmmaking, a crime mystery, and, yes, a romance, with Gosling and Blunt sharing that witty, Romancing the Stone-esque repartee that so many romcoms strive for, but so few manage to deliver.

Last action heroes

The Fall Guy

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

To hit the brakes on Colt’s GMC pickup and reverse a bit, the story of the film – in a slight departure from the show – sees Gosling’s stunt performer out of action after an on-set injury. He’s drawn back into the moviemaking game to double once again for the world’s biggest action star, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), on a massive sci-fi epic that’s shooting in Australia. Only when Colt gets there, the director isn’t best pleased to see him. Jody Moreno (Blunt) is a past flame of Colt’s who’s getting a shot at her feature debut, and struggling to maintain her cool amid script problems, on-set chaos, and the disappearance of the leading man. So as well as being set on fire and doing barrel rolls in Fury Road-esque beach sequences for Jody’s film, Colt is also roped in by producer Gail (Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham) to find the missing Tom. (‘You’re a stunt man, nobody’s going to notice you. That’s your job,’ Gail reasons).

And so begins the main plot, with the sparky banter of Gosling and Blunt – who were Barbenheimer rivals in 2023 – foregrounded, alongside a celebration of big-screen stunts. Colt is ‘a guy that’s relatable in a lot of ways,’ says Leitch. ‘He’s overlooked, like a lot of people feel – they get knocked around, but they get back up, and they just do the job.’

According to Leitch and McCormick, producer/star Gosling was an active contributor (‘Creatively, he’s full of ideas,’ says Leitch) as the story was coming together, and Blunt had equal opportunity to help shape her character. ‘Emily’s role was a make-up artist when we sold it, and we converted it to first-time directing right before we gave her a very rough draft,’ explains McCormick. ‘It made it feel like [the character] had more pressure on her.’

‘We all kind of built her together, because I think, maybe in the original script, she was quite severe, and that sort of tough director,’ says Emily Blunt, speaking to TF from Austria in the week leading up to the Oscars. ‘But I think, for me, it’s always more interesting to play someone who’s in a situation where they’re way over their head.’ Blunt also says that the character is loosely inspired by Barbie director Greta Gerwig. ‘With the warmth and the charm, I guess there’s a little Greta in there,’ she says. ‘She was a mix of a few other people I’d met and pulled from.’

Blunt’s own ideas led to one inspired scene, as what could’ve been a straightforward exposition sequence instead became a chaotic ‘oner’ capturing the bedlam of a movie set. ‘You get to see behind the scenes of what really goes on, on a movie set, and someone who is effectively white-knuckling it some days, and is being pulled in a million directions,’ laughs Blunt. ‘I’m married to a director [John Krasinski – see our interview with him about his new film IF on page 50]. I know the chaos that ensues. We just wanted to create that natural chaos that you find on a film set, and yet it’s nostalgic. It’s a love letter to making movies. And it’s to make sure that she seems very real and accessible to everyone.’

Lessons in chemistry

The Fall Guy

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Teaming up in 2024, the already powerful pairing of Gosling and Blunt gets a boost from the Barbenheimer effect and the ensuing awards season. The unlikely linking of intense biopic Oppenheimer and flouro-pink toy adaptation Barbie – by dint of their shared summer release date – created a genuine pop-culture phenomenon, and one that makes their coupling here even more enticing.

‘The funny part is, we had to wait for Barbie to finish shooting before we could shoot because of Ryan. There were so many small frustrations like, “Really? Is he going to go off and do that Barbie movie?” It was more from the studio than us, even. And now we’re like, “Oh my God, he made that Barbie movie! That was a good thing to wait for!”’ laughs McCormick. ‘But it’s just been this extra sort of waft of excitement there… Barbenheimer or not, they just have so much chemistry together. But they are definitely even hotter than they were a year ago, which is crazy to think about.’ ‘When he and I worked together [shooting The Fall Guy], the Barbenheimer thing hadn’t been coined, obviously,’ Blunt adds. ‘They were two very separate entities. I think it was really wonderful and really funny to us when they got sandwiched [together].’

The pair were able to capitalise on it further when they played up the rivalry during an Oscars skit they presented to celebrate on-screen stunt work, giving an early tease of Gosling and Blunt’s chemistry.

‘Chemistry is one of those things that’s a bit ethereal, and not something you can necessarily bottle up,’ says Blunt. ‘You can fake it with someone, but I guess it’s just not as fun. I feel like chemistry comes from an ease and a trust, and a sense of humour.’ As well as laughs, spontaneity and a willingness to experiment also helps. ‘We would improv a lot, which I think helps with that sort of crackle, and that kind of rat-a-tat feeling that everyone likes,’ she adds.

Leitch and McCormick tell Total Film about a relevant term that almost made it into the movie, but was cut on account of being too ‘inside baseball’: locationship. ‘It’s when people fall in love on location,’ explains Leitch. ‘There’s definitely a reality to that.’ Given that Leitch and McCormick are a couple who also happen to be action filmmakers, might some of their relationship be reflected on screen? ‘I think there is a little… I think there’s a love letter to people that love the business, and find themselves in it,’ says Leitch. ‘I think that’s probably a mirror of us.’

‘I heard there were a lot of little romances happening on our set in Australia, especially [among the younger people on set],’ says McCormick. ‘Like, the PAs who have a bit more time. I heard it was a very romantic set! Maybe it’s life imitating art.’

That’s not the only behind-the-scenes behaviour that The Fall Guy shares with the audience. It’s full of meta commentary and inside jokes. And it’s not all as farfetched as you would believe. ‘I think all of us in the making of the movie had our anecdotes,’ says Leitch. ‘Whether those got heightened or distilled, we all have these crazy stories of what Hollywood is. Even when we turned in the script to Universal, they were like, “This is a little bit crazy.” I was like, “Is it, though? Remember that time when this happened?” They were like, “Yeah, you’re not wrong.”’

Through Taylor-Johnson’s off-the-rails egomaniac star (‘It couldn’t be further from the truth,’ says Leitch. ‘Aaron is the most down-to-earth, relatable guy’), to the perils of shooting without your third act complete, it’s a 360-degree tour of OTT studio blockbusters. Of course, another key ‘inside movies’ element to get excited about is the stunts. In a world where your characters are making an epic sci-fi western, you’ve got free rein to go as far as you want with the stunts...

Calculated Risk

The Fall Guy

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

"We had aspirational stunts that we wanted to do; things that maybe broke records, or things that hadn’t been done,’ explains Leitch of this perfect showcase for his stunt ambitions. Leitch has this in his blood, having started out as a stunt performer doubling for the likes of Brad Pitt and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and having worked his way up as an in-demand stunt coordinator and now a blockbuster director. ‘There are several [stunts] that are classic,’ he continues. ‘With modern rigging and wire removal and CGI, we often do things differently. But to do a high fall into an airbag from heights of 150ft-plus – it’s something they just don’t do as much of any more.

‘It was great to revive that because it’s part of the story organically. To build a car that jumps over 200ft, and then to just jump it [for real] – in today’s modern movies, maybe you’d do that in visual effects. So those are two of many things we did, like fire gags and car hits and stair falls. It’s just a lot of visceral, practical stunts that the stunt team is really proud of.’

One such big-ticket stunt – which takes place right at the start of the film, and leads to the injury that puts Colt out of action – features a vertiginous fall in a descender (an abseiling-like rig that allows the performer to fall at speed before braking).

‘Ryan was game, obviously, to do a lot of things,’ says Leitch. ‘We dragged him across the Harbour Bridge at 30 miles an hour. We put him on top of a truck, and drove through the streets of Sydney. He was really game to do these stunts. But what was even fresher was that he understood the big picture, and was also really gracious in celebrating the doubles that were making him look good, and wanting to celebrate them in the movie itself. He did some really big stuff. That opening descender, to be candid, was no joke… It’s 180ft, I think, or 185ft. It’s just pretty intimidating.’

‘I do a couple of fights,’ says Blunt. ‘I adore a fight scene, and I’m very game. But [as for the kind of stunts that] Ryan did – I’m like, “Nope!” That thing he did off the top of that building? I was like, “That’s a solid no for me.”’ She admits that her tolerance for heights hasn’t increased as time’s gone on, and shudders when she recalls her high-wire entrance in Mary Poppins Returns, the 2018 sequel in which she starred as the magical nanny. ‘I still have nightmares,’ she says. Blunt credits Leitch’s ‘surety’ with giving Gosling the confidence to take that leap of faith. ‘It’s David’s absolute certainty that you will be fine. He’s got the best guys [working with him], and you know it.’

Leap of faith

The Fall Guy (2024)

(Image credit: Universal)

When it came to assembling the film’s signature setpieces, Leitch and McCormick say that they built to a crescendo, shooting in roughly chronological order and building to the car leap in the climax. ‘The big stunts were baked into the DNA of the movie early on,’ says Leitch. ‘We knew we wanted to do a homage to some really old-school stunts like the big car jump in Smokey and the Bandit [1977] and the high fall from Sharky’s Machine [1981].’ Those elements were built in as ‘pillars’ of the production – with plenty of rehearsal and development time needed – while some narrative aspects were finessed around them.

This led to another way that art imitated life, as, in the same way that Jody’s film struggles for a third act, Leitch and McCormick didn’t quite have theirs nailed. ‘Everyone was confident, that’s why we were joking,’ laughs Leitch. ‘If we really thought we would have a problem with the third act, we probably would have been more terrified. So we had Jody talk about it [in the film].

And the way that the team built up to the biggest stunts (working on the final vehicle chase/leap in the sand dunes for a month), reflected what was happening on screen, too. ‘You do feel the progression of Colt… getting his mojo back, and then being able to do all these epic moments through the action,’ explains McCormick. ‘And we were shooting it that way as well. Not only do you feel that it’s real, but you feel that energy that we all had. I do think that that hit the celluloid.’

That energy beams through when this team talks about the movie. Leitch calls the finished product ‘an incredible cinematic experience’ and ‘a feel-good movie’, and there’s as much joy evident in celebrating the stunt performers as there is creating a crowd-pleasing time at the movies. ‘Most stunt guys I know, they just love the movie life, and they love creating action scenes for fans,’ says Leitch. ‘They love the thrill of it all, and they love the challenge. But a lot of them are cinephiles, and they really love film… It is a technical business, and it’s not daredevils any more.’

The film even features BTS footage across the credits, showcasing the stunt crew’s efforts. ‘If this is our love letter to stunt performers who risk life and limb for us every day, then I think it’s a beautiful way to finish the film,’ says Blunt. ‘It doesn’t take you out of the movie, because I think the audience feels that they’ve been backstage. They’ve been behind the scenes the whole film. So it’s just another layer upon that.’

They can also barely conceal their excitement when TF suggests that future Fall Guy sequels could be on the cards one day. ‘We’ll have to see if people love it, you know?’ says Blunt. ‘I would do many Fall Guys if I could. It was just too much fun.’

‘I know I want to go on a journey with these characters for multiple films,’ admits Leitch. ‘I want Lethal Weapon numbers. I love these people so much, and also I love these characters… If I could work with this crew and these actors in this world that Kelly and I know so well – yeah, this would be a blast. I hope people want more.’

The Fall Guy is out in theaters on May 2. This article first appeared in issue 349 of Total Film. You can subscribe to Total Film here

For more on The Fall Guy, read our interview with Gosling and Blunt about making a love letter to stunt performers.

Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.