Marvel Studios stunt actors Carrie "Banshee" Bernans and Jesse La Flair have been moonlighting as part of the cast of Fox’s new competition show, Ultimate Tag.
Airing Wednesdays on the network, Ultimate Tag is based on the classic game of tag as competitors go through obstacles running from 'pro taggers' such as Bernans and La Flair. The show debuted in a Wednesday evening timeslot on May 20, with the next episode coming July 8.
Newsarama had the chance to chat with Bernans and La Flair about their characters on Ultimate Tag, transitioning from superhero film stunt work to this, and of course about their Marvel film work directly.
Newsarama: Carrie, tell us a bit about Ultimate Tag. What are the rules?
Carrie Bernans: There are different rules for each game, but the biggest rule is don't get caught. It's the game of tag that everyone plays as a young kid. They run around and they don’t want to get caught, but this is a game that's on an extreme level — tag on steroids.
There are four different games I believe. It just depends on if it's the guys or girls. Sometimes the guys play games that the girls don't play. The girls play games that the guys don’t play.
But each of them all basically have the competitors running away trying to get the least amount of time or to stay in the game the longest that they can and they are competing against another competitor on the show. It's two at a time, usually.
Sometimes it's three at a time competing to stay the longest in their arena. And sometimes there's three competing to see who can get that fastest time all the way to the showdown.
Nrama: How does Ultimate Tag stand out from other competition shows?
Bernans: I would say that Ultimate Tag is like a mix of a bunch of competition shows. Ninja Warrior is amazing, I'm a fan of Ninja Warrior, but they have like obstacle courses and stuff, it's all about strength, agility, and getting through.
Then you have American Gladiators, which I know everyone knows, even if you weren't born during the time it was out because I know I wasn't, but I did see some replays of it. It has costumes and it’s a lot of fun.
Ultimate Tag is a mix of American Gladiators and Ninja Warrior. It’s like a track or a sport, you're running as fast as you can, but you need that agility of a football player.
Jesse La Flair: We took the childhood game of tag, which everybody knows and loves and everybody's played it. So, there's this association that everybody can feel when they're watching it, but we turned it way onto the extreme and now it's this high octane competition series.
Nrama: What made you two want to join the show?
Bernans: When I was presented with the opportunity, “I was like what, the game of tag? No way. I get paid to play tag.” It sounded like a lot of fun. I have an acting career that has been very successful as well as a stunt career. I'm still at the beginning of those jobs, although I've done a lot of Marvel films and stuff, but thought it would be fun to mix it up in the arena that I haven’t played.
I also really love The Rock. I love how he did WWE and all this other stuff, and he’s also a phenomenal producer and actor. Well, I was like "If the Rock can do it, I can do it. "
I've also been jumping out of trees since I was like two years old. I've done some gnarly stuff and if I can play a game of tag on steroids, it sounds like something that I would do so I said "Hell yeah."
La Flair: I am the world's first professional free running parkour athlete with his own signature shoe. I've been doing Parkour for 15 years. I've done shows like Ninja Warrior. I’m a Hollywood stunt man.
But a show like this is really interesting to me because as a parkour athlete going out and chasing someone is probably the most realistic application to parkour. Because things are changing immediately. If they choose to go a different path I have to rely on my abilities and all the training that I've had in my past to really just turn on and work. So, for me, someone who's shot tons of videos, done all these different things, this was a really cool and fun opportunity for me. One to get paid to literally play tag, but to really test my parkour skills and see if there are any holes in my training.
Nrama: Jesse, arere there any similarities to Ultimate Tag and Ninja Warrior, as someone who's done both?
La Flair: I think one of the big things with Ninja Warrior for me was I was never an athlete that trained obstacle course racing. Any of these obstacle course race shows — typically the people that perform really well are the ones that are training all year for it. But at the end of the day, shows like Ninja Warrior are still television shows and there are things that change.
For me personally, when I would go up there, I was never putting my training specifically to it. I was actually testing my training that I've had in the past to see how I can adapt, and I was very fortunate enough that my first two seasons of Ninja Warrior I made the Vegas finals. I actually had the fastest qualifier time in the Los Angeles qualifier.
But I think the real similarities for me is what you feel like when you're up there, because I represent parkour and I try to spread this sport to the youth and the culture because I think it's such a positive thing that can help our young get up off the couch and actually go have fun and learn skills about progression and all these life lessons about overcoming obstacles.
So, when I'm up there, whether it's a Ninja Warrior or I'm at the starting line of Ultimate Tag and I'm ready to take off, it's my name on the line. I didn't use an alter ego. I think the big difference between my character and a lot of other people's characters is that I kept my name to represent myself within the sport. If I don't perform, I feel like I'm letting down a culture of people and missing an opportunity to help build something beyond where it is already in the States.
Nrama: Carrie, how has your experience as a stunt person helped you on the show?
Bernans: Safety is always key. So, I was constantly looking out for the safety of myself and others on the show. I consider stunt people super bad ass, and super gnarly, don't get me wrong. It's not our intention to fall, hurt ourselves, break our bones in any way. But because I was prepared to go at a stunt at all cost, while being safe. I had the mindset that even if I got hit or hit an obstacle or something, I'm going to keep going. That’s exactly what I did.
Safety while doing stunts I say is the most important. Secondly it would be delivering on it. If I hit myself on something during rehearsal or during filming that I was able to adjust. Okay, I know I did that wrong. I don't want to do it again. Reposition, going about it a different way.
Nrama: You were a stunt person in both Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame - how was that experience different compared to the other stunt work you’ve done?
Bernans: The difference between doing stunts in those franchises in particular was that I used a bow staff and a lot of other weapons. I do use weapons in other things like Love Country, we use weapons, which is coming up on HBO in August. I don’t know if we used weapons on the Orville. I don’t think we did.
Every environment is completely different the way that the story is told definitely matters. Stunts on Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame are superhero stuff. So, there are superhero styled weapons and elements.
If you do stunts for an ordinary person, you are going to have a completely different set of moves you do and the way that you carry yourself. If your stunt doubling and you're portraying the actor and the way their character is moving with their left foot first or their right foot first. They may punch like a punch you do in a bar and not one that is done by a superhero. Or if I'm doing acting or stunts for myself then it’s different. So, it varies depending on environment and the storyline.
Nrama: Jesse, you did stunt work for Marvel as well with X-Men and Captain Marvel. Same question, how was that experience different compared to the other stunt work you’ve done?
La Flair: I spent years working on the last few X-Men films. So those big budget films have the capabilities of doing things to the grandest scale. We're talking about wind systems that are flying you hundreds of feet through the air and rehearsal time. And then besides that, you're also building this family and these stunt teams are the best in the world.
So, sometimes when you get on other films, you don't necessarily know who you're working with. And beyond that, it's the budget really that determines whether things are as safe as they possibly can be. And as a stunt performer, we always try to do that. But at the end of the day, the things we're doing are dangerous and people get hurt and people have died. So, it's our responsibility to always step back, look at the situation and see if there's any holes in it. I say one of the biggest things is really just feeling safe enough because we had the time to rehearse and the time to work through and make things the best we possibly can.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite memories from a Marvel set?
Bernans: My number one memory that I always say is shaving my head bald for Black Panther because I have like 16 inches of hair and having it go down to no hair and being bald was the first time I experienced that in life. But then having to do that again for Avengers was incredible and exciting. It was different. I like my hair short, but I like it long too.
Outside of that being on the set of Black Panther and putting on the costume that weighs maybe 15, 20 pounds or at least it felt like it, and just like looking around and seeing Chadwick Boseman there and Danai there as our leader and everyone else. Then when I'm on Avengers and just imagining like these are the superheroes that I once dreamed of becoming and now I'm on the set with them and everyone's so nice and so lovely.
We're in crafty just eating. And it's just so funny seeing someone with a costume eating a snack, like a bag of Doritos. It's so cool. We're just having a normal conversation and they walk back over into character and they do their thing. Then the Russo brothers are great. Once I shaved my head and you get into costume, and I have tattoos people are like, "Who are you? Oh my God, that is you."
X-Men was so incredible too and to be in Montreal to film. I grew up with the X-Men franchise. It’s been my favorite for the longest. So that was exciting and to see how the train sequence and how things were broken down and the hundreds of crew members that worked on it in order to make it a success. It's incredible.
La Flair: It's that family vibe. Growing up as a kid I would imagine being a stunt man. I told my cousin I’m going to be a stunt man one day. At that time didn't really believe it. You’re a kid on Long Island that's never been outside of your own town. How are you going to get out to Los Angeles and live this Hollywood dream and spend summers in Montreal?
I mean for me it's just that moment it's being on those gigantic sets, becoming extremely close friends with the cast and everyone that's working on the project. At the end of the day, bigger budget films like that are just bigger collaborations. Small films have a smaller crew and cast. I think there's so much magic in the collaboration of film and it's the only art form that needs everyone to really show up and do their thing to make it the best as possible.
Nrama: To wrap, why do you think fans of comic book films and TV shows should watch Ultimate Tag?
Bernans: They should watch it because it’s exciting. Comic books are exciting. We all have super powers. We watch these because they have these things for unnatural abilities that human mankind doesn’t have, maybe some exceptional humans out there have these things, but that's what we portray on Ultimate Tag. We take our characters to extreme levels. And we play a game of tag that everyone knows. Regardless if you played or not – in one way or another tag plays you in life. Your it, and now someone else is it, and now we have the coronavirus – just kidding.
I say it’s fun. You’ll find the superhero to root for just like you would in a comic. You’ll find someone that you can really relate to, that you find the qualities that exist inside of you. And then you can pretend to be those super heroes. And you can create your own superhero, like if you were on the Ultimate Tag. Yeah, I think it's addicting. It gets that adrenaline pumping and why not? We're in quarantine, it’s something fun to watch.
La Flair: For me it’s an easy answer these pro-taggers are characters. As much as we're turning on these energetic, some crazy and some really fun, characters - we're actually real athletes and real people doing extraordinary things. It's kind of a step into that world, but the second you really step back and realize there's no strings attached, we are doing everything you're seeing. I think there's a lot of magic in the respect of just how athletic the human body can actually be.