Free Guy Stunt Coordinator Chris O'Hara On Crafting Physical Comedy And John Wick [Interview]

Chris O'Hara's stunt career began back in 1992. His first gig was "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." He doubled as Bill in "Kill Bill Vol. 2." He doubled for Agent Smith in "The Matrix Revolutions." The LA Kings fan even doubled for Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Supremacy." For years, he worked as a stunt double, but over the last decade, he's worked more as a stunt coordinator on films such as "Jupiter Ascending," "Jurassic World," "Lady Bird," and most recently, "Free Guy," which reunited him with Ryan Reynolds.

There's a lot of variety in O'Hara's career. For him, it means he can go to different places and help tell different stories. Working on "The Mindy Project" may sound like a very different gig than "Free Guy," but for the stunt coordinator, even working on that Fox comedy connects to an action-comedy such as "Free Guy."

"It's all for the funny," he said. During a Zoom call — which we wish lasted an hour to talk about all his credits — he told us about working on "Free Guy," plus his "John Wick" experience. 

"Pain is comedy, right? The harder you hit, the funnier it is."

You've said before a lot of actors want to do as many stunts as they can, but when is it just not possible?

Audiences are really smart these days, and so they can see where you go, oh, there's the double and there's the switch. We want to put the actors in as much as we can because, again, the audience is smart. If we can put the actor in as much as possible, it just makes it better. There are definitely situations for some of the big throws and stuff like that, where we can have Ryan Reynolds doing that because we want him to be there for the acting, which is why we're all there. Tom Cruise is an anomaly in his own right. Yes, he's an anomaly. I just think for scheduling-wise on movies and the time it takes to shoot and all the scenes, sometimes it's just not possible for the actor to do everything.

Ryan is a super athletic and super talented individual, and he was able to do a lot of this stuff. But he has no problem if his stunt double come in, but when it's comedy... There's also, pain is comedy, right? The harder you hit, the funnier it is. Ryan knows that.

A lot of physical comedy in the film, so when you're working on stunts, how much was comedy driving your choices?

It's huge because when you're in an action comedy like, you just don't want to think, here's a fight scene. Let's do a fight scene. What we don't understand is sometimes as stunt guys it's like, okay well, the pacing in the script is based on comedy. A line has to get hit. And so, you got to build all of that stuff into these fight scenes and think about it from a little bit of a different standpoint, not just action for action, but action driven by story. And so, that's the difference between an action movie and a comedic action movie. There's got to be those beats in there that let the comedy come out.

How talented of performers do stunt doubles need to be then, especially with physical comedy and capturing an actor's mannerisms?

Well, a really convincing double is looking like the actor, so that definitely helps the more we can shoot with a double that looks just like the actor. It just helps out for a lot of the edits. There are some doubles out there that you can basically shoot face on that you can get away with a lot of stuff. And then, just somebody having a relationship I think with the actor? The double we used on "Free Guy" has done a bunch of movies with Ryan. They have a good working relationship and, like you said, the mannerisms are key. How's he going to do it? And again, being a great stunt double is also looking at the character, right?

I'm just not a stunt guy there to crash down on the ground. I have to think how my body moves or how Guy would be. Daniel Stevens, I mean, he did great. He did great. He looks like Ryan, he has the mannerisms down, and he took the character of Guy and embodied it. I think it played out really, really well.

"It turned into wanting John Wick action."

Do you often get nervous about certain stunts?

It does happen more. I mean, I think when we do scenes, we just don't go into it all willy-nilly without any prep or anything like that. So, once we have a really good idea of what the stunt is, we've already prepped it, we've already tested it with weight bags and gone through the progressions. We've gone five feet, we've gone 10 feet, we've gone 20 feet, we've gone 30 feet, so we know where and what the rig is. We know all the little nuances of it. So when we get to film, because I've already been nervous, it doesn't get over me. Bigger car crashes and stuff like that, when there's just more mass and more consequences, that's where I get a little bit more nervous. If you're prepped correctly and you're not just running into it, it should run pretty smoothly.

How was your "John Wick" experience?

Well, my "John Wick" experience, Chad Stahelski and Dave Leitch are both guys I grew up in the business. The coordinator on the first one, he had to leave two weeks early. And so, they basically brought me in to kind of coordinate the rest of the last two weeks of the show. And it was just, it's awesome. I mean, Keanu is awesome. I mean, all his training, there's not a more devoted actor out there to get the action sequences right. It was amazing to be a part of it and doing the first one, not realizing how big it was going to hit and then it just, again, it just created this new genre.

I've been really fortunate in my career to kind of hit a couple of movies that when you go in for meetings, they're like, I want "The Matrix" action. I want the Bourne action. And then, it turned into wanting John Wick action. It's awesome to be part of those key movies that have influenced where the movie business has gone.

"Free Guy" is now available on digital and Blu-Ray.