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Gangster Squad - Doug Coleman interview (exclusive)

Gangster Squad

Interview by Rob Carnevale

STUNTMAN and stunt co-ordinator Doug Coleman talks exclusively to us about the making of Gangster Squad and working with some of its principal cast members, including Sean Penn and Josh Brolin.

He also reflects on some of his career highlights, including what made him want to become a stuntman in the first place, working with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight Rises and what to expect from his next film, Winter’s Tale.

Q. Gangster Squad is a very classy film. What makes you most proud about it?
Doug Coleman: Thank you. It’s just the way the actors work so hard… I am most proud of that – because they bring everyone else up to that level – to where everyone is really working hard.

Q. How was working with LAPD technical advisors? Again, what did they tell you that surprised you about policing back then? Do they wish things could be the same today in terms of being tougher with criminals?
Doug Coleman: I’m not sure who to answer that last part. I’m not sure they were tougher with criminals back then. But, to answer the first part, I hired a technical adviser who really knew the history of the LAPD and he is also trained SWAT. He had a lot of great information; he knew all the information about when the Weaver Stance came into play. The Weaver Stance is where you are firing weapons and he knew all the history of that. He was instrumental in helping with making sure the guys looked like they controlled the guns for the period.

Q. How was schooling Sean Penn in power punching like a boxer? What was he like to work with?
Doug Coleman: He was great. I would go up to his house and we would train in his back yard. He was dedicated at his craft and it was really interesting to get to know Sean Penn on a one on one level because when he comes on the set he has blinders on… he is in that character, he is dedicated to his performance and he is a different guy. So, I really had a great time working with him on a one on one basis.

Q. And similarly, I gather you helped to train Josh Brolin as a kind of NAVY Seal. How was he to work with? And what kind of training regime did that involve?
Doug Coleman: He was in such great shape, so really it was trying to make sure that the two characters, Sean Penn’s character and Josh Brolin’s character, looked different in their fight abilities. Josh Brolin came from, like you said, it’s called Camp X, so he had to have these grappling moves, not boxing techniques. Whereas Sean Penn’s character had boxing techniques. So, we had to design these fights and make sure there were two distinct looks in their fighting techniques. But they were both just awesome… so dedicated.

Q. Which do you consider to be the film’s most ambitious stunt? And which is its best?
Doug Coleman: I think the elevator fight, at the beginning of the film. It was tough because I wanted to have the claustrophobicness of the small elevator, so we built on set an elevator to scale, which is very, very small. And to put four guys in there that were going to have a big battle, where three of them end up not walking out of there… that was very very challenging. But after working on it and putting it all together, I am very pleased with the outcome. Also, we spent hours rehearsing the fights and hours rehearsing the car chases – it is basically all one big sequence.

Q. In an incredible career, what do you consider to be the best stunt you’ve ever performed?
Doug Coleman: I would say, hmmm gosh… I like to think my stunt work fits the story and the characters, so that is all I can say about that. I’ve done so many things throughout my career that I just want to make sure everything works for the characters and the story.

Q. What made you want to become a stuntman? Were you a daredevil as a kid?
Doug Coleman: I was never a daredevil, I was a gymnast, a mountain climber, a sky diver and had all these physical things going for me and trampoline and so on and so on. It just led into the physical part of filmmaking, which was stunts. I wouldn’t say I was a daredevil, I would really look at things closely to make sure the outcome was going to be a good one.

Q. How was working with someone like Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight Rises?
Doug Coleman: Christopher Nolan was just incredible. He doesn’t sit at a monitor, he doesn’t sit in a chair, he is up on his feet the whole time – he is participating in every element of the day. He’s very inspiring and such a great storyteller and a great filmmaker.

Q. Finally, you’re currently working as stunt co-ordinator on Winter’s Tale for Akiva Goldsman. What can we expect from that film?
Doug Coleman: Well you know, it’s going to be a beautiful film, the combination of the lighting and the editing and primarily the late 1800s in New York City, with those actors and a majestic horse. I am very, very excited about that film. Russell Crowe is amazing, Colin Farrell is just incredible – it’s a great cast and the film, like so many, was an ambitious undertaking. But I hope the best for it.

Gangster Squad is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.