James Harris Q&A
When were you born?
I’m an 80’s baby, October 1984 to be precise.
Where were you born, do you consider that being where you’re from, if not where do you consider yourself from?
I was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. I’m definitely a child of the shire. I’m completely at home in Chesterfield, it feels warm, I have fond memories here.
Tell us a bit about your family.
My mum and dad are both from Chesterfield, although my grandfather was Yugoslavian, so I have some European roots. My dad worked the mines and lived through the good and the bad times, the struggle for him through the strike was very real. He now takes it a lot easier cleaning here and there and looking after my mum. My mum was a teachers assistant for kids who had disabilities but were in mainstream schools. She is now retired. She battled cancer and won, she is now 7 years free of the disease.
I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and say that you were a gymnast, how did you get into it and what level did you compete at?
Yes that’s spot on I was a gymnast. I suppose I was an active child or had undiagnosed ADHD, you could find me upside down almost anywhere I just couldn’t sit still. So at the age of 3 my mum took me to the local gymnastics centre. It was full of girls, maybe thats why I loved it so much... I pretty much took to it straight away, flew through the syllabus and joined my first club at the age of 5. I went on to compete for my country In the world tumbling championship in Hamburg, Germany 2003.
Gymnastics always struck me as being a brutal sport, the level of commitment far outstripping professional cycling in my opinion. Being judged on a qualitative scale on repeatable technique fills me with dread. How brutal is it?
I’d say it’s fairly brutal. We have our own mental and physical barriers like any athlete does and are often training with injuries which at the time we are unaware the impact they might have for our future selves. I think cyclists suffer more, the damage control, the ability to maintain mental composure when the body is at its limit, I think thats probably far worse than anything I’ve experienced. For the most part I have great memories. The rips on the hands, the pulled muscles, the physical conditioning/suppling (i’m sure that could be used as a form of torture), the coaches that threw shoes at me and the exhaustion. I look back and would’t change a thing. Yeah, it was brutal but I loved it.
At what point and how did you become a stuntman?
I became a stuntman in 2010, I’d long since been a competing gymnast but still maintained a good level of ability. I picked up my first gig on a Bollywood movie. I had to a free running scene around the Birmingham city centre in winter which wasn’t fun.
My encyclopedia-like knowledge of the stuntman business comes from watching The Fall Guy when I was a kid. Colt Seavers was a hero of mine, the theme song to this day is stuck in my head. Do you moonlight as a bounty hunter? Do you hang out with other stuntmen? Do you have a stuntman club, if not, you should.
I wish, the only bounties I hunt are chocolate ones for the fiancé. I think I kind of missed the fall guy era, I don’t recall knowing about the fall guy until later in life, I did however watch the likes of Harold Loyd and Buster Keaton, I’m still in awe of what they managed to do, It’s timeless film making that will be forever respected. I have a few stuntman mates, don’t really hang out much as I refuse to move away from Derbyshire, so I’m always travelling away which sucks but has to be done. I’m part of the British Stunt Register which I suppose is our club although like any club not everyone see’s eye to eye...
I don’t think I’d lie and say that for most boys being a stuntman is in the top five of life goals (pilot/astronaut/racing driver/cat/stuntman) do ‘boys’ lose their shit when they find out you’re a stuntman?
Well normally it gets a sort of numb reaction as they’re trying to either be cool or remember if they’ve ever met another stunt man. They do lose their shit though all the while trying to remain cool “who you doubled, what’s Films you been in, do you meet the actors, I bet you’re loaded” you know that kind of shit.
You’ve won the most prestigious award, the Taurus, the equivalent of an Oscar in stunts. What was that for and just how much respect does that garner?
The Taurus Award. It’s pretty awesome to be a winner, every stuntman wants one and if they say they’re not bothered they’re lying. I won it for ‘Best Fight’ on Kingsman: The Secret Service. I was part of a team of people who helped put together the action for the church scene which saw Colin Firth take out a church full of people, if you’ve not watched it, youtube it, its mental. I was also nominated for another scene in the same movie the bar fight which obviously lost out to the church scene. You know it’s more of a personal thing than it commanding massive respect. People appreciate it but it doesn’t put anyone on a pedestal.
Does each stuntman have a set skill or do you become multi-skilled over time? What is your area of expertise?
I specialise in gymnastics or acrobatics but to become a member of the British Stunt Register you have to gain a number of skills. My skills were kickboxing, gymnastics, trampoline, high diving, rock climbing and scuba diving. The more skills you can gain over years Essentially makes you more desirable to hire.
Do stuntmen have a stuntman idol, if so, who is he/she, and why?
My idols are the likes of Harold Loyd & Buster Keaton they always pushed the boundaries in filmmaking. What they were able to do in those times is outstanding.
What’s been your greatest stunt, the one you’re most proud of, and was it captured on film?!
I’m yet to have a standout stunt, I’m hoping its not far away. My top 4 so far are, Driving a car which had my friend on top, he was jumping off just as I went up a ramp and overturned barrel rolled the Peugeot 305. Its scary not knowing if he made it until you get out the car. Jumping from the side of a bridge to a jet-ski traveling underneath, I ended up in the drink and caught septicaemia from and infected cut on my elbow, not fun. I was set on fire and had to do a stair fall, that was pretty cool. I also got kicked upside into the side a bar, which you can see if you watch the bar fight on the first Kingsman. I’ve done various high falls, fights and explosions. A fun career so far.
What’s the stunt that all stuntmen are like, “What the fuck? INSANE.”
I think one stunt everyone is like WOW are high falls. They’re very rarely done anymore as productions tend to CGI everything. Its kind of a dying art, my aerial awareness means high-falls come under my specialty but rarely coming along. My friends just did 120ft for Assassins Creed which was cool.
Okay, so what’s your film palmares?
So my most recent films are: Star Wars, Justice League, MI6, Ready Player 1 (which involved working with Mr Speilberg), King Arthur, Assassins Creed. They’re some of the ones most people will know. I’m currently on a Disney show.
How long have you been into cycling, why do you enjoy it?
So Cycling, It’s my first year and I fucking love it. You get fit while socialising with some top people, what’s not to like. Seriously though, I’m so addicted to modern day technologies when I’m cycling it feels like its the only time I’m ever fully present. I have nothing to think about other than whats going on right now, I’m fully in the moment. I’m addicted to that feeling of freedom.
Lastly, you live in the Peak District, a place that saved me during my ban and somewhere I always hold very closely to my heart. What is it you love about the place?
The Peak District, I feel like it’s saved me a few times. I can’t put it into any single bracket, I feel it’s everything, the roads, the scenery, the sunrises, the sunsets, the stillness. I’ll always head there if I need space. I could just sit and watch the world go by, it’s magical And has this weird pull on me, spiritual maybe. Cycling up winnats pass is probably the only bad thing about the Peak District, it’s so fucking steep...