WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Crash through glass and fall two stories onto a table. Take a bullet and tumble backwards down a set of stairs. Trade punches and kicks with villains until you appear to be knocked out cold. It’s all in a days’ work for Daniel Hargrave. The 33-year-old UNC Wilmington graduate has become one of the sought-after stunt performers in the entertainment industry, working on dozens of film and television productions in his award-winning career. A career that almost didn’t happen, if not for the encouragement of Daniel’s older brother Sam.
“Honestly without him pioneering the way and bringing me into the (stunt) world, I don’t think I would have chosen this path,” Daniel says about Sam. “But seeing how much joy it brought to him, chasing the art of filmmaking, he loves it. Loves every aspect of it. It kind of rubbed off on me. Once he brought me into the business, it became my passion as well.”
But it took a second call to convince Daniel to choose the stunt performer career.
Sam’s first invitation came to work on a mixed martial arts movie, Warrior, released in 2011. Daniel tells the story starting at 14:40 of the podcast, outlining his role of fighting at four o’clock in the morning under a circus tent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“At first I went ‘I don’t know if stunts is my thing’,” Daniel recalls about that first experience. “It really wasn’t what I expected.”
Daniel had decided to give stunt performing a try after exploring baseball as a career. He excelled in his playing career at UNC Wilmington, where he was First-Team All-CAA at second base his senior year and still holds two school records for most total bases (429) and most runs scored (187). The Philadelphia Phillies drafted Daniel in the 22nd round of the 2008 MLB draft, and assigned him to play for the Williamsport Crosscutters. After two seasons in the minor leagues, Daniel returned to UNCW in 2010 to be an assistant for Seahawks’ Head Coach Mark Scalf. Daniel praises the now-retired Scalf for teaching not just baseball lessons, but life lessons he carries to this day.
“He hounded on you ‘pay attention to detail!’,” Daniel says. “He’d always say it, and you’d hear it so many times and go ‘Oh my God, not again!’ But, I attribute that to where I am today, by paying attention to detail. You get on set, and you learn your job, but you also learn every other guy’s job. You want to know what camera is doing, what special effects is doing, what every department is doing, and once you know what they’re doing, you can make their job easier.”
That second opportunity came in 2013, when Sam called asking Daniel if he wanted to give stunt work another try. He was working on Hunger Games: Mockingjay in Georgia. The experience changed Daniel’s life.
“It was totally different in my mind,” Daniel says. “I was prepared for it. I knew what was going on. I fell in love with it. It was like a second chance. He gave me a second chance and I’ve done it ever since.”
Daniel began building a resume of work. Television shows. Movie shoots. It didn’t hurt that he looked a lot like Sam, who had established himself in the business. The younger brother welcomed the opportunities, learning along the way and making his own mark.
“Early on I got a lot of calls to do some crazy stunts and I took it, I ran with it,” he says. “I proved that I could get back up. On the Hunger Games (Mockingjay) Part 2, I doubled Liam Hemsworth, and I think that’s when I kind of realized I could compete at this level, basically, just like baseball, I could compete at this level, do everything they asked and then some, and make this a good career.”
Daniel and Sam worked together on several projects. They won a 2018 Taurus World Stunt Award for Best Fight in Atomic Blonde, and he hopes they can repeat next year for the scene they did together in Avengers: Endgame. Daniel calls the ‘Cap vs Cap fight’ the best moment of his career. He talks about it at 31:00 of the podcast.
“He was the original Captain America double,” Daniel says of Sam. “He was in that scene as stunt coordinator, second-unit director and stunt double. I was the ‘other’ Captain America. He put so much work into the Captain America character, and he wanted to send it off on a high note. He’s one of the best in the business, and he’s my best friend. So, I mean, getting to fight him on camera, I’ll never be able to do that again. It was a surreal moment. My dad came down. He’s there on stage watching his two sons go at it.”
Daniel took over as stunt double for Chris Evans’ Captain America in the Winter Soldier movie. I asked him about the intricacies for some of the action scenes he shot in the uniform, specifically the ‘Battle of Wakanda’ scene during Infinity War where Captain America and Black Panther lead the Avengers’ troops into battle, sprinting ahead of the other superheroes toward the action. To pull off that shot, the crew hooked Daniel up to a rig that both lifted and pulled him at the same time. He spells out the details starting at 27:25 of the podcast, which include one attempt that didn’t end well.
“In that scene, I was being Captain America,” he said. “They put the dots on my face for face replacement. So, the biggest thing is to try to not to make that ‘Oh Gosh, I’m going to fall down!’ face. So, you try to keep somewhat of a face they can paint his face onto.”
Daniel is also complimentary when talking about Evans, who posted on his Twitter account during the shoot that “Sam and Daniel Hargrave are LEGENDS”. “He just learns so fast,” is what Daniel said when it comes to the actor learning fight sequences and other moves.
I did ask Daniel about the safety factor of stunt work, and whether there is a feeling of fear before the director calls ‘Action!’.
“If there’s no fear, then you’re just playing dumb,” said the married father of a soon-to-be two-year-old son Hendrix. “There’s always an outcome that is not favorable to our health. But most stunts, I’d say 99 percent of all stunts, are extremely well calculated, thought through, there’s safety measures. If it’s a big stunt there’s an ambulance standing by, there’s a medic. There are always precautionary steps to go through. We try to take out the risk as much as possible.”
Daniel talked about working with his wife Kandis, his current job as stunt coordinator on the television show MacGyver, and many other aspects of his high-octane profession. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.
You can hear my full interview with professional stunt performer Daniel Hargrave by clicking on any of the links below.
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