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You probably think that guy on the poster for “The Amazing Spider-Man” is the movie's star, Andrew Garfield.
But no. The man filling the Spidey suit on posters, giant billboards, PlayStation 3 video game covers, boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, PopTarts and cereal is Omaha native Nick Stanner.
“They needed a guy who fit in the suit and who could perform on trampoline,” said Stanner, a feature film and television stunt man. “When people in the movie business need flipping, they come to me.”
Stanner, like Spider-Man, loves to fly through the air and take heart-stopping leaps off tall buildings. He estimates he's been lit on fire hundreds of times in front of the camera, and been jerked into the air or hit by a car dozens more.
It took just one day's photo shoot on a rented trampoline to capture the images of Stanner that would be plastered all around Los Angeles, in New York City's Times Square, in Hong Kong and Tokyo on huge billboards. He didn't do stunts in the movie itself.
To hear Stanner tell it, he was born to be a stunt man. His parents, Mike and Sharon Stanner, run the Omega School of Gymnastics in Papillion.
“I rolled out of the womb and into the gym,” Stanner said from his home in Studio City last week. “That was my babysitter. I'd head from school to the gym and hang out there for the rest of the night.”
His mother recalls one night at the gym when she suddenly noticed 3-year-old Nick on top of the pop machine in the lobby.
“I don't know how he got up there, but he did a front flip onto the couch,” she said. “We were sort of speechless.”
At age 7, he scrambled to the top of a 30-foot tower next to the pool in Hitchcock Park. When the lifeguard yelled at him to get down, he did a flip into the pool.
At 15, he was helping reroof the Stanner home when a railing he was sitting on gave way. Nick fell backward, from two stories up, but landed on his feet, unhurt.
Gymnastics gave him strength, balance and awareness of where his body is as it flies through the air, all skills he uses as a stuntman. It also gave him something more.
“I trained him that if you prepare, you can minimize the risk,” his father, Mike Stanner, said. “That's how he approaches his stunts. And because of that, he's stayed healthy his entire career.”
Nick, 35, said bumps and bruises are inevitable in his line of work.
“You almost always get hurt,” he said. “You hope you never get injured.”
Though he's never been hospitalized because of stunt work, he knows lots of stunt guys who can't work anymore because of injuries.
“The ones with egos, who don't understand about preparation, are the ones who tend to get hurt,” he said.
Even with preparation, Stanner said, things don't always go as planned. He recalled a movie shoot in which he was to stand in the street, be hit by a car, fly over the top of it and land in the street.
“What I was planning was not what happened. I was flopping around in the air. In that moment, time slowed down. I told myself, ‘OK, it's going to be fine.' I adjusted and landed on my back without a scratch.”
The reflexes kick in because of those years of gymnastics, he says. “I've kind of fine-tuned that ability to recover, to keep from getting too banged up.”
A professional movie stuntman tip he shared: In lethal fight scenes, don't show your face. That way you can keep getting killed again and again. Once they have your face on film, you're done for that movie.
Also: Pay attention to the wind and your breathing when lit on fire. One ill-timed intake of breath can singe your lungs.
Stanner recalls the moment he decided stunt work was for him, at around age 15. The family was watching a movie together; when it was over, Nick said, “That's what I want to do.”
“What, you want to be an actor?” his dad asked.
“I said, ‘No, I want to do the fun stuff.' After that I started watching movies differently, focusing on the action.”
He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for four years and was a walk-on in gymnastics, but he never settled on a major.
His mother knew what he wanted.
“I said, ‘You better just go do it while you're young and physically able,'” she said.
In late 1999 he headed to Florida and got into the Indiana Jones stunt show at Disney's MGM Studio's theme park. He was “a tumble monkey” in the Lion King stunt show at Disney World's Animal Kingdom. He did tumbling and trampoline work at Sea World and was a fire diver at Universal's Sinbad stunt show. He even toured in a Cirque du Soleil show, “Quidam.”
“Theme park training teaches you a lot, but it's not nearly as intense as movie training,” he said. “In a theme park, you're doing seven shows a day, and it's more about going out there and having fun. With movies, you've got to be spot-on, the best of the best.”
He moved to Los Angeles in 2005 only after working in several movies, and the transition went smoothly. He said he's glad he learned the ropes in Florida and didn't get to Hollywood until he was 27, when he had a more level head.
He claims he's almost immune to being starstruck and not much of a party animal. Barbecuing steak and veggies with friends is his idea of great off time.
Dating? Not now. “I'm just focusing on my work,” he explained. “If someone comes along, fine. But I don't like playing all those Hollywood games.”
When he's not working in films, he teaches at XMA (Extreme Martial Arts) gym. “We get a lot of wire work, training actors and stunt people about how to hang in the air and move.”
He also has career goals because, he says, “You can't get beat up your whole life.” He hopes to transition into work as a second-unit director, the person who plans action sequences and hires the stunt coordinator.
“He's the guy who gets the action done, from paper to film,” Stanner said. “It's all behind-the-camera work, making sure everything sells for the camera, making the punches look real.”
A project in the works that he can't talk about, he said, could be a life-changer for him in achieving that goal.
Meanwhile, he's doing random stunts for 3-D scenes in “GI Joe: Retaliation,” which opens this fall.
“I'm getting more and more into fight choreography,” Stanner said. “I love high falls and fire burns; those are my favorites. I'm at total peace when I'm doing high falls.”
It's just another day at the office.
“He'll call and say, ‘I gotta go get hit by a car,'” his mother said. “I'll say, ‘You know, you really didn't need to tell me that. Just call me when it's over.'”
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