Breeding a new generation of stuntmen
We were 20 minutes into our interview, and 14-year-old Jason Lockhart was getting antsy.
“Can we go outside now?” the long-haired boy asked, and before I knew it, he’d sprinted outside to the communal driveway of his family’s condominium complex, jumped off a high ledge, tucked into a forward roll, and scaled a stucco wall.
It was this fearlessness and energy that propelled him into the stunt business. Lockhart is a member of the Media Artists Group and stuntkids.com, an up-and-coming stuntman whose portfolio thus far includes a Chevy commercial, the Cartoon Network show “Destroy Build Destroy,” and a forthcoming film, “Just the Beginning 2: Back in Action.”
Stunting was a natural extension of Lockhart’s martial arts training. He began studying Shorin Ryu, an ancient Okinawan art, at age 10. A year later, he took first in a state koshiki competition and went on to place third at the national championship in Albuquerque.
Lockhart learned about stunting through one of his sensei, and promptly registered with stuntkids.com, a Santa Clarita organization headed by stuntman Mike Cassidy and dedicated to training kids between 10 and 18 in the arts of falling, rappelling, fighting, swinging, and bungee jumping. Through Cassidy, Lockhart met his first and current acting coach, who put him in touch with agents and taught him seven accents – British, Scottish, Southern, New Yorker, Irish, Jamaican, and Russian – into which he can slip effortlessly.
Before he knew it, the Redondo teen was getting more auditions for stunting and acting than he knew how to handle.
“When he was in eighth grade I’d have to pull him out of school at 12 to be at an audition in L.A… It got to the point where there were so many interviews it was better to just homeschool,” his dad John said.
Lockhart’s pursuit of a Hollywood career has made for an unconventional adolescence.
“I’ve missed a lot of opportunities to hang out with my friends,” Lockhart said. “We’ll make plans and it’ll be cool but then I’ll get an audition.”
He still goes to his dojo four days a week, and twice a week practices free-running, a fusion of acrobatics and gymnastics derived from parkour. He also attends Cassidy’s workshops, which are preparing him for his next stunting challenge: a 100-foot rappel at Stoney Point.
He knows from completing the 50-foot rappel to anticipate stress.
In that moment, Lockhart’s mantra goes something like this: “Please-don’t-die, please-don’t-die, please-don’t-miss-the-pad,” he said, laughing.
It’s that adrenaline rush – that perfect combination of nerves and exhilaration – which motivates stunters of all ages and from all walks of life.
Redondo Union High School freshman Justin Williamson, who also trains with Cassidy, said stunting requires both fearlessness and the confidence that comes through preparation and proper training.
“They [the trainers] are really confident in us and it’s hard to be scared because we know they’re not gonna have us do anything they know we can’t do,” he said.
Williamson and Lockhart train with veteran stuntman Don Gilley, a longtime Redondo Beach resident who doubled for Robin Williams in “Hook” and for David DeLuise in Disney’s “Wizards and Waverly.”
For Gilley, 56, working with stuntkids.com is a chance to maintain his connection to the stunt world and encourage younger generations to tap into it.
“I’m eager to teach people on set,” he said. “Just to see the kids’ faces when they’ve accomplished something is ultra-satisfying. It’s thrilling to see that and I love to see their progression. You know, they may come out nervous, but they try real hard and they get confident and that’s an accomplishment right there.”
Gilley knows the butterflies Lockhart described, and recalls feeling them as he hung 45 feet below a moving helicopter for a show called Twentysixmiles.
“In that moment I was thinking, ‘This rope could break. Go to the happy place, go to the happy place,’” he said. “But that was the funnest thing I ever did.”
That thrill-seeking attitude is what keeps all stuntmen coming back for more.
“If I watch an action film I look for stuff I can do,” Lockhart said. “Most people are like, ‘That’s cool,’ but I look at stuff and think, ‘Hey, I could do that.’”