THAT CLIMACTIC FIGHT SCENE in this summer’s big popcorn action flick? Even money says David Boushey taught its brawling badasses how to throw down theatrically. Boushey, 67, has been schooling wannabe stunt performers in the art of opening cans of whoop-ass for more than 35 years. Today, his Seattle-based International Stunt School—where students learn to fall, drive, and burn alive—is one of the best in the business, and along the way, he’s supervised and performed stunts in everything from Blue Velvet to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. But how’s this for a twist ending? These days the longtime tough guy prefers a good love story.
"YOU’VE GOT TO LEARN TO THROW A PUNCH LIKE BOUSHEY." People still say that.
EVERYBODY THINKS FIRE IS SO DIFFICULT. It’s one of the easiest stunts in the world to do. But, god, the preparation is a pain in the butt. You put that flame retardant on and you feel like you’ve been slimed.
“THERE’S THIS GUY UP IN THE NORTHWEST, and you ought to see the choreography he puts together.” I remember The Washington Post and The New York Times saying that. That’s what really launched me, because then everybody wanted a piece of me.
I COULD SEE THE WHOLE FIGHT IN MY HEAD, and I would run it like a movie. And then all I had to do was put it on paper and see if I could get the actors to come up with what I envisioned.
WHAT WE DO, IT’S ALL SMOKE AND MIRRORS. You let the camera see what you want it to see, and then you hide from the camera what you don’t want it to see.
PEOPLE WOULD, AT TIMES, THINK MY FIGHTS WERE A LITTLE TOO DANGEROUS. My fights were never dangerous. I wouldn’t have had a career for very long if I was killing or maiming every actor who worked with me.
IT’S CALLED TAKING CALCULATED RISKS. The definition of a stuntman is “he who comes to work the next day.” You don’t want to be a daredevil, because those are the guys who end up in the hospital with both of their legs broken.
SOME PEOPLE SAY, "WHY IS YOUR STUNT SCHOOL IN SEATTLE? WHY ISN’T IT IN HOLLYWOOD?” Because I don’t want to be in Hollywood.
THERE’S NO DOUBT THAT CGI HAS REPLACED A LOT OF OUR STUNTS. But you know what? They’ve usually been the stunts that you didn’t want to do because they were so goddamn dangerous.
WIRE WORK IS THE FLAVOR OF THE MONTH NOW. Everybody’s flying. Everybody’s Peter Pan these days.
STUNTMENT, YOU’LL NOTICE, are never acknowledged at the Academy Awards. That’s really chicken shit.
THE REACTION SELLS THE PUNCH. The other guy has to throw a good punch, but it’s all in the way you react. When you get hit, your head goes first, then your shoulders, then your hips, then your whole body falls down.
IMMOBILIZE YOU? I don’t think I could. But you don’t want to find out. I hit hard.
YOU HAVE TO BE WILLING TO TAKE THE PUNCH. After all, they’re paying you to take the hit. Collect your money and let the coordinator know you got nailed so he’ll feel sorry for you.
‘ART’ IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD IN FILM. You don’t want to talk about being artistic. They’re not interested in art. They’re interested in the bottom line.
I CAN’T STAND ACTION FILMS ANYMORE. I love a good story. And as I’m getting older, I like a good romantic story, with people actually falling in love—but not corny.
I’VE REPLICATED SO MUCH VIOLENCE THAT I GET A LITTLE TIRED OF IT NOW. A director would say, “I want you to cut this woman’s throat right here,” and before, I’d do that in a heartbeat. Now, it’s like, “Here I go again, another bloodletting.”
I ALWAYS THOUGHT, I’LL NEVER QUIT. I’LL DROP DEAD ON THE STAGE. But as you get older, there’s more of the world you want to see and things you want to do personally. I’ll just fade into the sunset and say I gave it a good go, you know?
AT THIS AGE, I’m not afraid of hardly anything.
Stuntman David Boushey demonstrates how to throw a realistic punch, plus relates a near-death experience while doing a stunt in the sea.
I HAD GREAT HAND-EYE COORDINATION. I think part of that comes from being a boxer when I was younger. I was kind of a tough kid. I grew up in Everett, which, back when I was born, was a pretty tough town. You got into it every now and then—not every now and then, on a regular basis—and you had to deal with it because your reputation was at stake. So I was used to being real physical.
MY VERY FIRST SHOW WAS AT THE SEATTLE REP, DOING HAMLET. Fight choreographers didn’t really exist back then in the U.S. They would just bring in fencing coaches or whatever. So anyway, the guy playing the lead was this kind of quirky guy that had a pretty good-size ego but didn’t let it get in his way. And that man was Christopher Walken.
YOU CAN WORK WITH ONE PERSON, AND THEY’RE THE SWEETEST THING. YOU CAN WORK WITH ANOTHER PERSON, AND IT’S LIKE, "WHO IS THIS JERK?" Some people have such high opinions of themselves who, in my opinion, have pretty mediocre talent. And then you have the others who are so humble and appreciative of everything you do for them. I’ve worked with quite a few stars by now, and they weren’t even stars when I started working with them. But they became stars. So you sort of look at them from that perspective.
WHEN THEY DO A FILM, THEY ONLY HIRE THE STUNT COORDINATOR. It’s up to the stunt coordinator to bring in his crew. And you’re under pressure. If your guys don’t pull it off, it’s your ass on the line. That’s how you get fired, by the way. I remember one time I got fired because one of my goddamn stunt men bitched out the accountant. He asked why he wasn’t getting his check and all of that. God, if they didn’t fire me for bringing him on the damn set. It had nothing to do with the film. It had everything to do with him going up to the office and raging at an accountant. And just like that, the whole stunt crew is off the film.
WHEN I DID BLUE VELVET, NO WAY IN HELL DID I THINK THAT WAS EVER GOING TO BE A CULT CLASSIC. I’ll never forget walking on that set and seeing this man in a yellow jacket. He was shot in the head, and his brain is oozing out. And I’m looking at this going, “What the hell is this? This guy has been shot in the head, his brain is coming out, and he’s walking around, carrying on a conversation? What is this crap?”
I HAVE TO SAY, FOR THE MOST PART, I ENJOYED MY THEATER CAREER MORE THAN MY FILM CAREER. In fact, there’s no doubt about it, because I was really able to ply my craft on stage. People appreciated the quality of your work. It wasn’t like bang-bang, “OK, good, great job, guys. Let’s move on.” It wasn’t that kind of thing. It was artistry. So if I wanted to do my art, I did theater. If I wanted to make money, I did film.
SOMETIMES YOU’LL DO A REAL MOVE AND IT LOOKS HOKIER THAN A FAKE ONE because there’s nothing theatrical about it. I remember one time one of my students got hit smack in the face and broke his nose. He drops down to his knees, and some of the guys said, "Come on, Danny. Get up." He’d broken his nose. But it looked so hokey because it was real. You have to sell it. Sometimes a real punch will look totally uneventful and the guy ends up breaking his jaw or his nose because the guy made real contact.
EVERYTHING’S A MISS. A CLOSE MISS, BUT A MISS. And when they’re not a close miss, it pisses you off because the guy nailed you. Sometimes they bring in martial artists that don’t know a goddamn thing about film. And they do some side kick that hits you square in the chest and drives you back. The guy should have pulled it that far from your chest and let you act the moment. But oh no, they had to do contact. You can break a rib with a move like that. That would put you out of commission for a while. So the thing is, martial artists, sometimes they’re a pain in the ass to work with—those that don’t understand film—because they all think, “Well, I’ll do it for real. This is the way we do it in the dojo. We take the hit.” We don’t do that in film. You don’t take the hit.
I’VE BEEN HIT SO GODDAMN HARD A COUPLE TIMES. Fuckin’ tough it out, pal. Tough it out, because that’s the way it goes. I remember one time when ole Tom Skerritt clipped me accidentally and hit me square in the jaw instead of missing me. I had to fall down anyway, but he literally knocked me down. And then as soon as they cut, he said, “Are you alright?” I said, “What are you talking about?” And he said, “Jesus, I thought I nailed you.” And I said, “No, you didn’t nail me. You just grazed me.” Now why do you think I told him that? Because they were going to shoot it again, and he would have been so afraid of hitting me. So no problem. But I tell you what, it got me pretty good.
THEY SAY IT, AND IT’S SO TRUE: Nothing beats a good story. If you’ve got a good story, you have a good film. You can have all the action in the world, but if you don’t have a good story, it’s still going to be a piece of crap. Maybe every 14-year-old will enjoy it, but that’s about it. A good story wins the day every time.
I’M NOT THE TYPE OF PERSON WHO SAYS, "WHY DIDN’T I GET THAT JOB?" I’ve had my career. I did just fine, thank you. Let somebody else get a crack at it.
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