Stuntman to the stars Bobby Holland Hanton sits down with MF to discuss the demands of a job hidden from view yet there for all to see.
Leaping across rooftops, being set ablaze and saving the world from various existential threats is all in a day’s work for elite stuntman Bobby Holland Hanton.
For the past seven years he’s doubled for Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-wielding hero Thor in the Avengers films, but he’s also graced our screens as Batman, James Bond, Tarzan, and various other all-action characters.
During a rare break from filming, MF caught up with Hanton to discuss his relentless regime, super-sized diet and fearless mindset.
What was your first proper stunt gig?
“It was stunt doubling for Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace when I was 23. We filmed in Panama, Sienna and back in the UK. I was supposed to do that job for five weeks, but it ended up being six months.”
That’s some debut! How does a 23-year-old find stunt-doubling for James Bond?
“Yeah it was, it was a dream come true going straight in on one of the biggest stunt jobs in the industry.
“It was a real eye-opener, too, working with one of the best stunt teams in the world. That enabled me to hit the ground running and pick everything up fairly quickly.”
Did your background in gymnastics enable you to get those big gigs early on?
“Yeah my side of things is very physical – jumping around, getting thrown about, doing parkour, performing acrobatics – so gymnastics was a great base.
“It gives you spatial awareness and teaches you how to control your centre of gravity; I would recommend it to anyone.
“A lot of stunt performers are either martial artists, or trampolinists, or high-divers – everyone has a speciality. To become a stunt performer you need to have certain qualifications: you need to pass tests and get to an elite level in at least six out of a possible 12 disciplines.”
Sounds intense. What are you qualified in?
“Gymnastics, trampolining, ten-metre high diving, kickboxing, scuba diving and swimming.”
How long does it take to master one of those disciplines?
“I was very lucky, in that I already had a background in gymnastics, trampolining and high diving, so those three were nailed down already.
“For the scuba diving, kickboxing and swimming, it was a couple of years of training to get the necessary qualifications.”
What’s the toughest stunt you’ve ever done?
“I’ve been lucky enough to perform some big, big stunts and work with some amazing teams. I did a couple of 100-foot ‘high falls’ on Batman: The Dark Knight Rises when I was stunt doubling for Christian Bale. In the film, it’s when Batman climbs out of the prison that Bane locked him in, and he jumps down the well.
“On Quantum of Solace – my first big job – I was straight in at the deep end with a balcony jump in Panama. It was 2am, three stories high, and there were no safety ropes or cables. Then for the same film we did the rooftop sequence in Sienna: running and jumping between rooftops that were 160 feet in the air.
“I also did a big fire gag in Game of Thrones, where I wore a protective suit and got set on fire – that was a first.
“In all the films I do, there’s always lots of smashing about and getting chucked around like a pinball. In Avengers: Endgame I had to wear a fat suit – it’s not easy dressing up like Thor as it is, let alone when he’s piled on some pounds – and we were shooting in Atlanta in the height of summer, so that was difficult in a different sense.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing experiences. On Mission Impossible 6 I was doubling for Henry Cavil, and I had to hang out the door of a helicopter while Tom Cruise was standing on Tate Modern over my shoulder – that was pretty cool.”
Physical demands aside, the stunts you’ve just mentioned must also require nerves of steel, but do you ever get scared before a shoot?
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel cautious and nervous sometimes, but that soon turns to adrenaline when you’re filming.
“The element of the unknown makes me focus, so a bit of fear isn’t a bad thing, and it’s always well worth it when you watch a stunt back and see how good it looks on screen.
“A bit of fear, or doubt, or nerves keeps you on your toes and ensures you give it 110 per cent.
If you go into a stunt half-hearted, you’re going to get hurt. Saying that, there’s no avoiding a bit of pain sometimes.”
Performing the stunts is one thing, but presumably you wouldn’t be working with the likes of Chris Hemsworth if you didn’t look the part, too. How do you bulk up to match the size of a character like Thor?
“I’ve done the best part of 11 movies with Chris now, over the past seven years. It’s pretty full on – the training alone is often twice a day, 40 minutes to an hour each session, six days a week.
“On top of that you have to eat eight meals a day, and that’s before you factor in the actual job: shooting sequences, rehearsing sequences and so on. Sometimes my day starts at 4am and I get in at nine or ten at night.
“I did Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame back to back in Atlanta, which meant I was away for the best part of a year. We had also just come off the back of Thor: Ragnarok so I had to keep in Thor shape for the best part of 18 months, and I can assure you that’s not easy!”
How many calories a day are we talking?
“It’s a hell of a lot of food: 4-4,500 calories a day. It’s all clean stuff, though: healthy fats, good carbs and organic protein sources.
“When I’m filming I eat pretty much constantly from 4am until I go to bed. I’m only human, though, so on Sunday I have a cheat day: usually a pizza or a Chinese takeaway and a couple of beers. Then it’s back to the grind when the week starts again.”
You mentioned your intense training regime for Thor filming; does your approach to working out change much from film to film?
“If I’m not filming I try and find a middle ground so that whoever I get the call from – whether it’s a movie with Chris or someone else – I’m able to step into the role without too much trouble. I can either lose or gain muscle within a four to five-week period.
“When we are working on something, the training will change slightly, but I believe in training with my own bodyweight – I think because of my gymnastics background – so the basic training principles stay the same.
“I will always do a lot of push-ups, pull-ups, bear crawls, air squats and so on, and a lot of HIIT sessions. I’ll warm up for 10 minutes then smash a session in 30 or 40 minutes, working non-stop.
“I’m not an advocate of being in the gym for hours on end, because you’re only actually training for 30 or 40 minutes in that time.
“I like my sessions to be a combination of weights and cardio, so you’re keeping the heart rate up, burning fat and building lean muscle all at the same time.”
With the filming, the eating and the training, one word springs to mind: relentless. Do you ever manage to sit down and unwind?
“When filming’s over I come home and try to spend as much time as I can with my wife and little girl. There’s always something to do, but it’s important to switch off when you can.
“Sunday is always a day to look forward to: that’s when I can really relax and take my mind off work.”
Does one film stand out as the most enjoyable to be a part of?
“With Batman: The Dark Knight Rises we went to some amazing locations: Pittsburgh, LA, New York. We also had an amazing team. Buster Reeves was the fight arranger, Tom Scrubbers was the stunt coordinator, there was obviously an amazing cast and the director, Christopher Nolan, is an absolute genius. That was a real good experience, fairly early on in my career.
“But Thor: Ragnarok stands out as well, filming on the Gold Coast in Australia, with the boys [Chris Hemsworth and personal trainer Luke Zocchi] who I’ve become good mates with.
“The Avengers films in Atlanta were also great fun – being part of one of, if not the biggest franchises of all time was pretty special.”
Hanton is a resident trainer for Chris Hemsworth’s personalised digital health and fitness programme Centr, available from the App Store for iPhone and Apple Watch, or online at centr.com