The movie stuntman has directed bone-crunching thriller Extraction and says that CGI will never replace the thrill of seeing a real person risking life and limb on screen

The stunt performers who have made it as directors can be counted on the broken fingers of one bandaged hand. In the 70s and 80s there was Hal Needham (director of Smokey and the Bandit and reportedly the inspiration for Brad Pitts character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Buddy Van Horn (Any Which Way You Can). But the past decade has brought a clutch of new examples: Chad Stahelski (the John Wick trilogy), David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) and now Sam Hargrave, the prodigiously bearded, 37-year-old stunt coordinator who doubled regularly for Chris Evans as Captain America.

Hargrave has made his directing debut with another Avenger, Chris Hemsworth, in the Netflix thriller Extraction. Hemsworth plays the mercenary Tyler Rake, dispatched to Dhaka to rescue a crime kingpins kidnapped son. Though, as the boy points out, he doesnt look like a Tyler. He seems more like a Brad.

Is that a Pitt joke? It kind of is, admits Hargrave with a giggle down the line from his home in Malibu. No matter how much dirt or blood you put on Chris Hemsworth, theres no getting around it: he is devilishly handsome.

Its real action with real consequences Sam Hargrave directing David Harbour and Chris Hemsworth on the set of Extraction. Photograph: Jasin Boland/AP

The two men go way back. We worked out together on the first Avengers. Hes a Muay Thai practitioner and he beat the crap out of me because hes such a big, strong dude. It was the actor who gave Hargrave some of the soundest advice during the run-up to Extraction. He told me, Dont forget why you got this opportunity. You direct great action, so keep that tool sharp and ready to use.

And he has. The picture is full of action sequences staged with vigour and finesse, typically in extended unbroken takes: following Tyler and an adversary mid-fight, the camera tumbles off a roof, on to a shops awning and into the street, or glides in through a cars open window as the vehicle makes its swerving, squealing getaway during a chase. The knowledge that shots have been sutured together digitally does nothing to diminish the excitement. Indeed, Hargrave was feeling justifiably pleased with himself until he got wind of Sam Mendess 1917, which also exploited the extended-shot illusion. We smacked our heads when we saw that. We were like, Son of a

He has some theories about the current popularity of the long take. It used to be the MTV idea of quick cuts but now theres a whole new generation who watch things shot in real time on Instagram and TikTok. Theres a videogame quality to it, a sense of ownership and involvement. One area where Hargrave has avoided the videogame effect, however, is in the films violence, which is far from flippant: throats are slashed, a face shoved hard on to the teeth of a rake, a child thrown to his death from a rooftop. Theres nothing glamorous about taking a life. Its not that videogame idea of shoot a guy, smile and move on. Its real action with real consequences.

Immediacy and physicality is one of the reasons he believes digital effects will never replace stunts. Thats been a discussion for a few years now. Nothing beats knowing that the body youre watching has been through that experience. Oh man, another human being did that? Its so much more impactful. There are obvious downsides when its bones rather than bytes at stake: Hargrave himself is still feeling the effects from a fall on set almost a year ago. I was trying to impress all the young stunt guys there, he says sheepishly. I fell really hard on my neck and shoulder, and I still cant turn my neck right. I used to be able to get up and walk away. Now it takes a little longer to get out of bed the next day.

Her grit and determination were incredible Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde. Photograph: Jonathan Prime/Universal

Between stunt performers there is, he says, a healthy sense of one-upmanship. Most of us are type-A males with egos the size of Texas. It elevates your game when you see what someone else comes up with. Watching John Wick was a case in point. Its even become a verb: to John Wick someone. Which means to beat them up in a really cool way. The dynamic between actors and their doubles, though, tends to be one of quiet mutual respect, not unlike Leonardo DiCaprio and Pitts characters in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Ive seen relationships like that. Chris and his regular double, Bobby Holland Hanton, have a very tight personal friendship. Actors know the stunt performers have spent their life training, just as the actors have worked on the emotional depth.

The bravest performer hes worked with, he tells me, was Charlize Theron on Atomic Blonde. Some of the stuff she did, her grit and determination, was incredible. And the wussiest? Im gonna have to plead the fifth on that, he laughs. There I was thinking he was brave. Oooh, burn! In that case, Ill nominate myself. Im the wussiest.

Extraction is on Netflix.

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