BA (Hons) Acting alumnus John Macdonald spoke to us about how he balances stunt work, set backs and acting after graduating in 2012.
“So after graduating I went and did a stint with Vienna’s English Theatre touring Austria, which was a great experience. Straight after coming back I got involved in a little film I had high hopes for that unfortunately never made it past the development stages, which was quite a hit and I split with my agent at the time because of it. Not the end of the world though. In this industry you get setbacks all the time. It’s all about how you deal with them. This acting set back did, however, make me think I might need to take the stunt option a bit more seriously.
I had originally researched the stunt industry in my last year at AUB for a ‘Plan B’ essay we had to write, and discovered what you had to do to qualify for the JISC Stunt Register. In short, it requires a high level in 6 different disciplines and 60 days on set. After I graduated I had started to look at the disciplines and train them in a very casual way. After the setback, I decided to take it more seriously and so my training began.
During this training period, which generally takes all who attempt it years to complete, I carried on pursuing acting, finding a new agent, doing a short film called ‘Rumble’, with two other fantastic actors from AUB Alexander Shenton and Josh Nixon-Hill, which we are very proud of and is soon to be released and doing the film festival round. Again through my new agent I landed a small role in the new John Wells film, ‘Burnt’, starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller among other fantastic actors. This was a hugely exciting moment and I loved every moment working with them and learnt so much. Thanks to these two films, ‘Rumble’ and ‘Burnt’, I’m hoping to keep driving forward with acting.
Back in stunt training world, the grueling training had its real ups and downs. I enjoyed some great times on set getting my 60 days, which most do through extras work. I had trained with the British Action Academy in Screen Combat and found extras work through their agency on great sets like ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Hollow Crown’ battling and clashing swords in mud, rain and rivers with great friends who were also training for the Register. Many actors sneer at extras work, and at times it is exceptionally boring, but I always looked at it as an opportunity to learn from the shadows. I learnt how big film sets worked, who was who and got to watch great actors work, not just when the cameras were rolling but also as they rehearsed and talked scenes through beforehand. It was fantastic. And I even got given a little role with a couple lines in ‘Humans’ when I only turned up as an extra! Sometimes you hit gold!
During this time I also carried on competing in kickboxing and became a WAKO Double British Champion in Kickboxing and K-1 and a WKU World Double Silver Medallist in Kickboxing and K-1, two achievements I’m hugely proud of.
In the end, after a bit over two years of really giving it everything, I got my last certificate. Everything was ready and in early June 2015 I submitted my application folder to the Stunt Committee. The waiting period only took 1 month, much less than the 3 I was expecting. Interestingly, I was up in Liverpool and had just come out of the recall auditions for a new regular character they were casting for in ‘Hollyoaks’, that was going to be an 18 month contract, when I received my email saying my submission for the Register had been approved and I was now a qualified Stuntman with the JISC Stunt Register! It was an unreal feeling. All the blood, sweat and tears through all the ups and downs had finally paid off. I was running around the car park of the ‘Hollyoaks’ set in sheer joy!
Sod’s law, and the day after that, my agent called me and said I’d been offered the ‘Hollyoaks’ role. It’s the strangest feeling I’ve ever had at being offered an acting role, because it was confusion more than happiness. It was a huge opportunity, but this was a real important time with stunts, as the iron was hot after I just got on and it was really important I was getting out there working with as many Stunt Coordinators as possible and this would mean 18 months out of stunts. I spent a good week banging my head against a wall trying to figure out what the answer was. In the end, I turned down the ‘Hollyoaks’ role. This wasn’t me choosing Stunts over Acting, because acting is still my ultimate passion. But I knew in my heart I never got into acting to be in ‘Hollyoaks’.
I now love the work I’m getting in stunts. I’ve been on some great projects already in the 3 months since I qualified, ‘Beowulf – Return To The Shieldlands’, ‘The Bastard Executioner’ and a great ‘Guinness Rugby World Cup’ commercial with Gareth Thomas to name a few, others I won’t mention as I’m not allowed, and I’m learning all the time. It’s looking up and up. Meanwhile ‘Rumble’ and ‘Burnt’ are just round the corner which I know are going to hail the next step in my acting career and I can’t wait for that!
Balancing acting and stunts is going to be interesting. The short version is you can’t really be part time in either. You have to commit. But I’m playing it by ear and I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.”