Q&A: Auburn stunt pro played role in Oscar triumph for “The Artist” movie

Gary Davis answers Journal questions on highlights and his own expectations of the film
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
AUBURN CA - The Journal’s Gus Thomson interviewed Auburn-based stunt coordinator Gary Davis for a Q&A. A leader in his field, Davis has coordinated, performed or directed stunts in almost 300 movies and 250 TV episodes since the early 1970s. But his work on “The Artist” marked the first time he’s been involved in the production of a “Best Picture” Academy Award winner. A North Auburn resident who grew up in Loomis and graduated from Del Oro High School, Davis will again be showing off his sought-after skills in coordinating some of the movie industry’s most spectacular stunts in “Spiderman,” a new movie set to debut in theaters nationwide on July 7. Q. What role did you play in the production of “The Artist?” A. I worked as stunt coordinator, including a couple of days when the leading lady, Berenice Bejo, had scenes where she was driving in and out of traffic, and weaving across lanes because her character had always ridden in the back seat of the Cadillac and never driven before. I did some of the driving in some of the cars and Donna Evans sat in for Berenice during the stunt driving. Q. What were your expectations? Did you think “The Artist” would do as well as it did (10 Oscar nominations and five Academy Awards)? A. I’ve participated in literally hundreds of movies and only a few have won Academy Awards. Two that come to mind are “Against All Odds” and “Ray.” They were both directed by Taylor Hackford and won for their music. To be honest, I didn’t even expect “The Artist” to be released in America. My thoughts were that there wasn’t an audience for a silent movie released in black and white, with an old format (4:3 ratio instead of widescreen). Q. Any memorable moments during the making of “The Artist?” A. We were on several locations filming last year and the weirdest thing for me was that when we were on the back lot, they put out big speakers and played 1920s chase music. It was different but it did seem to help get us all inspired. (In fact, director Michel Hazanavicius – who won the Best Director Academy Award – played classic movie scores on the set during much of the 35-day shoot). Q. Outside the film world, you’ve also been known for your Christmas displays? A. It was something I did when I was raising my daughter as a single parent. She was in love with anything Disney and we lived in an area of Woodland Hills that was called Candy Cane Lane around Christmas. So every year, I would make fully-animated characters. One year it was Aladdin flying across the yard on a flying carpet. For six weeks prior and two weeks after Christmas, people would throng to the area, tour buses would be regularly driving by and I couldn’t leave my house. Q. What’s coming up in your world? A. “Spiderman” will be out July 7. I’m proud of the work I did on the movie because computer generated effects were mostly used. I rigged a cord to a fire truck so a stunt double could swing across traffic. We had stunt doubles who were experts at parkour, martial arts and skateboarding. I’m also working with Doug Stanley (an Auburn resident and Emmy winning cinematographer and producer for TV’s “Deadliest Catch”) and Ridgeline Entertainment on reality-based programs. We’re hoping to shoot a teaser in Auburn that will include a stunt professional on fire riding a skateboard.