Why can't stars do their own stunts?
Stars may have license on talk shows to
fantasize about performing perilous stunts but on a
movie set, no matter how willing they may be to risk
their lives and limbs, studios will not permit them
to take such risks for two cogent reasons.
The first problem is logistical.
Stars often do not have an opportunity to perform
stunts because action movies are not shot by a single
unit. The work generally is divided between different
units that shoot at the same time in different places.
The first unit, "principal photography," shoots
the stars and other actors (who do so-called "matching
shots" that can be blended into stunts); the "second
units" shoot the stunts as well as backgrounds
that do not require the presence of the actors. In the
James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, for instance,
this division of labor had 5 different people playing
the James Bond character– Pierce Brosnan, the
star, was playing James Bond at the Frogmore Studio
outside of London, while four stuntmen at four different
locations were playing him in stunts.
A second, and even more compelling
reason, is the cast insurance requisites. Even if stars
are physically present during the shooting of perilous
stunts, the production’s insurers prohibit them
from substituting for the stuntmen. Since Harold Lloyd
nearly lost two fingers performing his own stunts in
1920, cast insurance has been a sine qua non requisite
for a Hollywood movie. If a star is deemed an essential
element in a movie– as Angelina Jolie, for example,
is in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – and the star becomes
disabled, the insurer must cover the resulting loss.
Before issuing such expensive policies– and no
Hollywood movie could be made without one– insurers
go to great lengths to make sure that actors do not
take any risks that could lead to even a sprained ankle
or pulled muscle. Their representatives analyze every
shot in the script for potential risks and scrutinize
the stars’ prior behavior on and off the screen.
Once the production starts, they also station hawk-eyed
agents on the set to make sure that the stars are not
put in harm’s way. They might require, for example,
that a star standing on a stationary car be held by
two safety men (masked in blue spandex so they can be
digitally deleted from the final movie.) Even if a director
or producer were willing to risk injuring a star, the
insurer would not allow it. So stars, as much as they
might enjoy performing their fantasies, cannot do dangerous
stunts for movies.