Don’t try this at home!

Chris AndersonThe catch-cry of many television programs featuring stunts often start with a warning “don’t try this at home”.  But have you ever wondered what a professional stunt person actually does and why this warning is very important for children and adults alike?  We were lucky to meet with Chris Anderson – professional stuntman, amputee and long-term Peer Support Volunteer with Limbs 4 Life – to find out more.

Chris has worked in the television and film industry for close to 40 years as a stunt professional; working in many adult and children’s productions (as well as advertisements) that would be familiar to many readers of all ages.  For many years Chris performed at a stunt man; designing and performing the actual physical acts as well as acting as a ‘body double’ for actors.  In more recent years Chris has scaled back his physical stunt performances, and predominately works as a Stunt Coordinator designing stunts, training young stunt professionals and ensuring that stunts are hazard and risk free to all members of the cast and crew.

Having worked in the industry for decades, Chris’s resume lists hundreds of productions he has worked on; work that has enabled him to work alongside some of Australia and the world’s well recognised actors and directors.

Most recently Chris has worked on the very popular Australian children’s television show and film ‘Nowhere Boys’.  Chris has also worked on other popular Australian children’s shows and films such as ‘H2O – Just add Water’, ‘Ocean Girl’, ‘Round the Twist’, ‘Flipper’, ‘Don’t be Afraid of the Dark’, ‘Tomorrow when the War Began’ and ‘Neighbours’.  Older readers might also be interested to learn that Chris has worked on films such as ‘The Dressmaker’, ‘Mad Max’, ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Pitch Black’, as well as local television shows such as ‘Glitch’, ‘The Slap’, ‘The Flying Doctors’, ‘The Sullivans’ and ‘The Paul Hogan Show’ to name but a mere few.

Chris has worked with an array of local and international actors; performing stunts for them, designing stunts that other stunt professionals perform or training actors to perform stunts themselves.  Patrick Stewart, Vin Diesel, Jack Thompson, Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Rebecca Gibney and Paul Hogan are just a tiny list of the actors that Chris has worked alongside over the years.

Equally lengthy is the array of stunts that Chris has designed or performed over the years; ranging from those related to fire, jumps, car driving and underwater diving.  It comes as no surprise that, given the risky nature of stunts, Chris works to ensure that any stunts are performed with the safety of all cast and crew in mind.  “It’s all about ensuring that everyone involved are safe and that injuries won’t occur, and when I coordinate stunts I make sure that the actor or stunt person is trained to complete the stunt hazard-free,” explained Chris.  “When child actors are involved in stunts there are very strict rules and regulations in place to ensure that these young people are safe, and sometimes we just won’t allow them to perform a stunt,” emphasised Chris.

Chris had his right leg amputated below the knee as a result of a work-related sailing accident in 1991.  “The loss of my leg was a workplace accident, and really shows why safety in the industry is paramount,” stated Chris.  Since Chris’s accident 25 years ago, occupational health and safety and changes in the industry have led to a significant reduction in stunt-related accidents on productions.  The introduction of computer generated imagery also means that some of the stunts that, in previous years, would have to be performed ‘live’ can now been created in a design studio.  However, as Chris explained, there is still a need for ‘real life’ action that can only be completed by highly skilled male and female stunt professionals.

Not long after his amputation, Chris returned to work as a stunt man.  “I was in my early 30s and I really wanted to get back into work after losing my leg.  I knew I could do it, but it would just require some adjustments, and it wasn’t long before I was back doing live action stunts again,” outlined Chris.

Chris grew up on a farm near Echuca, in regional Victoria.  “Living in the country allowed me to expend all of my energy and assist my Dad by working on the farm, and I think being a ‘high-energy’ kid certainly influenced by decision to become a stunt performer in my early 20s,” related Chris.

Coincidentally, Chris’s father also lost a limb due to a traumatic accident on the family farm.  “My dad lost his arm when I was two, so I don’t remember the accident, and I have lived my whole life knowing my Dad as an upper limb amputee.  I also grew up in contact with other amputees who lived in our local community, which certainly helped me to adjust when I lost my leg in the accident,” recounted Chris.  Limb differences were thus a feature of Chris’s life and treated in a positive manner by family members and friends.

However, when Chris lost his leg he felt that there was little support available to him in metropolitan Melbourne.  “I met some amputees in hospital and the rehabilitation centre, but once I went home there wasn’t any local groups I could connect with or call upon for support,” said Chris.  “It was fantastic to learn about Limbs 4 Life many years ago, and see that people with limb differences now had an organisation and community to call their own.  I felt that, as someone who has lived as a lower-leg amputee, I could assist others so I decided to become a trained Limbs 4 Life Peer Support Volunteer about five years ago,” explained Chris.

Chris is a very dedicated and respected member of the Limbs 4 Life Peer Support Volunteer team, which now includes over 120 people across Australia.  Peer Support Volunteers, who have lost limbs during their adulthood, assist others by visiting people pre or post a recent amputation in hospital or rehabilitation facilities.  “I really get a lot out of being a Peer Support Volunteer, as I can visit people and answer the everyday questions they might have and hopefully play a role in assisting them to adjust to their new circumstance.  I think I’ve made around 50 peer support visits over the years, as well as group meetings, and I can’t imagine ever stopping as I think it’s so important,” shared Chris.

Chris also welcomes questions from members of the community when they notice that he wears a prosthesis, as it’s a chance to give correct information and build positive awareness of limb difference.  As a professional stunt coordinator, who has worked on many children’s productions, Chris is also asked about his limb difference by the child actors he works alongside with.

Chris said that children’s most frequent question is “what happened to your leg?” when they notice he is wearing a prosthesis.  “The way I respond depends on the age of the child, but I generally explain that I had an accident and as a result the doctors had to remove my leg and now I have a new leg,” said Chris.  “I find that children are just so accepting and, given that many of the books and films they now enjoy feature robots, some are particularly thrilled as they think they have just met a ‘real life’ cyborg,” laughed Chris.

Chris is the proud father of Adam, his thirty-year old son, and Cassidy, his twenty-seven year old daughter.  Chris has also been happily married, for nearly forty years, to his wife Anne, a very well respected Sculptor. “I have a great life with an amazing and supportive family, and I’m also lucky to work in an industry that I love.  What more could I ask for!,” enthused Chris.

Limbs 4 Life thanks Chris for taking the time to be interviewed and sharing his personal and professional story with us.  We also want to thank Chris for the many hundreds of hours that Chris has volunteered to Limbs 4 Life over the years, and look forward to calling upon his peer support skills for many years to come.  Make sure to look out for Chris’ name in rolling television and film credits!