1. How do you remain a self-aware superhero movie when everyone knows someone died during the making of your movie?
2. How do you answer those who want to know why you hired a pro racer instead of an actual stuntwoman to perform what turned into a deadly motorcycle stunt?
3. How do you move on?
These are but some of the questions facing the cast and crew of Deadpool 2, a film struck by tragedy earlier this week when a stunt went wrong and claimed the life of 40-year-old professional motorcycle rider SJ Harris, who was doubling for Zazie Beetz’ Domino. They reportedly rehearsed the stunt multiple times with no problem, but the actual live run went south and Harris died, the second stunt-related fatality this year (the first being on Walking Dead) and second high-profile stunt accident this week (the other being Tom Cruise breaking his ankle on Mission Impossible 6). Even though Deadpool is a universe in which the title character knows he’s in a movie this incident will likely go unreferenced in the film (which solves question #1), and after a 2-day break to mourn Harris’ passing and regroup they’ve already returned to filming (which solves questions #3).
Question #2, though, well that one’s not going away anytime soon. As THR noted, many in the stunt community are crying foul, arguing that Harris never should have been hired in the first place. She was the first African-American female road racer, but she wasn’t a stuntwoman. Knowing how to drive isn’t the same as knowing how to crash, as Steve Kelso, a 40-year veteran, explained:
“I do tons of NASCAR stuff, and I have hired real NASCAR drivers to do work and they end up wrecking the cars. I can’t tell you how much different it is doing stunts with motorcycles than just riding where the aim is to go really, really fast. I’m a professional race car driver, but it’s just day and night. There’s no comparison. The two don’t really mix. Being a professional motorcycle rider is only half the job, the other half is knowing all the parameters and the art of making movies.”
Moreover, they were having her driver a much bigger and more powerful motorcylce than she was used to, jumping from 300cc cylces to a 900cc, according to Conrad Palmisano, a veteran stunt coordinator with 47 years in the business.
Harris had only been with the movie for a week, which apparently wasn’t enough time for them to create a special motorcycle helmet for her to covertly wear under her Domino wig. That’s a bullshit excuse in the eyes of veteran stunt people, one of whom argued in a Facebook group they use to discuss such things:
“A production that’s truly invested in set safety, including all the people involved, would order this done. I can’t say it would have saved her life. However, it would have been one more step in the right direction towards making sure they were doing it all as safe as possible. The movie is on hold and worse of all, a life is lost. It’s all sad and for what, matched skin tone? It’s heartbreaking.”
The assertion, which has been backed up to THR by insiders on the Deadpool 2 set, is that Harris wasn’t really picked for her expertise but instead because her skin color matched Beetz’s.
They had a stuntwoman ready and willing to step in, the same stuntwoman who did all of Margot Robbie’s motorcycle work on Suicide Squad, but because her skin color didn’t match they didn’t want her. You can see why – we need a black person to double for our black lead actress – but if on-set safety was of paramount concern they could have gotten creative with it or actually picked a black stuntwoman.
SAG-AFTRA is now investigating the incident as is WorkSafeBC (Canada’s OSHA), and if they might just find this was entirely avoidable. A veteran stunt performer familiar with the Deadpool 2 production told THR (on the condition of remaining anonymous):
“It absolutely could have been prevented. Joi was totally unqualified and never should have been there or put in that position. [She] had never been in a film or done any sort of stunt. She was just a girl from Brooklyn who liked to road race — which was not remotely similar to what was required for the shots. She didn’t have the experience or skills for the job they brought her in for.”
Now there are reports that Deadpool 2 has been regularly exceeding its work hour limits and pushing its crew to 15+ hour work days. SAG-AFTRA and WorkSafeBC might not like what they find.
Deadpool 2 is still due June 1, 2018.