How many movies have you seen starring Mr Vic Armstrong? None? Think again. His name may not appear on opening credits or billboards, but as one of the world's leading stuntmen for the past four decades, Mr Armstrong, 65, has planned and executed stunts (or "gags" as they are known in the business) for a list of movies that reads like a roll call of Hollywood's greatest action hits. Mr Harrison Ford's stunt-double in the Indiana Jones films? Step forward Mr Armstrong. Mr Gregory Peck's double in Arabesque, Mr George Lazenby's in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Sir Roger Moore's in Live and Let Die and Mr Christopher Reeve's in the original Superman trilogy? Mr Armstrong is the man. And that's not to mention his key roles in Blade Runner, Star Wars: Episode VI and Never Say Never Again, in the latter of which he performed stunts for Sir Sean Connery's Bond. More recently, Mr Armstrong has turned his hand to coordinating stunts and working as a second unit director on blockbusters including Thor, Mission: Impossible III, War of the Worlds, Die Another Day, The World is Not Enough, and, in a rare departure to a less masculine world, Charlie's Angels. ("Cameron Diaz was amazing," Mr Armstrong says. "She liked to come and hang out with the stuntmen.")
From left: A signed picture shows Mr Armstrong on set with friend and frequent collaborator Mr Harrison Ford, 1988
never say never again
Mr Armstrong performing a stunt on the set of Never Say Never Again, 1983
war of the worlds
From left: Messrs Tom Cruise, Armstrong (middle) and Steven Spielberg on the set of War of the Worlds, 2005
superman, II and III
Mr Armstrong was a stunt double in all three of the original Superman films
The royalty of Tinseltown admire Mr Armstrong for more than just his good company on set, though. A signed photograph from Mr Harrison Ford (to whom Mr Armstrong bore an uncanny resemblance) reads "Vic - if you learn to talk I'm in deep trouble!" while the book that Mr Armstrong released last year charting his career carries a foreword by Mr Steven Spielberg, and glowing endorsements on the back cover from Ms Angelina Jolie, and Messrs Pierce Brosnan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Be warned, whenever Vic says 'I've got an idea', something dangerous is about to happen. That's why we love him," Ms Jolie says.
On working with some of the biggest names in show biz, Mr Armstrong says over the telephone, "They're great, but at the end of the day they're just human beings and they're exactly the same as us," in his typically grounded manner, instead preferring to talk about his work, and the numerous thrills (and near spills) he has experienced over the years. Don't press for too much information about the mishaps, though. "If you were interviewing Michael Schumacher, you wouldn't say 'Oi! Mike, how many races have you lost because you crashed? What was your worst smash up?' You would focus on his successes," Mr Armstrong gently reprimands, with the air of a man who is too often asked to recount the time a leap from a helicopter into a well ended in a high-velocity collision with a stone wall.
With a wife and a brother who have also doubled actors in movies, and four children - all of whom are currently involved in stunts - it's safe to say that Mr Armstrong lives and breathes the discipline. To give a greater insight into the enormous amount of thought and preparation required for pulling off stunts seamlessly, in the gallery above he talks us through the knack to being a successful stuntman. A word of advice, though: it's probably best not to try it at home.
The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman by Mr Vic Armstrong and Mr Robert Sellers is published by Titan Books