Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Remember when Indiana Jones leaps from a galloping horse onto a moving German tank to rescue his father in "Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade." That scene is so recognizable it's been voted one of the top 10 film stunts of all time. And while we gasped and cheered for Harrison Ford, the guy who made that jump was stuntman, Vic Armstrong.

Over a long career, he's doubled some of the biggest names in the business in some of the most memorable films ever made and more than a few flops along the way, too. But if you work in the stunt business, we want to hear from you. Tell us about your job and what we don't understand about it. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Deborah Lipstadt on what may be the last big Nazi war crimes trial and why there should be no statute of limitations for genocide. But first, Vic Armstrong joins us from BBC Radio in Suffolk, England. His new book is called "The True Adventures Of The World's Greatest Stuntman. My Life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Movie Heroes." Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. VIC ARMSTRONG (Stuntman): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And I wanted you to take us back to another iconic stunt, one of your first. Tell us what it was like to drive up to the set of "You Only Live Twice" that 1967 James Bond movie.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Well, as a budding young stuntman, Bond was the movie genre to get into. And a friend of mine was working on "Cubix 2001"(ph) and he said, look, this film's going on a long time, but they need a lot of stunt guys on "You Only Live Twice." You can go up there and have my contract. So I went up there full of trepidation and I couldn't believe what I saw.

There was a building as big as St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which is all made out of scaffolding and you walk through some hanging sheets of canvas. And inside, there is this amazing interior of a volcano, of a rocket launching machine in there, a heli-pad. The roof opened, a helicopter can actually fly in. And I was just blown away.

And I met the stunt people. Bob Simmons was the coordinator in those days and his right-hand man was George Leech, who coincidentally is now my father-in-law. And they looked at me and I was very fit at the time. I was young. I was the right pound to weight ratio. And they looked at me and said, do you think you could slide from the top of that roof down to the ground on a rope, firing a machine gun?

And I looked at it and it was 125 feet and I said, of course, I can, yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Inside thinking, they are completely mad. There's no way you're going to do that. So he said, okay, you've got the job. Come back on Monday and we'll start training, which I dutily(ph) did, and met a lot of established stuntmen in those days. There weren't that many in England. But they took me under their wing and showed me how to tie the knots on the ropes that were going to come down and sure enough, we ended up sliding down these ropes.

And I was a ninja. And we got all of 65 pounds a week, which is probably just over a hundred bucks a week in those days. But to me, it was a fortune. It was more than three times a normal person's weekly wage.

CONAN: Somebody tying the knots up there on the ropes, one guy kept saying, is it right over left or is it the other way? I don't - oh, well, this will be good enough.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: That's exactly - a guy called Joe Powell who was an old SAS commander and everything else and he went up there. And, you know, you're sweating bullets because you just - there's no safety wires. You're just sitting on these little girders 125 (unintelligible). And you've crawled out to your position, which is probably 70 or 80 feet away from the edge, just with your toes on these girders, bent double because the girders are only three foot below the roof.

And you shuffle your way out there. And each time, the ropes on you're going to commit your life to and you sort of muttering under his breath, hoping you can sort of hear it, but not really. And so, is it left over right or right over left? I'll be all right. I'll be okay. It's good enough.

CONAN: And so from sliding down the rope in that film, you went on to make - it's almost 50 years now, isn't it?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It's getting on that way, 45 years. And I'm terribly proud because I've worked on the last three Pierce Brosnan movies. And when I look back to my early days in '67 earning a hundred bucks a week, I was responsible for 20, 30, $35 million worth of on EON Productions' money on those Bonds because, you know, I was responsible for the action unit and all the stunts and the stuntmen and everything else.

I'm very extremely proud of the success arc that I've been through.

CONAN: You describe in your book that fit young man who wants to become a stuntman and be the ninja sliding down the rope firing a machine gun, but once you got there, you realized, well, really, I'd like to be the stunt double. That way, if the actor's working, I'm working. And then you realized, well, no, once I've done that, maybe I can be the stunt coordinator, the one who's pointing at all those stuntmen to do all their jobs. And then you realized, as you said, you're moving up to direct second units.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Exactly. There's always one step more that you want to get. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. In those day, I was thrilled to get the job as a stuntman, but as you say, then you look at Sean Connery's double and you think, wow, that's the job because every job Sean Connery has (unintelligible) get on that.

Because you got to think in the '60s and '70s, they were pretty austere times and it was a bad lull in the film business, especially in Europe. There was very few films and you had to fight to get them. And so money was in short supply. So I never forget my ambition in those days was to earn 5,000 pounds a year. That's like $7,500 in a year, which was absolutely unthinkable. But that was my ambition. And so you can tell how tight money was.

CONAN: You say that was your ambition. I think your ambition was to be Dick Francis.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It would have been. That was my real ambition. My passion, my love in life was racing horses and from nine years on, I was - seriously wanted to be a steeplechase jockey. And I started steeplechase riding when I was 14. I was exercising the horses when I was 11 or 12 and schooling them over jumps and everything. And then when I was 14, I had my ride in my first steeplechase and - 14 and a half I was, actually. That's actually when I left school. I said, this is it. I've learned everything I need. Now, this is the life I'm going to lead, is a steeplechase jockey.

But I was very big. I was very tall. I was over 6 foot when I left school. And in England, to be a jump jockey, you want to be around 140 pounds and I was probably 170 when I left school. So I used to have to starve off 20 or 30 pounds every winter for the racing season so it was hard work and I could see I was never going to be slight enough to be a professional, to warrant enough people to pay you to ride their horses. So I stayed an amateur, which meant I rode for nothing, but I could ride more horses that way.

CONAN: We're talking with Vic Armstrong who's got a new book out, "The True Adventures Of The World's Greatest Stuntman." And we want to hear from the stunt persons in our audience. Tell us about a job we actually know very little about. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Timothy(ph). Timothy with us from Taos in New Mexico.

TIMOTHY (CALLER): Hi, Neal. I've got a little different take on it. I'm a sports medicine and ER physician and I've taken care of a couple of stunt people over the years who, you know, they're fit, but they get these cumulative injuries and if they don't get enough consistent work, they end up not having the insurance, which I believe is Screen Actors Guild. And I had one guy ended up going out of the country to get an ankle fusion because he couldn't get care in this country. And I just wanted you contributor to give a comment on that. Thanks.

CONAN: Thank you.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yes, that is very true. In the States, you do have to get your SAG insurance up and everything else, but like everything, success breeds success and if you're a successful stuntman that's covered.

You know, I've been doing it for 45 years and I had my DGA, Directors Guild of America, and my SAG insurances, but you're right. It's very tough if you can't make a full living at it, but that's the same as being a rock star. You know you want to be a rock star, but if your band's not successful, you'll be driving around in an old Volkswagen minibus, not in a big superliner coach. It just - there's nothing you can do about that except try and be more successful.

CONAN: Do professional stuntmen - this is an email from Tom in Lawrence, Kansas - do professional stuntmen resent actors doing their own stunts?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: No, not at all. Actors, people like Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise and Chris Hemsworth, who I did Thor with in Santa Fe, New Mexico, actually, they all want to do their own stunts.

I just finished "The Amazing Spider-Man" with Andrew Garfield. They all want to do their own stunts because they're total professionals, and a lot of them are certainly capable of doing their own stunts. But they're all professionals, and they want every ounce, every nuance of their body, of their movement, to reflect in the character they're playing.

It just boils down to the times when sometimes a stuntman could probably perform the feat better than the actor, but more often than not, it's insurance, it's purely insurance.

And you've got a $200 million movie resting on somebody's shoulders, there's absolutely no sense in letting him do something that could easily be done by a stuntman and take the risk out of the equation.

CONAN: You wrote in the book: For years and years, actors refused to admit that they had stunt doubles. Now and again, a few still don't want to admit to it. But it took the likes of Harrison Ford, when we did the Indiana Jones films, to step up and say: I don't do the stunts. Vic Armstrong does the stunts.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Harrison Ford has been a great friend of the stunt community, and he's the least of the people that should say that because he does nearly every stunt we do in the movie, little ones or various ones like the jump off the rock that I did to steal the horse in "The Last Crusade," and Terry Leonard(ph) did the drag under the truck in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or my jump onto the tank.

There's things that would you not want to risk him doing, but there's some part of it he will do. You have to see his face in there. When you see Pierce Brosnan going down the Thames in the jet boat on the Bond, he was in - I put him in a jet boat and sent it down the Thames and shot selective shots of him doing it.

There were various things like the barrel roll, there's no way you'd let him do because it's tremendously dangerous.

CONAN: You were doing "Superman" at one point, and there was a scene where one of the villains throws a manhole cover at the Man of Steel, and it hits him the stomach and knocks him back into a car. And Chris Reeve wanted to do that scene.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. Chris was one of the guys that desperately wanted to be every ounce of his character onscreen. And one night - we shot both movie at once, "Superman" one and two. And then we shut down after about 11 months, and then they started up again, there were some pickup shots to do.

So I was called in to double Chris, and I've since been told it was Zod that threw the manhole cover or certainly Zod that threw me into the Marlboro truck. But anyway, I had a busy night ahead of me. I was going to have a manhole cover thrown at me, and I was going to get snatched back into the windshield of a car.

And I was going to get thrown into a Marlboro truck, and I was going to get pretty beaten up because all you've got on is a tight costume with your knickers on the outside, and you can't put much padding on underneath, else it's going to show.

So anyway, I was in makeup, having the last (unintelligible) put on and everything else. And Chris walked by, and he stopped and came back when he saw me. And he said: What are you doing tonight, Vic? And I said: I'm doing these falls and things.

And he said: No, no, I'm doing them. So we had barneys all the time, like that, Chris and myself. And I said no, you're not Chris, you know. Yes, I want to do it. And I said: Look, Chris, just don't stop me earning a living. If you want to do it, go and do it, but you're going to get beaten up, and it's silly.

Anyway, so they saw the light at the end. They said: Well, let's do one with Vic first. And boom, crash, I hit the top of the windshield and somersaulted over it. I was on a sort of pendulum cable. And on my back, I had a sheet of metal with a spike in it.

So I somersaulted over. Anyway, after the evening, when I was all beaten up, Chris walked by and said: Hey, Vic, that was great. I'm really glad I didn't do it, buddy. Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: So, you know, that's the way it goes.

CONAN: Vic Armstrong's book is "The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman." More in just a moment. If you work in the stunt business, tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Vic Armstrong writes in his new book: By now, as a stuntman, I must have driven every vehicle going, trucks, motorbikes, cars, boats, you name it. I'd even learned to fly airplanes in my spare time.

Add to that list a double-decker bus thanks to his work on the movie "An American Werewolf in London." You can read more about he rigged that bus to spin 180 degrees in London's West End and nearly wiped out a Wimpy Burger store in the process. The story is in an excerpt from the book "The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman" at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

If you work in the stunt business, we want to hear from you. Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Jitone(ph) is on the line, Jitone calling us from Richland in New Jersey.

JITONE (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

JITONE: Yes, Neal, you're talking to a ex-stuntman. I was in the early TV Westerns. I was a riding extra there. My first job was with Clint Walker, Big Clint.

CONAN: Sure.

JITONE: In the "Cheyenne Bodie" series. They dressed me up as a bandit, and they put me on a horse, and I was riding after robbing a bank, and Clint came after me, and the next thing, I was with his posse that went back to the trailer. And I loved it. And ever since then, I was sold.

I started out actually as an Olympic lifter out in Gironda's Gym in Studio City, where they used to call up and say we need some muscle guys out here that can ride horses. And it was an exciting career when I was young.

I still am a member of the Screen Actors Guild for now, about 40-some years or more and also a member AFTRA. So I would say they're a great union, and I had a great trip with them guys.

CONAN: Jitone, thanks very much for the call. And we appreciate the recollections.

JITONE: Thank you so much for sharing that with you, Neal.

CONAN: Okay, Vic Armstrong, you obviously, having had your start as a steeplechase jockey and all around horses your first life, horses were an incredibly large part of your early career. And I guess I had never realized - I think you were talking about a film called "Young Winston" that was being shot in Morocco - that you don't ship the horses out from England if you're on location. The first thing you do is go out and buy 300 horses.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. That's the fun of foreign locations, and being a little tiny island that we are in England, we get to travel an awful lot more than a lot of American stunt guys.

I travel, and I live between both continents. Of course, I've got a house in L.A. and a farm in England. But my early life was spent traveling all over the world, and my first big, big horse picture was, as you say, "Young Winston."

I'd done a few horse operas in England before. I got noticed by the stunt coordinators that counted. And they took me out to Morocco. And our job there was for three or four was to go around all the little villages all around Marrakesh, and we did a lease on them for a year, the horses.

And they're all stallions. They keep very few mares, and they won't castrate them. So they're pretty fiery creatures, and they fight like tigers. And we went around all these little villages. Some had two horses. Some had six horses. Some had 20, depending on the size of the village, rounded all these houses up.

And my job was to identify each horse because we paid for the rent of them, and what we were worried about was they'd do a switcharoo on them and send the horse that we'd pick, they wouldn't send that, they'd send some little, old, scruffy on along. So I had to describe each horse. I wrote it down. I marked their feet.

And a couple of them, they actually changed the markings on their feet, but I had my intricate sort of drawings of each marking on each horse. Then we got them back, and we started breaking them in and teaching them to ride in formation and had to build stables for them.

And as I say, they're all entires, all stallions, and they fight if you get them too close together. So it was quite an exciting picture. But it was tremendously, tremendously enjoyable to see the end result when we had 300 of them in the field, and they're all riding along.

And the battle we re-created was the last English charge in the Boer War, the last English cavalry charge ever. And young Winston is riding along at the head of the 300 horses, and they see a couple of dervishes firing out of a waddi.

And they think there's only 20 dervishes there. So they turn and start walk, trot, canter, and it's just fantastically stirring when you hear the bugles playing, and you pull out your sabers - we had real sabers -and you start the charge.

And then of course when they got 100 yards away from the waddi, about 20,000 dervishes popped up and started shooting them, and it was a massacre.

But my job was to be the first one that got shot, and I'll never forget, with a real saber, pulling the horse over, and you get rid of the saber and stick it in the ground, hopefully head first with the blade in the ground.

Then you pull your horse down, and you hit the ground, and then you just crunch up in a little ball and close your eyes as if that's going to help you as 300 horses come thundering over the top of you, all ridden by local riders.

We only had, sort of, 10 stuntmen up front. The rest were locals. It was quite an adventure.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Steven(ph), Steven with us from Portland.

STEVEN (Caller): Hi, Neal. Hello, Vic. Gosh, it's great to hear you. I've been a big fan of your work for many, many, many, many years.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Thank you.

STEVEN: I run a live-action stunt group in Portland, Oregon. We do pirate and Wild West. And we do live-action stunt shows for audiences that are right there in front of us, so, you know, a lot of stage combat but a lot of fisticuffs, a lot of rolling, very physical action, breakaway bottles, breakaway windows, that type of thing.

And I was wondering if you had done much of that, live action, for audience, and if you've done any of that work and how you think that compares to the film work and the difference of being able to set up a film stunt and have all aspects covered versus live-action stunts, like you were saying with the - when you were doing the Boer War charge, that was a great story - where anything could happen.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I haven't done - I've never done any live action, but my hat goes off to you guys because that is far, far more dangerous and more difficult and more tiring, more tensile, than what we do.

We always do have the ability to say okay, cut, cut, cut, let's stop, revamp, let's do it again and have another go, change the cameras, knowing that the end result is going to look great on the screen.

You guys have to get out there, hit the ground and also many, many times a day. I did go to the stunt show in Florida, and we were shooting a movie called "Arrive Alive" in Miami that never got finished. And we were up near the lakes there north of Miami.

And the show was on. So we went to the show. And they heard we were there so invited us in and sat us in the front row. And do you know what? I was as nervous as a kitten, thinking: Oh my God, they're going to pick on me. I'm the one guy in the audience they're going to pull out because they always get some guy out of the audience. I was terrified.

And anyway, afterwards, the guy that was doing the Indiana Jones that particular day came up to me and said: Oh my God, Vic. He said: I was so nervous knowing you were in the audience. And I went: Wow, the feeling was mutual. I was terrified.

But he did a hell of a job. It's fantastic what you do. I couldn't do it, I don't think, or could not have done it. I couldn't do it now anyway.

STEVEN: Thank you, Mr. Armstrong, I appreciate that. And just one thing I want to say is in our business, when you're asked to do something -for example, I remember the first equestrian job I ever had, I was asked by the director: Can you ride a horse? And I said: Of course I can.

And the next phone call I made offset was to a stables to say: How soon can I get in to get lessons?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think they're the most underpaid job in the business. Ninety-nine percent of things I've had happen to me, breakages and odds and ends, have come from horses. And they're my expertise, you know, but they - the trouble is you put the script in the manger at night, and the darn things never read. So they come on the set, and they've got a mind of their own.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Steven.

STEVEN: It was a pleasure talking to you.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Rich(ph), and Rich is calling us from Sacramento.

RICH (Caller): Oh, gentlemen, what a pleasure, Mr. Armstrong. I was lucky enough to be a union propmaster for 30 years, and I got to work the great, great and Corwin Harvey(ph) and Victor Paul(ph) and Mickey Gilbert(ph). And we worked in Austria and all over the world. And I worked with a bunch of English crew. And my hat's off to you.

And I actually worked on "Arrive Alive" and unfortunately never got to go to Florida because it got shut down. What a surprise.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: How funny, yeah. It was going to be a great movie. You know, we did all the scouts and everything else, had all the cast prepped. And then they - I think the studio perceived it as a comedy, and I'm sure you read the script as I did, and I was reading this, saying: They think this is a comedy? It opens with a shark biting the head off somebody.

RICH: (Unintelligible) comedic Willem Dafoe is not a comedic actor, I don't think, usually.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: That was the other comment, as well, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICH: But I wanted to ask you: I worked with the greatest, and I never worked with you, but who - I mean, who was your - who is the man in your mind because in the old days, it was a lot different, even before I got in the business. I was just curious: Who is the man to you in stunts?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: To me the greatest there's ever been is Yakima Canutt. He's the daddy of them all. He was the one that first made a science of it, made a business of it. He took a script, he'd break down a stunt. He'd say to the company: You can't do it like this, but I can do it in a week's time, and I'll have it rigged.

And, you know, they'd say: Can you guarantee it will work? And he would say: No, but I can guarantee it won't work unless we do it this way. But he had the ideas of breaking stuff down, inventing equipment to make it work, making the job safer. So he was the daddy of them all. But since then, there's been many, many great ones - and they still are - around. You got your Terry Leonards and the Gilberts. And in England, we've got Joe Powell, and he's still alive, and Alf Joint, who's passed away, and Bob Simmons, who did all the early Bonds, and George Leech, my father-in-law. There's many, many, many great stuntmen out there that I take my hat off to and I try to emulate.

CONAN: Rich...

RICH: Well, I take my off to you, and I just want to say I saw Harvey Parry fall down an escalator. I think he was 90. And that was a great honor - on a Blake Edwards movie. So I'll leave you. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Okay, Rich.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Thank you. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call. Let's go next to - this is Bill, and Bill is with us from Visalia in California.

BILL (Caller): Oh, good afternoon, gentlemen. I'm...

CONAN: I think we've lost Bill. I apologize for that. I think he hung up by mistake.

Let's go next to - this is John, John with us from Jacksonville.

JOHN (Caller): Hi, Neal. Great show. And I wonder if your guest was familiar with a stunt actor by the name of James Sheppard.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I don't. I don't know James Sheppard. No.

JOHN: Well, let me explain the connection. He was in a movie called "Comes a Horseman" with Jane Fonda.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Right.

JOHN: And let's see. Who was the - Jason Robards was the bad guy in that movie.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Uh-huh.

JOHN: At the end of that movie, the stuntman got his foot caught in a stirrup and was dragged toward a coral gate, and it actually killed the stuntman. Well, the stuntman's brother is a friend of mine, and he explained to me how the movie company was so impressed with the footage, that they flew the parents and my friend, the brother, out to Hollywood to look at the footage of the brother and son getting killed...

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Wow.

JOHN: ...and said: May we please us it in the film? It is in the film, and it was dedicated to him.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Wow. That's pretty drastic, unless they...

JOHN: Yeah, very dramatic.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

CONAN: Describe any number of accidents that you had, Vic Armstrong, and dislocated shoulders, broken shoulders, various bones and ribs and things like that. Most of the deaths, though, that you talk about in the business seem to be of flyers.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yes. For some reason, the helicopter pilots - I've flown with eight that have died, you know, over the years, at least eight. I think it's purely because a helicopter, by its total being and the way it's going to operate is - can get into situations that it probably shouldn't be, and various things happen. But I've always had a premonition I always going to end - wind up going down in a helicopter, but touch wood, it has not happened yet. But...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Not yet. The new book is called "The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman: My Life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Movie Heroes." It's by our guest, Vic Armstrong, with Robert Sellers.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And let's see if we can go next to - this is David, and David with us from Charleston.

DAVID (Caller): Hello, Neal. Another great sure, Sir.

CONAN: Oh, well, thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVID: Mr. Armstrong, I've loved your work for years. But I have to say to you - and I mean no disrespect by this - as a red-blooded American boy raised in the South, at least when it came to driving, Hal Needham was the stuntman that we all loved. And I recently heard him make a comment that he had no real use for CGI in the movies really, you know, because it allowed people to do superhuman things, and that human element was so important to the artistic value of film. I just wanted to know what you thought about that. And I'll clear the line and let somebody else get on.

CONAN: All right. Thanks. CGI, computer-generate images, but go ahead.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah. Hal is a great, great personal friend of mine. He came down to the studios when we were doing "Spider-Man." And I got him to bring a load of copies of his book down, and all the baby stunties that we had there, they all gobbled them up and had them signed by Hal. Hal is a great friend of mine. I've worked with him, and I've got the greatest admiration. He's one of the greatest that's ever lived.

And I take his point. We discussed this about CG and everything else. But, you know, the business is advancing, and people are expecting more and different things. And I've just finished "The Amazing Spider-Man," where we've tried to go back to basics, all the flying. If you look on YouTube, you'll see the new Amazing Spider-Man flying down 12th Avenue, between 130th and 136th Street. There's some wild video they show of that. And we are going to go back to basics, because we feel it does look different when you see somebody swinging and the g-forces kicking in. He was pulling about two-and-a-half Gs as he changed and direction and worked his way down under this viaduct. But that's going to have to be enhanced with CG just to bring things up to people's standards of what they expect.

But what I don't like is CG just used as a total entity. You know, morphine is a fantastic drug for what it was invented for. But if you abuse it and overuse it, it's a killer. And that's what I feel with the CG. It's a fantastic tool. We can take out thick wires that support people. It makes life much safer. When I was doing "Superman," we had little piano wires supporting us that snapped in an instant, whereas nowadays, we get Tech 12. You can put several tons on it.

You can have airbags in the shot, and you can erase them afterwards. And you can have pipe ramps to flip your cars over. We don't have to hide them behind bushes like the old "A-Team," where a jeep we got along, hit a little sage brush and go 20 feet in the air. Used in the right amount and in the right times, I think it's a wonderful tool. But I'm with you. I hate seeing it just as a entity in its own.

CONAN: I wanted to ask - there's a point in the book when you say, in the old days, you were looking at a great star coming out of his trailer - I think it was Richard Burton, at one point - and say, you know, in the old days, there was an aristocracy. The stars and the producer and the director were in another world. These days, you said, it's much more democratic. But if I have to be honest, you said, it's not as good.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: And I think that's right. And I was trying to think what it was that made me nostalgic for the old days. I think we always think their part is better. But I decided what it was is modern technology. Nowadays, you're never more than a phone call away. The world is only 24 hours. Anywhere in the world, you can get there in 24 hours. I've been to Australia back in a day, you know, with a meeting overnight. Everybody has an iPhone or a phone. Everybody has Internet. Everybody has - you can have dailies sent back to the studios.

In the old days, when somebody's on location from, let's say, Los Angeles up in Lone Pine, that was an away location. That was miles away. You know, a man with a cleft stick out to take messages up there and things. And therefore, there were less creative people having a say in the making of the movies.

When John Huston went to Africa, they bought him a boat or a plane, and it took days and days and days. And they got out there, and he was standing in Africa - or David Lean in the desert - and they shot their vision. There were less people that could interfere with it. Therefore, I think you had this aristocracy and this pecking order because it was like an army. You had a general, and you had your subalterns on the way down. So I think modern technology is what has changed all of that.

CONAN: Well, Vic Armstrong, thank you so much for the book and for the stories.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It's been my great pleasure. Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: Vic Armstrong's book, again, "The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman." Coming up, a Nazi war criminal faces sentencing in Germany. Deborah Lipstadt argues that no one who commits genocide should ever rest easy, no matter how long ago the crime. She joins us next.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: