BY HAYLEY JOY BROWN
Stumbling into Balmain Hospital, Toby Fuller is met with shrieks of excitement from onlookers in the Emergency Ward. He is covered in soot, dressed in a military uniform and bleeding profusely from the lip. “What’s it like to work with Angelina Jolie?” the nurses ask.
The Oscar-winning actress is directing wartime epic Unbroken, and Toby is lead actor Jack O’Connell’s stunt double. While filming on Cockatoo Island, Japanese musician Miyavi accidentally split Toby’s lip. Two stitches later, it’s back to work for Toby. It’s all part of the job.
Toby is a 25-year-old professionally graded stunt actor from the Gold Coast. He performs stunts with cars, motorbikes, Jet Skis and boats. He is trained in climbing, sword fighting, martial arts, wirework and open water diving. He gets thrown from tall buildings, attacked by dogs and set on fire for a living. He is the Captain Risky that makes insurance companies queasy, our mothers go grey and our films into blockbusters – he wouldn’t have it any other way. But where does someone like this even come from?
Even Toby’s earliest childhood memories suggest that he was destined to be a stunt actor.
“We had a really steep driveway and I used to sit on the bonnet of this Mercedes pedal car that I got for my fourth birthday. We had this massive Rottweiler who would tow me to the top of the driveway and let me go,” he explains, “One day, I came flying down the driveway on the bonnet of this pedal car wearing absolutely nothing. Starkers.”
Most stunt actors were once tree-climbing, clothesline-swinging firebugs like Toby. They were the thrill-seeking kids that always had a new injury and a great story to tell with it. The nicknames of stunt superstars Joseph Frank ‘Buster’ Keaton and Brandon Cole ‘Bam’ Margera were both earned during their accident-prone childhoods. Toby’s first line of reference for injuries is always a phone call to his mother Cathy, a retired nurse. By the time Toby was nineteen, he’d had undergone a full shoulder reconstruction. “If my upbringing was more strict, maybe things would have been different,” he laughs.
Famed daredevil Evel Knievel preached similar beliefs in 1999: “You can’t forbid children to do things that are available to them at every turn”.
Toby jokes that if he didn’t end up becoming a stunt performer, he’d probably be in gaol for arson.
“I used to do stupid stuff as a kid,” Toby admits, “I definitely got myself into a bit of trouble and for some reason, it was always with fire.”
At age thirteen, he burnt his eyebrows and fringe off while playing with an aerosol can and lighter.
When aerosols became boring, he decided to experiment with a jerry can of unleaded petrol. “There were trails of fire coming out of it. I nearly set my house on fire!”
Thankfully, Toby’s pyrotechnic skills have improved since then.
In an article that Bear Grylls wrote for RadioTimes, he explained, “You empower kids by teaching them how to do something dangerous, but how to do it safely.”
And that is exactly what Toby’s parents, Ian and Cathy, encouraged their son to do.
At fourteen, he joined Colin Handley’s Stunt Academy where he was awarded ‘best all-round performer’. He stayed there for two years, helping out as an instructor. He then joined the Film Industry Stunt Team (FIST), where stunt co-ordinator Yasca Singaglia took Toby under his wing.
“He stripped everything I thought I knew, and knew about the industry,” says Toby.
While there are times when stunt performers have the luxury of working consistently, there are other times where they may go six months without work.
When he first emerged on the scene in 2012, the jobs were scarce. Toby confides, “I was really close to just throwing in the towel.”
He credits his girlfriend of six years, Alyssa Bennett, for encouraging him. “She just kinda kept pushing me. Everyone stood behind me,” he remembered, “and I’m glad they did and I stuck with it. Because I’ve been really lucky since that happened.”
Staying in shape is a must for Toby, who says that is body is his résumé.
When he got his big break as Jack O’Connell’s stunt double in Unbroken, he admits that he had packed on a few extra kilos: “I got the phone call on Friday and I had to start on Monday.” The first scenes being filmed were when the soldiers are emaciated and lost at sea on a raft.
Stunt co-ordinator Glen Boswell advised Toby, “I probably just wouldn’t eat over the weekend.”
The three months of shooting Unbroken were the hardest on Jack O’Connell, a lad from Derby with a killer sweet tooth. Playing prisoner of war Louis Zamperini, Jack’s diet was restricted to seven hundred calories a day.
“We need to get to the size of the actor we’re doubling for and be as proportionally close as possible,” explains Toby, who lost 11.5 kilograms in the first three weeks.
Ripping through green teas, water, fat burners and weight strippers, Toby and Jack were a bonafide duo. “Our personalities were almost identical – trying to be the class clown and cracking jokes,” Toby says.
On the last day of filming, Toby would secretly slip Monte Carlo biscuits to Jack: “When we were saying goodbye to everyone, Jack was running with this packet of Allens lollies under his arm to the car. He loved them!”
For Toby, working with director Angelina Jolie was “incredible”.
The believability that Jolie always radiates onscreen was even more apparent in her directing.
“If we fell over and it looked like a typical stunt man fall, she’d notice straight away and cut,” Toby recalls, “We’d watch the playback and be like, ‘How did you even see that?’”
The efforts paid off when Unbroken received the 2015 Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) Award for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture.
Jolie’s long-time stunt double Eunice Huthart, recently arranged for Toby to travel to England and film the new blockbuster film, Pan. He expected to just to be sword fighting in the background.
With Huthart as stunt co-ordinator, Pan shaped up to be a dream come true for the young stunt man. Explosion sequences, wirework, fight sequences, air ramp jumps, three high falls… “I got to do everything!” he gushes, “I got to do fight scenes with Hugh Jackman!”
Unfortunately, it also meant that he missed his brother Elijah’s eighteenth birthday. When Jackman personally autographed a picture for Toby to give his brother, all was forgiven.
With each pitfall, there’s a perk, right?
Next he’ll be appearing in Gods of Egypt with Gerard Butler, 2:22 with John Waters, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales with Johnny Depp. And after earning Jolie’s praises in Unbroken, we may even see Toby jump into acting.
These days, there’s no stopping him – Toby Fuller is on fire.
Perhaps Bear Grylls and Evel Knievel were onto something…