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Interview: Aaron Vexler (USA)
(13 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)
Former gymnast Aaron Vexler, who plays Russell Crowe's stunt double in the 2007 film "American Gangster," seeks and finds new thrills as an in-demand stunt performer for movies and television.
Aaron Vexler

Vexler's upcoming credits also include roles in Disney's "Enchanted" (in which he doubled for Patrick Dempsey and James Marsden) and Warner Bros.' "I Am Legend," starring Will Smith. Next year Vexler will appear in Paramount Pictures' "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett and Shia LaBeouf.

A native of Northampton, Mass., Vexler is a third-generation gymnast. His maternal grandmother, Annie Hoog, was the alternate on the 1948 U.S. Olympic team. His father, Norm, is a former gymnast, and his uncle Paul was the NCAA rings champion in 1969. His mother, Anne, competed for the U.S. at the 1973 World University Games in Moscow.

As a club gymnast in Massachusetts, Vexler was coached by 1984 Olympic team gold medalist Tim Daggett. Later coached by Fred Turoff at Temple University from 1994-98, Vexler earned his best U.S. Championships finish in 1996, when he was fifth all-around in the 19+ "Team 2000" division.

Vexler and his sister, Talya, each won all-around silver medals at the 1997 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Talya, who later competed for the University of Georgia, is now an assistant gymnastics coach at the University of Iowa. Their younger brother, Luke, placed first on floor exercise and fourth all-around at the 2005 Maccabiah Games. Luke is now a senior at Temple.

Diversity and adroitness have earned Vexler nearly 50 roles to date. Prior to 2007, he performed stunts in the blockbuster Spider-Man 3, as well as in the popular television series "The Sopranos," "30 Rock" and "Law & Order," among others. His work has ranged from two stints as George Clooney's stunt double on "Late Show with David Letterman," to acrobatic performances at the 2002 and 2004 MTV Music Awards.

Although Vexler's professional stunt status has gradually risen through his work in big-budget productions, he remains humble. "I always tell my mother that you will be sure to see me in the credits," the 32-year-old Vexler jokes.

In this IG Online interview, Vexler details his latest roles, and his ambition to continue exploring his opportunities as a professional daredevil.

IG: After you finished your gymnastics career, how did you make the transition into acting and stunt work? Were you always interested in stunt work, even when competing?

AV: I always wanted to get into stunt work even when I was competing, but I did not quite know how to go about breaking into the business. My "transition" into stunt work was basically this: retired from gymnastics; worked on the Celebrity Galaxy Cruise ship as an acrobat/circus performer; finished my degree at Temple University; moved to New York and joined the circus performance troupe, Antigravity; went on tour with a live stunt show called Spider-Man Live! A Family Stunt Spectacular; started my own circus company with (former Temple gymnast) Mike Moran, called Axiom Entertainment Inc.; performed in Batman Vs. Catwoman at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey; and finally on to television and film as a stuntman. IG: What did your roles in "American Gangster," "I Am Legend" and "Indiana Jones" actually entail?

AV: In "American Gangster," I was Russell Crowe's stunt double. I worked out a lot of the stunts, and then showed him what the shot and stunt required. Russell is a very good "action actor" so almost all of what you see in the movie is actually him. I was mainly there to ensure his safety, help him with any problems, and make sure he had the right pads. However, I did most of his driving for him. I did all of the driving for the scenes in the movie where he is driving and you can't see his face.

In "I Am Legend," I worked on a big riot scene where all of the people in Manhattan are being evacuated from the island. There is a panic, where everyone rushes to the boats and helicopters, while knocking down fences and each other. This is called ND or nondescript stunts. We used a lot of stunt people for the riot because it was very dangerous. It was very cold and slippery, there were people and fences falling down and helicopters taking off, and we did a lot of it on a barge in the East River in New York. Falling into the river in January would not be good. In "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," I did some of the stunt driving in a car-and-motorcycle chase that was shot at Yale. I was also a pedestrian in the same car chase. I did a lot of diving out of the way of cars and motorcycles. It was really a great experience, because of the caliber of stunt performers on this movie. They really brought in some of the best stuntmen and stuntwomen in the business. This movie is going to be awesome!

Aaron Vexler
IG: What was it like working with Russell Crowe, on a personal level?

AV: Russell Crowe is a super great guy. He is always looking out for the crew and is very gracious to everyone on set that he is working with. One night he bought the whole crew — at least 100 people — Australian steak dinners. However, he has been doing action movies so long that it is also a bit intimidating, because he is such a good stuntman himself.

IG: As stunt double for both Patrick Dempsey and James Marsden in "Enchanted," what were your key tasks?

AV: For Patrick Dempsey I did a lot of rigging, testing and performing stunts. There is one scene at the end of the movie where Patrick Dempsey and Amy Adams, who incidentally my wife stunt-doubled, are fighting Queen Narissa, played by Susan Sarandon. In the scene, there was a lot of wire-flying stunts that we helped create, rig, test and perform. This was along with assisting Patrick and Amy when they did some of the stunts themselves. For James my role was very similar. You can see one of my stunts for him in the trailer for the movie, when his character jumps off a bridge in Central Park and then gets run over by a pack of mountain bikers. I did the jump, and also the shot where he gets hit by all of the bikes. Incidentally, in the group of bicyclists, there were (former gymnasts) Shane Geraghty, Gabriel Hansen and D.J. Surgent.

IG: What have been some of the most challenging stunts you've had to perform?

AV: My driving stunts have been the most challenging. I have not done anything death-defying in a car yet. However, for me, it is a totally new challenge. Although some of the qualities I think you develop as a gymnast — staying cool under pressure, focus, coordination — help with stunt driving, nothing from gymnastics carries over directly into stunt driving. Conversely, other stunts like high falls, air rams and wire flying have a lot of carryover from gymnastics in terms of the physicality of the stunt.

IG: Gymnastics has obviously benefited you in your new career, but what are some of the new skills you have learned or picked up in your stunt work?

AV: Gymnastics has been a huge help in stunt work. Some other skills that I have been working on are rigging, stunt driving, motion picture combat, and acting, just to name a few.

IG: What is your ultimate goal in stunt work — a specific stunt, working with a specific director/actor, or perhaps something more general?

AV: That is a great question, For me the ultimate goal would be a stunt coordinator. However, there is so much to learn between now and becoming a coordinator that I really don't think about it that much. The more you learn as a stuntman, the better stunt coordinator you will become. Being a stuntman always is a challenge, because your job presents vastly different challenges on a day-to-day basis, so I am never bored or thinking of future goals — just the challenge at hand. Staying safe on the job and training to expand my skill base when I am not working provides me with a multitude of goals on a day-to-day basis.

Read more about Vexler and his family in "Meet the Vexlers," an in-depth feature in the February 2005 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.

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