‘The Fall Guy,’ a love letter to stunt performers, premieres at SXSW

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AUSTIN, Texas — Coming nearly straight from the Oscars with a truck full of Kenergy, Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt rolled into the South By Southwest Film and TV Festival to premiere “The Fall Guy,” an affectionate, action-fueled ode to stunt work and the dedicated professionals that throw their bodies into filmmaking.

“The Fall Guy,” directed by stuntman-turned-filmmaker David Leitch, was perhaps the most anticipated world premiere to hit this year’s edition of SXSW. Given that Blunt and Gosling were both coming off Sunday’s Oscars where they were each nominated — and where Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” brought the house down — the buzz was even stronger Tuesday night.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to sing. I promise,” Gosling said before the film, prompting the crowd to boo.

But that was the only sound of disappointment that emanated from the raucous Austin, Texas, audience that lapped up every minute of “The Fall Guy,” an action movie loosely based on the 1980s TV series that Universal will open in theaters May 3.

In the film, Gosling stars as Colt Seavers, stunt double for a major movie star named Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who, after a back-breaking fall, is coaxed into returning to set to work on the sci-fi directorial debut of his lost love (Blunt). “The Fall Guy” has wall-to-wall action set pieces, both staged in the movie-within-the-movie and that occur in off-set adventures.

“We really wanted to celebrate crews and the magic behind the scenes,” said Leitch, who was Brad Pitt’s stunt double, among others, before making his first feature, 2014’s “John Wick.” His last film, “Bullet Train,” also starred Pitt.

But that clever bit of casting had nothing on the playful role reversals of “The Fall Guy.” It features a megawatt A-lister playing a stuntman whose face is treated like a liability for movie, acting alongside many of the stunt workers who actually worked on “The Fall Guy.” That includes Logan Holladay, who performed Gosling’s stunts, like a record-breaking car crash with 8 ½ rolls.

“There’s a moment in the film where he buckles me in for a stunt he’s about to do. And after it happens, I come out of the car and he pats me on the back for a stunt he just did,” Gosling said. “What I love about this movie is that in any other film you would not know that, but in this film, you do.”

The SXSW premiere of “The Fall Guy” came with some of its own stunts. A pair of motorcycles sped through the crowds milling outside the Paramount Theater before Blunt and Gosling arrived in the back of a pick-up.

Blunt and Gosling weren’t the only ones fresh from the Academy Awards. Leitch and his wife, Kelly McCormick, (a producer on “The Fall Guy”) produced a clip reel of stunts for the telecast. Though stunt performance isn’t an Oscar category (a sore point that comes up in “The Fall Guy”), Leitch thinks it will happen soon. The academy recently voted to add an Oscar for casting.

“I do feel it’s changing,” Leitch said. “I think the academy wants it and it’s going to happen.”

But, in the meantime, “The Fall Guy” seeks to give stunt performers – among other crew members – a moment in the spotlight.

“There are so many cynical movies about movie making. But the truth is in my experience, everyone cares so much,” Gosling said. “Even if it’s a prop, even if it’s a mug, the prop person will bring out 10 mugs and will have broken one of the handles and glued it back because they thought maybe it broke at one point but has sentimental value to you.”

Sentiment plays more of a role in “The Fall Guy” than you might think, too. Though Leitch said it was initially less prominent in the film, Gosling urged him to expand the love story component. “The Fall Guy” may exalt anonymous film workers, but it’s lifted by the charisma and chemistry of its two leading stars.

“Emily could create chemistry with a trash can,” Gosling said of Blunt, who was nominated for her supporting performance in the best-picture winner “Oppenheimer.”

Another “Fall Guy” co-star — an attack dog that responds only to commands in French — had particular poignance for Gosling.

“Eva (Mendes) and I used to have a dog named Hugo who was a Belgian malinois, who was an attack dog. And he only spoke French,” Gosling said. “He’s passed now and this is my homage to him. I miss that dude. He was a bon garcon.”

But in countless ways, the greatest romance in “The Fall Guy” is for the movies. Among those that get specifically name-checked are “Rocky” and “The Last of the Mohicans.” In those films and others, the bruising toil of stunt workers is designed to be invisible. “The Fall Guy” flips the script.

“I have to say,” Gosling said, “I’m Ryan Gosling and I did almost none of my own stunts in this movie.”

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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