The Fall Guy

By Loeffler, William | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 2, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Fall Guy


Loeffler, William, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Computer-generated imagery can make Harry Potter fly. In the movie "I Am Legend," it can empty the streets of New York City of all life except for Will Smith and his dog.

But some movie effects still require the human touch: a fall from the rooftop, a speeding car cornering on two wheels.

Or, in the upcoming film "Leatherheads," getting knocked cold by a punch from George Clooney.

The person on the business end of that handsome fist was stuntman and Murrysville native Jason Silvis.

"If I could work on every George Clooney movie, I would," says Silvis, 33, a graduate of Kiski Area High School. "Because he's a wonderful guy."

Silvis who lives in Washington Township, has realized a boyhood ambition of being the go-to guy whenever a film, television show or commercial calls for a high fall, fight scene, tricky driving maneuver or even a body burn, where part or all of a character catches fire.

Recently, he was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award as part of the stunt crew who worked on the movie "I Am Legend." Silvis was nominated in the category of Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture.

Stunt work can be as mundane as doubling for an actor who doesn't want to dash across the street during a take. It also can mean falling five stories off a building backward, he says. Daredevils need not apply, however. Every stunt is carefully planned.

"That's what stunts are all about, doing something for the cameras in a safe manner," he says. "We're entertainers."

He generally doesn't tell people he's a stuntman, he says. And no, he's never used it as a pick-up line.

"It's not glamorous," he says, citing 12-hour days.

He played a Massachusetts state trooper in "The Departed," firing a real assault rifle with blanks in a shootout scene with Jack Nicholson's mob. In the upcoming HBO mini-series "John Adams," he wears Indian war paint and tosses crates of tea overboard in a recreation of the Boston Tea Party. He also has performed in crime re-enactments on "America's Most Wanted" on Fox.

In "American Gangster" he worked as an ND (nondescript) where he drove a car but his face wasn't visible. On "Adventureland," a film shot partially in Kennywood Park in West Mifflin last year, he worked as stunt coordinator, setting up a stunt that involved a double for actor Jesse Eisenberg crashing a car.

"I love Jason," says Katie Shenot of Bloomfield, a casting director with Nancy Mosser Casting who also worked on "Adventureland." "He's so professional."

Silvis grew up watching Lee Majors as stuntman and bounty hunter Colt Seaver on "The Fall Guy" television series. As a teenager, he jumped bicycles into ponds, rode dirt bikes, jumped on trampolines and studied gymnastics, although he never competed.

"I grew up with 15 or 20 boys in the neighborhood," he says. "We were always doing something stupid."

With the help of friend and local film producer Paula Gregg, he began meeting others in the business. In 1998, he moved west to Los Angeles to study with veteran stuntman Johnny Miller, now 72. Miller has a long resume that includes stunt work on the James Bond film "Diamonds Are Forever" as well as numerous television series, including "Knight Rider. …

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