Diary of a Stuntman

Pratfalls, fistfights and explosions are all in a day’s work for Mike Fleetwood, whose credits include everything from television shows like ‘MacGyver’ and ‘Burn Notice’ to major feature films like ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ and ‘Bad Boys II.’

by Patty Rasmussen

Mike Fleetwood like most kids had a vague idea of what he might want to be when he grew up. He remembers writing down three professions in second grade: circus clown, disc jockey and test-car driver. Fast forward to his first year in community college, and Fleetwood narrowed it further to stuntman. Why? One word: television.

“I grew up watching westerns and always thought it was the neatest thing,” Fleetwood said, though with only sisters at home he was left to reenact fight scenes on his own. “I thought, ‘My gosh, if I could ever be a cowboy in movies or on TV, that would be the best.’” 

He watched “The High Chaparral,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Big Valley” and, later, “The Six Million Dollar Man” starring Lee Majors. Fleetwood then acted out the characters’ movements with his friends. It might be too much of a groaner to say Fleetwood “fell” into his stuntman career, though he definitely took his share of falls and his path was certainly circuitous. He started out as an actor, and his first role was acting as a stand-in on the TV series “Swamp Thing” in 1992. At the time, Fleetwood was running a mass mailing company he had encouraged his parents to purchase in his hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. However, the show was filming in Orlando, some 250 miles away. 

“When I told my parents about the gig, they supported me going after my dream,” he said. “It was a six-day shoot, so I tried to help out on weekends.” 

“I grew up watching westerns and always thought it was the neatest thing. I thought, ‘My gosh, if I could ever be a cowboy in movies or on TV, that would be the best.’”

Stuntman Mike Fleetwood

Stand-ins substitute for lead actors while the crew lights the set, but Fleetwood was watching and learning during his seven-month gig. It was also the era of big live shows at theme parks. “All the guys I was working with were into stunts,” he said. “They asked if I was interested in doing stunts, and I said maybe.” By this time, his parents had sold the business, and Fleetwood had married his wife, Ingrid, the couple having settled in Orlando. Friends taught him to rappel on scaffolding in a backyard. “I rode motorcycles and BMX bikes growing up,” he said. “I drove, so everything I learned I was able to bring to stunt work.” 

Later in his career Fleetwood trained with weapons—including swords and firearms—and mastered other technical skills, but it was still strictly amateur. 

“There was an audition for a show called ‘Terminator 2: 3-D,’” Fleetwood said. His audition included taking a gunshot to the face and shoulder and walking like the villainous T-1000. He landed the role. The show ran at the Universal Studios Florida theme park until 2017; Fleetwood performed in it from 1996 until 2000. He also worked part-time at hotels and acted in two national commercials for Toyota. As “Terminator 2” wound down, Fleetwood auditioned for another Universal show in 1999, earning and playing the title role in “Sinbad” for 15 years. The live show provided the security necessary for him to seek more film and television work. 

Fleetwood in 2000 landed his first television stunt work, which took the form of a fight scene on “Sheena: Queen of the Jungle.” Soon, he was shuttling between Miami and Orlando while working on feature films “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Bad Boys II” and the television show “Burn Notice.” Fleetwood received his Screen Actors Guild card and worked under the name Reece Fleetwood, as Mike Fleetwood was already taken. “Everyone was saying Orlando or Miami was going to be Hollywood East, and it wasn’t happening,” he said. Fleetwood noticed many of the quality assignments were moving north to Georgia, and it was not long before he and Ingrid knew it was time for them to move, too. In true stuntman form, he described it as a “giant Indiana Jones leap of faith” but one that had to be made. “Production companies had moved here and wanted to hire locally,” he said. “They didn’t want to hire professionals from out of state and have to pay for hotels, per diem, travel. I knew this was where God wanted us to be.” 

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They settled in Newton County in late 2014, and though his line of work tends to be up and down, he landed a high-profile, 18-month gig as stunt double for George Eads, who played the character of Jack Dalton on the CBS remake of “MacGyver,” which is shot in the metro Atlanta area. 

“[Eads] told me the first day I worked, ‘Man, if you’re doubling me, you’re going to be busy because there’s a ton of action for my character and I’ve got a bum back and my shoulder is all whacked out,’” Fleetwood recalled. Eads was true to his word. Fleetwood was involved in loads of fights, falls, car chases and a scene with an explosion that ended up dislocating his shoulder. “I was stunt coordinating that day,” he said. “We were supposed to be running from an explosion and we were supposed to be behind a barricade before the explosion, but I told the director I thought it would look cooler if we weren’t quite behind the barricade.” Fleetwood was right about the shot, but it took him about a year to recover from the pain of that dislocated shoulder. 

Injuries are a hazard of the business, so staying in good physical condition remains essential. At 53, Fleetwood can hold a plank for six minutes. He trains three days a week for 90 minutes at a time and rides his motorcycle off road twice a week. Mental preparation is equally important. “Never stop learning,” Fleetwood said. “There’s always room for improvement. Whenever I have downtime, I train or learn something new.” He had some free advice for anyone looking to perform. “Be friendly and nice to everyone, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because you never know how this business will work out,” he said. “That kid that’s the intern on the set today could turn out to be the stunt coordinator or director tomorrow.”

Fleetwood knows the clock is ticking on his stunt career, but there is one item he wants to check off his professional bucket list before he hangs up his kit. 

“To this day, I’ve never done a western,” he said. “I’ve done four Civil War-era films, but I haven’t done a western. I’m going to do one before I finish my career.” 

Did You Know?

• There are 400-plus professional stunt performers based in Georgia.

• While no formal education is required to work as a stunt performer, you must be a member of either the Screen Actors Guild or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists to apply for a stunt job.

• Stunt schools offer training in precision driving, harness work, fighting technique and weapons. Additionally, many stunt performers pursue training in martial arts, rappelling and other technical skills.

Click here to read more stories by Patty Rasmussen.

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