The fall guy for Harrison Ford in those first three “Indiana Jones” movies was such a dead ringer for the star that even Ford's son mistook the stunt man for Dad.
“We were very similar looking, and when I had the costume on it was hard to tell us apart, which of course is very flattering,” British movie stand-in Vic Armstrong said in an email interview with The Oklahoman.
“One day Harrison's little son walked past me and held my hand, and it was not until I spoke that he realized I was not his dad.”
Whenever he was wearing the dusty brown fedora, leather jacket and bullwhip favored by that famous action-archaeologist, even the crew members on the films were constantly mistaking Armstrong for Ford.
Now a director, stunt coordinator and second unit director retired from taking other people's lumps, Armstrong, 65, boasts a resume of stunt work for George Lazenby for the Swiss Alps skiing scenes in “On Her Majesty's Secret Service” (1969), Roger Moore in “Live and Let Die” (1973), Jon Voight in “The Odessa File” (1974), Christopher Reeve in “Superman” (1978) and “Superman II” (1980), Timothy Dalton in “Flash Gordon” (1980), Sean Connery for the high fall on horseback in “Never Say Never Again” (1983) and Ford in “Blade Runner” (1982), “Return of the Jedi” (1983), “Witness” (1985), and the first three Indiana installments.
To name a few.
Armstrong didn't work in 2008's “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” because of a prior commitment to do “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.”
But all of his death-defying work as “Indy” can be seen in the new Blu-ray box set, “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures,” which contains all four of the George Lucas-produced, Steven Spielberg-directed films — “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984), “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
And of all the actors for whom Armstrong has taken a fall, Armstrong says Ford is his favorite.
Q: I understand (your strong resemblance to one another) proved useful when Ford injured his back and had to sit out of filming crucial action sequences in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and you filled in for him. Which sequences were these?
A: Poor Harrison has had a (bad) back for many years, and riding the elephants in Sri Lanka really hurt it. He had to go to America for treatment, and we shot a lot of the stone crusher sequence with the fight with my old friend Pat Roach, who eventually gets crushed. And also a lot of the swinging around before Indy drops into the mine car.
Q: I also read that the stunt where you jump from a horse onto a German tank in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was voted one of the Top 10 film stunts of all time by a panel of experts and Sky Movies viewers in the U.K. in 2002. Are you pretty proud of that honor?
A: I am obviously very proud to be voted the best stunt but quite honestly there are many wonderful stunts that have been performed over the years and it is a little like voting for the “best song.” It is all a question of personal taste.
Q: Did you also do the stunt (in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) where Indiana crawls under a speeding truck from front to back, and then is dragged behind?
A: No, my great friend and great stuntman Terry Leonard did that stunt and it was spectacular.
Q: Have you ever been seriously injured doing a stunt?
A: I have broken bones and things over the years but it is not anything to be proud of. In my eyes it was really a failure if I got hurt.
Q: What was the most difficult stunt you ever performed, and what film was it in?
A: Nearly every stunt is difficult until you have performed it, and then you feel it is an anticlimax and the next one, whatever it is, is the most difficult.
Q: The most dangerous?
A: Maybe the 100-foot fall off a horse in a viaduct on “Omen III: The Final Conflict,” or the jump onto the tank. They are all history though, really.
Q: The stunt you're most proud of pulling off?
A: Probably inventing the Fan Descender, for which I got a technical Academy Award.
(The Fan Descender is a device using a cable and a disc brake for safely and accurately arresting the descent of stunt persons in high free falls. Armstrong is the first stunt person to receive an Oscar.)
Q. Who was the most demanding director you ever worked for?
A. They are nearly all demanding. That is their job. Some have better personalities than others, but all are demanding.
Q: Which actor or actors did you enjoy doubling for the most?
A. Harrison Ford, Donald Sutherland, Ryan O'Neal.
Q: Are you still working as a stuntman?
A. No, I work as an action unit director and stunt coordinator.
Q: You married a stuntwoman, Wendy Leech (whom he met on the set of “Superman II”). Is or was that a constant source of worry for both of you, that one of you might be hurt or even killed on the job?
A. No, we are very careful about how the stunts are prepared, and we are in the business of illusion, and the fun is making things appear death-defying but are repeatable and relatively safe.
Q: Are you directing anything soon?
A. I am directing the action unit on “Jack Ryan” for Ken Branagh and hope to direct Nic Cage in “Left Behind” in Canada as the first unit director next year.