10 minutes with... Gaston Howard

Meet Gaston Howard, professional stuntdouble for the likes of Will Smith and LL Cool J. Typical duties include jumping drawbridges in the dark and crashing Harleys. Yes, it's a dangerous job - but someone's got to do it...

Meet Gaston Howard, professional stuntdouble for the likes of Will Smith and LL Cool J. Typical duties include jumping drawbridges in the dark and crashing Harleys. Yes, it's a dangerous job - but someone's got to do it...

So Gaston, how did you get into bikes?
I wanted bikes so bad as a kid but mum could never afford them. So I rode friends' bikes until my twenties when I bought my own - a Suzuki GS550. Sportsbikes were always my thing, but I raced motocross for a couple of years and did some trials. I loved riding in the mountains round Vancouver in Canada, where I'm from.

Is Vancouver big on bikes then?
It's suppressive. There's a fairly big biking community but the rest of the population doesn't support it. There are very few motocross tracks and you've got nowhere to ride. There are lots of cool trails but the mountain bikers and environmentalists don't want nothing to do with motorbikes, they're like, 'Keep them things outta here'.

How did you learn motorcycle stunts?
Just practising, you know. I got a bunch of friends who were always doing crazy motorcycle stuff and I really admired the street stunt scene. It's the stoppies that got me hooked, then I started on wheelies and it kinda got out of hand!

What bike did you learn stunts on?
A Honda CBR900 FireBlade. I've still got it. It's a great bike for doing tricks, and a friend of mine built a whole new tail section for it so I can put my feet back for stand-up wheelies.

What was the first motorcycle stunt scene you performed in a film?
The first one was kind of a nothing deal. I just rode a police bike into an elevator in Wrongfully Accused.

You're also known for your kickboxing scenes. Do you prefer bike stunts?
Oh yes, bike stunts are my favourite and when everything goes smooth, it's great. But when it goes wrong it goes very wrong and it's ugly.

So when has it gone wrong?
In Rollerball. The skaters play this game with these motorcycles and it was all about doing these figure-of-eight loops. Then one skater takes the jump in the middle while I take the jump on the side and we cross each other. The bike I was riding kicked me sideways. I put my leg down to steady the thing and it blew my knee, which will never be the same. And then the whole movie flopped. It was depressing.

So what makes you continue stunting in the face of injury?
As long as I can still walk and function, I'll be doing stunts.

Which is your favourite scene you performed in I, Robot?
The scene where Will - that's me really - jumps with the MV Agusta, dismounts mid-air and pulls the guns out. We used a wire rig to keep me in the air while the bike dropped into a box rig. We didn't actually use an MV for that but a Husqvarna with MV bodywork. The Husqvarna is a better bike to jump with and anyway, the MV Agusta is far too expensive to wreck! The end of that scene sees the bike getting mangled across the pavement - it was a black scrap bike they fired out of a cannon.

Did you enjoy riding the MV Agusta?
The MV is a great bike, but it's not the friendliest for doing all the tricks. It's good for stoppies because it has monster brakes and the boys in the factory put a bigger sprocket on the rear to lower the gearing for wheelies. But they had me do this 180° spin around in loose dirt, which is the worst place to be on a sportsbike. It's hard because the bike wants to wash out on you all the time and you're fighting against everything trying to stay upright. But they put the camera down low and took some great shots.

Which is the most impressive bike stunt scene you've ever filmed?
I don't know about impressive, but the one that scared the hell out of me the most was a stunt I did in Rollerball. The director shot this whole night sequence on a night vision camera that was so photosensitive it couldn't have any light at all. So it was pitch black with the lights all dimmed down on this Honda Shadow made up to look like a big Harley. I had to ride through fields with potholes and tyre tracks, and I got a guy on the back. It was a violent ride. At this point LL Cool J - me, really - turns in the road and crashes because the bad guy shoots at his tyres. I had to lay the bike down with all the sparks and that was pretty good.

So when did it get scary?
When LL Cool J jumped this drawbridge as it was starting to open. When they were shooting with the camera behind me I placed a couple of pen lights on the landing ramp as a reference. But then we had to shoot the bike jumping towards the camera with the whole landing ramp in sight so there's no chance of any illumination. I had just done the jump so I thought this isn't too bad, I'll give it a little extra throttle to give me the height to sail this gig and make it impressive. So I hit the ramp, gave it a load of throttle and, as I'm in the air, that was the moment I thought it was game over.

Shit! What did you do?
It's pitch black. I'm looking down. I can't see the ramp. There's no reference point around me and I don't know where the camera is. If I go off the edge of the bridge it's a 100-foot drop and I just know I overshot the landing ramp, so I'm thinking, what am I going to do? As it happens I just caught the very tip of the ramp. I hit it so hard I blew every body part off the controls - my hands came off, my feet came off. For some reason the forces were with me and I just managed to regain control of the bike and stay upright. So I got off, leaned the bike against the fence and took a walk down the bridge. The coordinator was shouting, 'Hey Gas, what you doing, get back here!' And I said, 'Hey bro, I need a minute here man. Just give us a second...'