The Horror-ible Life Of A Hollywood Stunt Performer
Fans of the 1980s action TV series, "The Fall Guy," are likely familiar with the hard-luck life of the average Hollywood stunt performer. Only a relative few can eke out a living from their chosen profession, and instead rely on odd jobs to survive.
Kane Hodder (pictured at left) is well acquainted with the plight of stunt performers. Though he has worked steadily for most of the more than 30 years he's been in the business, the first few years, he'll tell you, were pretty lean. "I starved for 8 years ... because I didn't work enough," Hodder tells AOL Jobs in an interview.
Fans of the "Friday the 13th" horror-movie franchise may recognize Hodder for his portrayals of bloodthirsty antagonist Jason Vorhees in four of the slasher films.
"I have a name in horror," the 56-year-old actor says.
That reputation has helped Hodder transition smoothly from stunt performer to character actor at a time in life when many people begin to feel the wear and tear that decades of living can take on the human body.
"One thing I've noticed after 35 years of hitting the ground, my knees are pretty bad," he says. "I'm not as mobile as I once was." It limits some of the stunts he can do, says Hodder, who talks about his Hollywood career and life in a new book, called "Unmasked."
The title, of course, is a reference to the hockey mask that Jason wears in most of the "Friday the 13th" movies, which prevents audiences from getting a glimpse of the actor portraying the villain. But the title also refers to experiences in Hodder's life that heretofore were unknown to anyone else -- even his wife and two sons.
In his book, Hodder talks about everything in his life -- "good and bad -- and there's plenty of bad to go along with the good," he says. In doing so, "nobody can say that the book doesn't have heart." (Hodder's biography is written by Michael Aloisi, an author of several books, including thrillers and horror stories.)
Among the more personal details Hodder discusses is the "severe bullying" he endured for two years beginning at age 10 and a stunt that went awry very early in his career, requiring months of hospitalization and leaving Hodder with burn scars on half his body.
It was a horrible psychological setback after it first happened, he says. "It's a horrible injury to go through." What's more, after he left the hospital and the pain subsided, Hodder realized that the scars would be with him for the rest of his life.
"That's hard to deal with at 22, as I was," says Hodder, who devotes some of his time to visiting with juvenile burn victims to show them there is life after such a tragedy.
Though the scars prevented him from getting work in TV commercials, Hodder has been able to use them to enhance bad-guy roles. "I have no problem doing that," he says.
Hodder was inspired to tell his story after reading those of other actors. But he wanted to go beyond a mere memoir of his Hollywood experiences.
"So many times I'll read an actor's biography and all it tells about is his career, and I was always frustrated by that," Hodder says, adding that he wanted to hear more about the authors' personal lives.
Hodder also says that he wrote the book in part because "after 35 years in the business, I have a lot of funny, crazy stories from the set."
Those include the time that Hodder was on the set of "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan." In a scene shot in Times Square in which the Jason character encounters several tough kids carrying a boom box. The script called for Hodder to kick the boom box to "smithereens." In the first take, however, Hodder tripped over the radio and fell "right on my ass," he says.
The embarrassing incident made Hodder mad. "Some bystanders were chuckling until I gave them the long Jason death stare," he says. "Surprisingly, they shut up after that."
Hodder got his start in stunt work during a break from college in the mid-1970s when he attended the University of Nevada, Reno. During a tour of Universal Studios in Hollywood, the young Hodder caught a Wild West stunt show and was immediately hooked.
"I said [to myself], 'Wait a minute, this is something that I would love to do,' " Hodder says, adding that much of what he saw mimicked many of the crazy things he used to do in high school to entertain himself and his friends. But in Hollywood, he realized, people were getting paid "quite well" to do it.
During summer break from his college studies, Hodder enrolled in a stunt school in Santa Monica, Calif. He loved it so much, he says, that he decided not to return to college.
His first job was on the 1970s TV medical drama "Emergency!" After working just two days on the set, he knew that he had made the right career choice.
"When it was over, I didn't want to leave," he says. "It just felt so right to me -- like I belonged there."
For those interested in a career in stunts, Hodder says to be prepared for a long slog. "It takes years to get to the point of working [steadily]," he says, although those with family or friends already in the business might find an easier route.
"It's a fantastic profession and a great career to have," he says, "if you're patient."
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David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. The syndicated column appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide before it made its debut on DailyFinance in 2010. Schepp now continues that tradition at Aol Jobs, covering the jobs beat and providing readers insight and analysis into the nation's challenging employment scene.
Schepp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.
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