Actor/Stunt Performer Christian Stokes: Hollywood’s Outlaw
Christian Stokes has completed 13,000 high falls, averaging 20 to 22 feet, each. He’s fallen about 47 miles total. That’s less than twenty miles from space. “My brand is the tough guy,” says Stokes. “The bad guy.”
The admission may seem at odds coming from the easy-going, charming southern gentleman excitedly chatting on the zoom interview, but viewing Christian Stokes’ body of work, it’s impossible to argue: Tweaker in the film Stop Loss, Meth Head in an episode of No Ordinary Family, Bad Guy on Carpool Karaoke, and even Death on the series Passions; for the past two decades, Christian has an impressive resume of playing every type of villain, heel and criminal. At 6' 2", burly shoulders, short beard and long dirty blonde hair, it’s obvious why Christian has embraced his archetype.
More crucial than just his “look,” he credits his training on the stage as the secret to his prolific career on the screen. “I’m an actor who can do stunts and a stunt guy who can say dialogue,” says Stokes.
Actor, stunt performer & stunt coordinator; Christian is one of the reliable, hard-working characters that adds nitro to the Hollywood engine; the fuel injection that consistently supercharges the excitement, drama and laughs for our entertainment. After all, what is Hollywood without the explosions, the battles, the falls, the fights, the car crashes? It’s the reason we spend two hours sitting in a dark room while our imagination is transported to another world.
Christian’s journey to the screen started in small-town Athens, Texas outside of Dallas. Known as the “Black-eyed Pea Capital of the World” and as one of the first “Certified Retirement Communities,” Hollywood might as well have been in a different country, or even on another planet. Surrounded by farms, ranches, and a church on almost every corner, Christian grew up in the traditional American experience. His mother was a bank teller and his father was a firefighter. “Something like this [Hollywood] isn’t on the menu,” says Stokes. “I didn’t have any guidance into the industry. I didn’t have a mentor.”
His parents wanted him to study medicine and become a doctor. Unfortunately for their aspirations, when he was in high school, they also allowed him to join a local community theater called Athens Little Theater. It was Christian’s first opportunity to slip out of his skin and try on a different one. Cast in a production of Neil Simon’s Rumors, he stood on stage at the end of a particularly good performance, when the curtain came up, the audience chanted his character’s name, demanding a bow. There was something about the energy of the live show; the instant connection with the audience and their enthusiasm. “I felt the hook going in,” says Stokes.
His enthusiasm for performing continued into college when he attended Stephen F. Austin State University. He listened to his parents and enrolled to be a doctor but couldn’t shake his passion for performance. He simultaneously enrolled in theater classes, and by his second year, dropped the science classes entirely. He eagerly studied acting technique and theory, until he realized his education was priming him for a career as an instructor, not as a working actor. So, he quit school and moved to Dallas. “My mom was like, ‘what are you going to fall back on?” says Stokes. “My butt, I guess.”
His first job in the big city: a server at Medieval Times. He thought he would get noticed. It would be his big break. Of course, someone would stumble across his raw talent and demand he perform in the arena. It didn’t happen.
Instead, he found his first professional acting job at Six Flags Over Texas as a stunt performer. He was hired because of his acting background. The stunt actors were seasoned professionals from shows like Walker Texas Ranger. They showed Christian the ropes. He toured around America and around the world with the stunt show: Taiwan, Germany, Japan. He idolized these grizzled veterans of the stage and screen. They taught him how to fight and how to fall. And it led to the career he has today. “There’s two ways to get into stunts: one is to be born into it, the other is to be adopted,” he says.
One of Christian’s proudest accomplishments was joining Universal’s Wild Wild Wild West Show. The contract required the stunt performer to do a 3-story high fall (over 30 feet). During one show, Christian did the high fall onto a piece of plywood between two sawhorses. His mother was in the audience. She gasped and held her breath as he plummeted to the earth, she was not aware of the pad hidden beneath the plywood. Movie magic. She watched the board split on impact and searched fervently for a sign that her son was alright beneath the wreckage. His feet wiggled and he gave her a thumbs up. He worked that show for 7 years.
Christian eventually landed a “real deal agent” by the name of Sandra Bellen. His first gig was in an indie feature directed by then up-and-comer Patty Jenkins, who had two short films under her belt, and starring a South African actress known for playing mostly girlfriends & wives: Charlize Theron. The film was Monster and it would go on to win Theron an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a myriad of other awards and acclaim. Christian had one short scene with Theron and the night she won the Oscar, he saw his opportunity, packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles. The next 14 years would be all about film & television.
Christian popped up in roles on Alias and Nashville (playing the heavy, of course) among others. When he asked his father if he saw a particular performance on TV, his dad would remark, “I knew you were gonna die and it was the hot chick who was gonna kill you.”
He eventually made the jump in 2011 to Stunt Coordinator. On films like My Stretch of Texas Ground and Lake Dead, he had the opportunity to design the stunts and perform them on camera. The only drawback; it took him over a year to finally see his stunts on the big screen. Moviemaking is a long, laborious process. Between auditions and roles, Christian never fully left his previous career behind; he worked steadily as a stunt performer on stage in Los Angeles with Knotts Berry Farm.
In 2013 Christian had the opportunity to act as a guard in Escape Plan in a scene with Sylvester Stallone. He jumped at the opportunity, except there was one catch: he had to cut his hair. He learned a valuable lesson about typecasting; it took him over a year to grow his hair back before he was cast in another film — but he has no regrets. “There’s a lot of talented and hardworking actors and stunt performers,” says Stokes “So every time I land a role, it’s an accomplishment. It’s like winning a race.”
As the years, and falls, have taken its toll on Stokes, he has gravitated more towards Stunt Coordinator. Recently he completed a tour with Marvel Universe Live (MUL), an arena stunt show based on the Avengers movies. The sheer size and spectacle of the show dwarfs the quaint shows he came up with. MUL can only be staged in the biggest arenas. The challenge with the live show is that it has to compete with the movies. The solution is to go bigger and bigger, with more increasingly elaborate stunts. It is a sight to behold- explosions, light show, martial arts choreography, performers flying around on wires, a 40-second live fire burn of a character, motorcycle jumps. In fact, the production broke the world record for a motorcycle jump during a performance. Not content with that. They broke the record again the following show. Who makes it all happen? A village in the sky above the action in the rig, making sure Captain Marvel can repel down and fly around and fight, or Spiderman can swing in to save the day.
The biggest difference in a live show is the day in and day out. Lots of wear and tear doing the same stunts over and over again. A stuntman can do a fall hundreds of times. 500 times at least for a show like MUL. The upside? Instant gratification. Like his initial experience with Rumors, every performance Stokes gets to feel the energy of the crowd exulting as the motorcycle touches down or the cheers when Iron Man flies onto the stage. It never gets old.
Covid-19 has paused the live shows but Stokes keeps himself busy. He wrapped the movie Till Death right before the pandemic and is waiting to hear about a release date. It stars Jason Sudekis and Evangeline Lilly, and Christian plays a hitman. When he heard Sudekis was attached, Christian thought this may be his chance to try his hand at comedy. As a lifelong SNL fan, it would be a dream come true. Alas, Till Death is a violent, dark drama. They needed a bad guy. So, they hired Stokes. “I got to be menacing,” she says.
Currently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not have an Oscar category for Stunt Choreography or Stunt Performance, which Stokes would like to see changed “I’d really like to see the academy reward the stunt community,” he says. “I’ve seen guys who’ve done this for twenty years. You do a car hit stunt, you’re never quite the same. A car hit will mess you up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone do a car hit then they’re out of work for 6 to 8 months.” Stokes refuses to diminish his contributions, and those of his fellow stunt community, beneath the performances of drama and comedy that receive all of the accolades and awards. “It’s storytelling. Fights tell a story,” he says. “I think it’s time.”
We’d like to extend a big thank you to Christian Stokes for taking the time to speak with us. You can follow Christian Stokes on his website or his YouTube page, or on social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Originally published at http://screenradar.com on August 24, 2020.