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The other Indiana Jones on pulling stunts for Ford

  • Story Highlights
  • Vic Armstrong was Harrison Ford's stunt double in the Indiana Jones movies
  • His physical similarity to Ford is at the root of his success as Indy's "fall guy"
  • After 40 years in the business, Armstrong is the authority on death defying stunts
  • Armstrong on Ford as a stuntman actor: "Harrison has to be the ultimate"
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By CNN's Mairi Mackay
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Think of a bullwhip and fedora and one man immediately springs to mind: Indiana Jones, the sardonic archeologist played by Harrison Ford in Steven Spielberg's '80s trilogy which started with "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

"If you learn how to talk I'm in deep trouble," quips Harrison Ford (right) to Vic Armstrong (left) on this photo which shows how similar the pair look.

But if you were to venture on set during the filming of "Raiders" hoping to catch a few moments with the star you might have had a surprise. The tall, rangy man in the dented hat signing autographs could just as easily have been Ford's stunt double, Vic Armstrong.

Back then, in the right light Armstrong could easily be mistaken for Ford -- both of them over six feet tall and bronzed with crinkly eyes. And it's this that is at the root of his success as Indy's "fall guy."

In fact, Ford is a talented stuntman in his own right and Armstrong says that his biggest headache on set was trying to stop Ford from getting involved in action that was too risky.

"The biggest stunt I always say on the Indiana Jones films was stopping Harrison doing the stunts because I had to fight nearly every time to stop him," Armstrong chuckles.

An accomplished horseman (his first career choice was steeplechase jockey), it's Armstrong's Indy you see galloping along in the stained khaki shirt and jumping from his horse onto a tank in "The Last Crusade."

"Technically very difficult," Armstrong says, "I had to rely on a horse, and horses have a sense of survival and they don't actually do what you tell them to do as they haven't read the script."

It may have been his close resemblance to Ford that clinched the "Raiders" job but the pair developed a rapport that led Armstrong to work on the other two installments of the trilogy, "Temple of Doom" and "The Last Crusade."

"It always works better if you do have a relationship with [the actor]. You can mimic how they move, how they work when you coordinate fights for them like I did with Harrison," Armstrong tells CNN.

Armstrong was just 16 years old when he started in the stunt industry in 1965. He utilised his horseriding skills to double as Gregory Peck in spy movie "Arabesque." He had to jump a huge moat and then fall off his mount but it was the simple lifestyle and travel that hooked young Armstrong -- "Forty dollars a day and all you can eat. Fantastic living."

After over 40 years and countless movies, his filmography reads like a who's who of Hollywood: he has doubled for Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland, John Voight and collaborated with directors like Ridley Scott, Paul Verhoeven, Michael Cimino and Sir Richard Attenborough.

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His work for three decades on classic Bond films like "You Only Live Twice" and "Live and Let Die" cemented his reputation as a stuntman who could pull off complicated of stunts with precision.

"The films I've done I've been very lucky to have been very prolific in an area and a time when iconic films were being made.

"My first stunt on a Bond film was in 1966 in the winter of "You Only Live Twice". I was one of the ninjas coming down firing guns into the volcano, which for me was sensational."

He doubled for Roger Moore in "Live and Let Die" for a short while and was then propelled into working as a stunt coordinator and director of action units.

Armstrong then added a superhero to his already impressive roster of action idols, standing in for Christopher Reeve in "Superman." Despite this, his allegiances lie solidly with cinema's 'real' heroes.

"If you look at "Spiderman" and movies like that, or the "Incredible Hulk," they are far more computer-generated and so therefore slightly more cartoonish or video game-ish.

"My personal preference is for real action just enhanced or maybe helped by computers. We use computers to take away fall pads or wires if you're getting snatched or thrown in the air."

And in the spirit of keeping it real, Armstrong has gone to great lengths to help stuntmen achieve their crazy feats as safely as possible.

In the 1980s he modified a tool known as the "fan descender" for the film "Green Ice." It would allow stuntmen to safely slow down when performing high freefalls.

It revolutionized the stunt industry and in 2002 he was awarded a Science and Technology Academy Award for his invention -- the only one ever handed out to a stunt man.

Earlier this year, he was honored by the Screen Actors Guild for his work on 2007 action horror "I am Legend."


He has just finished work on "The Mummy 3" -- it was his prior commitment to this movie that stopped him working on the fourth Indy film "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" -- and is now stunt coordinating on the Weinstein production "Shanghai."

Even after all this time, Armstrong, the authority on how to create a death defying stunt, still reckons Ford is the best stuntman actor he has ever worked with -- "Harrison has to be the ultimate." So why bother with a stunt double? "I was cheaper and it didn't matter if I got hurt."

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