Stuntman Sean Taylor is Hollywood’s go-to guy when it comes to filming dangerous water scenes. The Carlsbad native has doubled in surf movies like “Chasing Mavericks” and “Ride,” but it’s his recent role as Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio’s stuntman in “The Revenant” that has garnered the attention of industry insiders and filled his calendar. Taylor, a former professional surfer, was called in to perform the river stunt work, which he calls the most challenging of his 13-year career, high risk, and 100-percent worth it.
“We filmed in Montana in frigid water, and the conditions were very challenging to say the least, with what we were trying to accomplish there,” explains the 31-year-old. “You’re dealing with Mother Nature. Rivers are very unpredictable—more so than the ocean in my opinion. You have a lot of underwater currents that can pull you under.” While Taylor was in the river in Montana, DiCaprio was in a studio water tank in Los Angeles, mirroring all of his actions so that the close-ups would match well—including how buoyant Taylor was in the river, so that DiCaprio knew how high up in the water he needed to be.
“We were there with a huge crew for two weeks to accomplish the 20 seconds that actually went on film,” explains Taylor. “At the time, it didn’t seem like it may be worth it, but you just have to put your head down and get it done. I’ll forever have my name attached to that movie and be a part of something that Leo accomplished getting his first Oscar with. And that’s something I’ll be able to tell my grandkids.”
In the stunt world, guys like Taylor are hired based on a specialty. “I’m supposed to know how to handle being under water for certain lengths of time,” he states. “At the same time, I’m expected to know how to do anything, whether it’s fights, cars, or wire work. I’ve got good body awareness, and that comes from time and training, and learning on the fly a lot. It’s all about working hard and being humble.”
At 6-2, 180 pounds, Taylor fits a build that is similar to many of today’s leading actors. First introduced to the stunt world by his brother, Taylor has a stunt resume that includes an eight-year run as Eddie Cahill’s double on “CSI: NY”— and movies “Insurgent,” “The Accountant” (Ben Affleck), and “Fantastic Four” (wire work).
He names Luke Wilson (“Ride”) and Jason Sudeikis (“Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling”) as his favorite co-workers to date. “The funny guys are always cool,” he says. And he has no problem sharing about the nasty wipeouts he took during “Chasing Mavericks,” which also nearly claimed the life of lead actor Gerard Butler, who he was doubling.
“’Chasing Mavericks’ was a nightmare,” Taylor says. “I was doing the big beach break in the opening scene where they catch a wave together. That wasn’t fun because it was a 12-foot long board, in 8-10 foot waves, and they wanted us to catch a wave together in tandem. It was near impossible conditions, and we ate it about six times. I can’t believe we pulled it off.”
That’s just a day in the life of a stuntman, according to Taylor. “It’s never been about us,” he explains. “It’s about the character. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s an underground community, and most stuntmen don’t even post on social media about the incredible stuff they’re doing, like catching 60 foot waves. You get recognized in your network of people that you work with, as opposed to being gratified on that bigger scale.”
Taylor and his wife, both Carlsbad High alums, have two young children and enjoy hitting our local beaches (of course) while staying out of the fray of L.A. “We like Norte’s, and love the beach in Carlsbad, especially Terramar in the summer to go longboarding,” he shares. “My oldest is five, so we’ve been getting him in the water to introduce him to surfing. The quality of life in Carlsbad is hard to beat. Plus our families are close by, so our whole lives are here.”
Taylor doesn’t mind making the drive to Hollywood, either. “I’ve learned to enjoy or appreciate it over the years,” he admits. “If I have to be on set by seven or eight a.m., I get up at four, pour a big thing of coffee, and I’m in my car listening to music drinking my coffee. It’s pretty nice actually.”
And just as surfers have to be patient waiting for a good set of waves to come in, actors have to be equally flexible on set. “Sometimes you’re there for 4-5 hours, sometimes 14-16 hours, so you never know what they need you for,” Taylor adds.
When he does have a few free hours to surf, he heads to breaks at Ponto, Warm Waters or Terramar. “Surfing is a passion and hobby now,” says the busy dad. “If I have a two-hour window to surf, I maximize that effort 100-percent, go to the best spot I can go to, and I have a much higher appreciation for it now.” When he’s not surfing, he’s training at 24 Hour Fitness with fellow Carlsbad native and surfing legend Taylor Knox. “He was the guy you looked up to in the water,” says Taylor, about growing up aspiring to be like Knox. “Even at his age (44), he’s as good as he’s ever been in my opinion.” The duo completes a lot of core stability work with balls, bungees, and some weights…focusing on the necessary balance and core strength for stunt work. “At the end of the day, I fit a build and a body type,” he admits. “I’m very fortunate to be the size of a lot of actors and have been fortunate to double for a lot of lead actors in TV shows and movies.”
“We’re in the shadows, and we’re meant to be in the shadows,” he sums. “We get brought in to do a job that’s really crazy, hopefully walk away from it, and other people get the benefit.”
And for a cool, Carlsbad guy like Taylor, that’s fine by him. You can catch him next in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, under four hours worth of prosthetic makeup—quite fitting for a bad guy from another galaxy.
(published in Carlsbad Magazine 2016)