Producer David Madden grinned as he greeted visitors to his set. "It's going to be quite a day. We're putting an expensive actor in front of a moving train."
The expensive actor was Gregory Hines, the former expensive dancer, and the particular stunt comes at the climax of "Eve of Destruction," an $11-million action-thriller being shot in Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles. In the film, Hines plays an expert military marksman who has been sent to terminate an android-gone-wrong named Eve VIII.
For this tricky shot, Hines' badly wounded McQuade has cornered Eve VIII on a subway track--actually a 350-foot mock-up created by production designer Peter Lamont--and just as he fires, a train bears down on him from behind. The script calls for McQuade to hit the ground and let the train pass over him. The film's British director, Duncan Gibbins, had rehearsed the sequence with Tierre Turner, Hines' stunt double, but just as the cameras were ready to roll, Hines announced that he wanted to do the stunt himself.
"I don't think he should do it," worried Dutch actress Renee Renee Soutendijk, who plays both Eve VIII and the scientist who creates her in her own likeness.
But Hines says he prefers to do his own stunts. A few weeks before, he flung himself into the air near an exploding car. So Gibbins ordered the cameras to roll and Hines staggered down the tracks as the train gathered speed behind him. (The prop train was going about 27 miles per hour but with the camera cranking at 12 frames a second, it will appear to be going twice as fast on the screen.) He stopped, aimed his laser-sighting gun and took a deep breath.
Stunt coordinator John Moio yelled, "Fire!"
Hines fired, then hurled himself down between the rails and laid still as the train passed over him. The Panavision camera, perched over the tracks on a special rig, slid abruptly away a second before it would be destroyed.
"Hold it!" Gibbins called out.
"Everybody freeze!" chimed in his assistant director.
Gibbins climbed down from the subway platform and peered at his actor, lying beneath the train. Hines signaled that he was OK and as he crawled out, the crew burst into spontaneous applause.
But a stunt man's work is never done: Duncan repeated the shot five more times.
Later, in his dressing room, Hines shook his head as if questioning his own judgment. "That stunt scared me every time. I thought after I did it a couple of times, I wouldn't be scared. But it was the sound of that train. After I do these stunts, I say, 'Boy, never again!' "
But then again comes, and he does it.
"I like to. When I was a kid, I loved action movies. But I could tell when a stunt man performed the stunt and not the actor. . . . Once I started making films, I would talk to stunt men and, eventually, I asked to do my own stunts."
Walking back to the set, Hines commented on the physical side to acting. "I feel like everything I do stems from my ability as a dancer. So these kinds of (action) roles, while it's not like dancing, it is choreography. A lot of times, I don't have to consciously do any acting. I figure the physical thing and whatever's happening on my face--it's real!"
His director, on this occasion, agrees. "The great movie actors can blend the physical and cerebral," Gibbins said. "The payoff in this kind of movie is an actor who can stay in character in front of a train moving at 30 m.p.h. If he messes up, he can hurt himself badly."
Waiting for Gibbins to set up the next shot, the 43-year-old Hines sipped on one of the carbohydrate protein drinks he uses daily to maintain his weight. Despite his image as a thin dancer, there is surprising muscular bulk in his torso and arms. Four years ago, while preparing for his role in "Running Scared," Hines accompanied co-star Billy Crystal into the weight room. Hines said he's been lifting weights ever since.
"At the time I weighed, like, 140 pounds. I was very thin. Now I'm up to 182."
Hines, since 1969, has also held a black belt in karate, and has studied Tae Kwan Do. "It's a Korean style that uses mostly kicking techniques," he said. "Because of my dance background, it came to me pretty easily. But I don't consider myself a black belt anymore--I haven't maintained the discipline."
Soutendijk, a former national gymnast in Holland, has performed most of her own stunts in "Eve of Destruction," too.
A leading lady in Holland and well-known throughout Europe for her work in several Paul Verhoeven films ("Spetters," "The Fourth Man"), Soutendijk finds herself starting all over in the U.S.
"With the unification of Europe coming up in '92, people are putting big (film) co-productions together," she said. "And they wind up hiring American stars because they're known in all European countries. Now it's almost a necessity for European actors to get commercial value over here just to be able to work in Europe again."