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Allan Graf's latest sport? Stunts in movies

Working Hollywood: The baseball coordinator, stunt coordinator and second-unit director for the Jackie Robinson biopic '42' once played football for USC and the L.A. Rams before segueing into stunt work.

April 21, 2013|By Cristy Lytal, Los Angeles Times
  • Consultant Allan Graf on the set of the movie "42."
Consultant Allan Graf on the set of the movie "42." (D. Stevens, Warner Bros. )

It may seem surprising that Allan Graf — the baseball coordinator, stunt coordinator and second-unit director for Warner Bros.' Jackie Robinson biographical drama "42" — first made his name on the gridiron. But that's precisely why Graf was the perfect person for the job.

"Jackie Robinson was a former football player at UCLA, and he played baseball like he was playing football," said Graf. "So writer-director Brian Helgeland says, 'Allan, I want you to make this baseball look very physical.' And I go, 'I'd love to do that.'"

A native of Southern California, Graf won All-American honors as the captain of the 1967 San Fernando High School city championship football team. Graf was a three-sport high school athlete, lettering in football, baseball and shot put. Football coach John McKay recruited him to play offensive guard for USC, where he started on the NCAA national championship team in 1972. After graduation, he became a free agent with the L.A. Rams before joining the World Football League's Portland Storm.

PHOTOS: Scenes from '42'

Because of his strong resemblance to former Chicago Bears player-turned-actor Dick Butkus, Graf soon got into a new game: stunt work. Graf first doubled Butkus in "Gus," a 1976 Disney film about a mule that kicks field goals. When the World Football League folded, Graf went full time into stunt work and also became a stunt coordinator and second-unit director.

He worked on the football movies "Any Given Sunday," "The Replacements" and "Friday Night Lights." He was second-unit director and coordinated the jousting in "A Knight's Tale," had a speaking role in "L.A. Confidential."

"I want to be good at a lot of things," he said. "That's why I like the fact that I've done westerns, I've done comedies, I've done war pictures, I've done actioners, and I've done sports movies."

Camera obscura: As the film's second-unit director, Graf captured most of the baseball action in "42." "I put cameras where you wouldn't think," he said. "I buried a camera and had the actor come right to it when he was diving back to first. The camera was at dirt level. I shoot aggressively, and I'm not very passive about it. Being a football player, I have an aggressiveness that way."

PHOTOS: Game-changing baseball movies

Diamond in the rough: There were no shortcuts when it came to training actor Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed Robinson, to play ball like a pro. He worked with a cadre of coaches, including Dennis Reitz, David Iden and former Atlanta Brave Pete Smith. "We did the hitting to make him look like Jackie Robinson the hitter," said Graf. "We had to make him run like Jackie Robinson, we had to teach him the slide, and we had to teach him the throw. We had to teach him for 21/2, three months before we even started filming. It's just hours of work, hard work."

Man of steal: There were plenty of shortcuts when it came to getting Boseman around the bases, however. "One thing we had to show was how well Jackie Robinson could steal," said Graf. "He used to mess up the pitchers, because the pitchers couldn't believe how far he'd lead off base. The other guys never did it like that, because they didn't have the speed to get back to the base."

All-star cast: To round out the on-screen team, Graf relied on real college baseball players and former minor leaguers. "There's no better result," said Graf. "I was told they had 50 critics that watched the movie. Out of the 50, 48 guys loved it, and they said, 'The baseball looks real.' That's all I need to hear! We wanted it to be real."

The big leagues: Before hitting theaters, "42" was shown to the Dodgers and other major league teams. "One of the old guys that used to play with the Dodgers, Maury Wills, was tearing up, so that makes me feel good," said Graf. "It's one of those movies that's a real feel-good movie. Jackie Robinson changed history, and he changed what happened in Major League Baseball."

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