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- Interview by Thief12 (Carlo Giovannetti)
Christopher Leps is an American stunt performer and aspiring filmmaker who worked on 24 on several seasons, most notably Seasons 7 and 8 as a stunt double for Kiefer Sutherland. Leps, who started his journey to filmmaking as a stunt performer in various shows at Disney World, eventually found his way into Hollywood.
After earning a reputation as a stunt performer in numerous TV shows and films, Leps was invited to work on the show with a small stunt role on Season 5, and returned to work as a regular stunt double during Seasons 7 and 8; an opportunity which he says he's "very proud to be a part of". In recent years, Leps has shifted his attention to a career in filmmaking, and has already worked on a handful of short films and documentaries as a director, writer, and producer. Wiki 24 interviewed Leps to know about his life and career, his road to Hollywood, his work as an aspiring filmmaker, and what the future might bring for him.
The following session of questions and answers was done by email. The interview was posted on December 8, 2015.
Wiki 24: Let's start with some biographical information. Your IMDb page states that you were born in Washington, DC, but I read an interview of yours with AZCentral where you said you were raised in Central Florida? When did you move to the Sunshine State and why?
Christopher Leps: My parents moved us from Northern Virginia to Florida in January 1975. Walt Disney World opened in 1971, and Central Florida had become a kind of "land of opportunity" given this new boost to its economy. My parents were looking for a change and it proved to be a good fit.
W24: In that same interview, you credit your visits to Disney World as a huge influence in your later involvement in films. What was it about the theme park or the Disney experience that inspired you?
CL: We were very much a "Disney family." My parents took us to the park(s) a few times a year, and we experienced the resorts and all they had to offer as well. Fort Wilderness had its "campfire movies," an outdoor venue which showed films on a big screen, and I think that's where the seed was originally planted. The Disney films created a wondrous sense of adventure, and the entire experience had a huge impact on me.
W24: What other things might’ve influenced your decision to enter the film business?
CL: I didn't really have much of a "plan" in my high school years. I was very much a daydreamer in school, (mostly thinking about movies and my limited understanding of the film industry at that time.) Fortunately, Central Florida had a solid entertainment industry, so given my penchant for cinema, it seemed like a natural progression to pursue that path. I tried college for a short time, but it really wasn't a good fit for me. I couldn't wait to get out in the real world and try to make something happen within the entertainment realm.
W24: A career in film business is not necessarily the "ideal" goal that parents want for their children. Did your parents have any issues with you choosing this career path?
CL: My parents definitely had their concerns, and of course, they encouraged me to have something to fall back on, as most parents would. But when I landed my first job in entertainment as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle at the Disney/MGM Studios, they quickly saw how passionate I was and how determined I was to make a career out of it. They were incredibly supportive, and to this day, their support and encouragement remains unwavering. My parents are truly the best.
W24: I also read that you started stunt work by acting in the Disney World live shows (i.e: Indiana Jones, Wild West). I’ve always wondered, doesn’t it become tedious to do the same routines several times a day per week? How did you keep the energy level high for every performance?
CL: The great thing about live performance is that you receive an instant reaction/energy from the audience. That definitely helps with what would otherwise become a vapid routine. But again, it was my passion. If something is your passion, it doesn't feel like work. It was incredibly rewarding. Though admittedly, toward the end of my live performance career, I was looking to move into television and film. Combined with the toll that daily stunt performances took on my body, I was definitely ready to make the change when I did.
W24: What or who will you credit as the biggest opportunity opener for you to get your foot in the professional film business?
CL: As the old adage states, luck is when opportunity and preparation come together. I was in the right place at the right time with the right skills, I suppose. One day after a show at the Wild West Stunt Show at Universal Studios, I noticed a film crew on a location scout. I asked what project they were scouting for, and it happened to be an upcoming martial arts TV show that was to film at Universal. Since my background was in martial arts and gymnastics, I asked if they needed any stunt performers. It just so happened, the gentleman I was speaking to was one of the show's directors, Isaac Florentine. He scheduled an audition for me the very next day, and I got the job... my first TV gig; one of the full-time ninjas on the show. Those early years were great, and I learned a lot from Isaac as both a stunt performer and filmmaker.
W24: Were you a fan of 24 before working on the show?
CL: Aside from a few shows, I didn't watch much television at that time. (And because there is so much content out there presently, I only do so now via streaming if a show is recommend or I've read certain reviews.) I knew that Kiefer Sutherland was the lead, and that each episode took place within an hour of each day, but I hadn't seen any episodes prior to working in the show.
W24: And how did you end up working on the show?
CL: I had visited the set a few times in the early seasons, and I knew the stunt coordinator(s), but the opportunity didn't arise until season five. My friend Jeff Cadiente was the stunt coordinator at the time and I had worked for him a lot in the past, (Martial Law, V.I.P., Angel, etc.) Jeff needed a group of guys on an episode to play Vladimir Bierko's (Julian Sands) henchmen, and he gave me one of the spots.
W24: You worked as both a stunt double and an actor on the show. Any performance or stunt that you thought was particularly demanding or challenging on the show?
CL: I would say the ratchet stunt in Day 8: 2:00am-3:00am was probably the most challenging. It was the scene where Jack Bauer is blown back from an explosion in a hyperbaric chamber. I was doubling Kiefer Sutherland and the shot required the cameras to see the entire room including the ground. As a result, I did the ratchet to the floor, which couldn't be padded. It was painful, but I am incredibly proud of how the scene turned out.
W24: What can you tell us about the acting roles you had on the show?
CL: As far as some of the acting roles, Jeff Cadiente used me on shows in the past in a stunt acting capacity, so he offered me a few stunt roles on 24 that required some dialogue. I am definitely not an actor, (I have incredible respect for those who are and make it look so easy,) but I can deliver a line of dialogue here and there when needed, I suppose.
W24: How would you describe the overall experience of working on 24? Are you still in contact with anyone from the cast or crew?
CL: 24 was a great show to work on, and I'm very proud to be a part of that franchise, especially my work stunt doubling as Jack Bauer. Jeff Cadiente and I keep in touch, and I run into a few of my stunt colleagues on other sets from time to time. In many ways, it's a very small industry with various degrees of separation, as they say.
W24: Any funny anecdote or memorable moment during filming?
CL: I did some driving on Day 8: 6:00am-7:00am in the scene where Jack Bauer steals a black Hyundai Genesis coupe. We shot the scene in downtown LA and there were a lot of wild pigeons in the alley where we filmed. During one take, a pigeon flew under the wheel of the car and was crushed. Even though it was only a random, wild pigeon, I still felt bad. One of the crew members said the pigeon was working for the terrorists in that episode, and "It tried to stop Jack Bauer and paid the price." This got a big laugh.
W24: How was it working with someone like Kiefer Sutherland?
CL: Working with Kiefer was great. He is a very intense actor, which definitely keeps you on your toes. He thinks a lot about a scene and the motivations of the characters, not just his. It was cool meeting and working with him as I have an appreciation for his work throughout his career in memorable roles and films such as Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, Flatliners, A Few Good Men, and The Three Musketeers.
W24: How often did you double for him?
CL: I doubled Kiefer Sutherland eight times, mostly in the last season (Day 8). Erik Stabenau was the primary stunt double. I was brought in when Erik wasn't available or if there were multiple units and they needed two "Jack Bauers".
W24: Through your career, you have worked in numerous TV shows and films. What experience would you consider the most rewarding to you as a person? How about career-wise?
CL: I would have to say that working on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was the best experience both personally and professionally within the stunt industry. Being Johnny Depp's stunt double was an incredible opportunity, provided to me by George Marshall Ruge, who has become one of my closest and dear friends. That was definitely a high pressure spot and I am incredibly proud of my work on that film. The Pirates crew on the first four films was a tight-knit group and very much like a family, so it was a real pleasure to work with them all throughout those years and leading up to Pirates IV. The locations were awesome as well, (Hawaii, Los Angeles, and London,) and I remain grateful for the experiences I was able to share there with work colleagues, family, and friends. 2010 was definitely the best year of my stunt career to date.
W24: You’ve worked as a stunt double for stars like Christopher Lambert, Colin Farrell, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, and obviously Kiefer Sutherland, among many others. Which one was the coolest to work with?
CL: Each person creates a different experience, and I have been fortunate to work with so many talented and passionate actors who have influenced me as both an audience member and a filmmaker. Stunt doubling for Christopher Lambert was especially unique as he was the first actor I ever doubled, (on Beowulf,) and I had such a respect and admiration in my youth for his work on films like Highlander and Greystoke. It was a bit surreal to double him on Highlander: Endgame, as I got to "be" Connor MacLeod and wield his samurai sword. Christopher was very kind and a lot of fun to work with, as were so many others. Colin Farrell, Matt Damon, Kiefer Sutherland, Johnny Depp... all incredibly professional. It was always a cool experience to be a part of their respective characters as a stunt double.
W24: Since around 2008, you’ve started working on your own projects as a writer, director, and producer of various short films and documentaries. Would you say that the transition from one field to the other was easier since you were already in the business?
CL: Filmmaking (directing) was always the end goal. And in many ways, stunt work was a means to this end. I started making the transition in 2004, (but those early projects were very independent, even in an indie sense.) While the transition was more or less a natural one, the TV & Film industry can be very perception-based. That is to say, if you are perceived as something, it can be difficult to break that image and transition into something else. In my case, my stunt career has proven to be a challenge in certain situations, as various producers and/or production companies view me as simply an "action guy." Although stunt work has been my bread and butter for over two decades, I am a filmmaker and a storyteller at heart.
W24: What inspires you as a writer and director?
CL: Oh wow... so many things. Cinema has always had a huge impact on me. And of course, life experiences are woven into any creative endeavor on some level. I believe the films that affect us most as audience members are the ones that contain elements we can relate to within our own lives. So from a writing/directing standpoint, those are the types of films I want to create and the stories I want to tell. We go to the movies to feel something, don't we? I mean, sure... there are a few mindless action films that are fun to watch now and then. But for me, I draw inspiration from stories that are character driven and provoke thought about the human condition, this experience of life, and our relationships to and with one another.
W24: Going back to that AZCentral interview again, you said something that you just repeated here: "filmmaking was the main goal; stunt work was a means to an end". Now that your career as a filmmaker is picking up, will you abandon your career as a stunt performer completely?
CL: I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities I've been given over the past 20+ years within the stunt industry and I've had a number of life-changing experiences that would otherwise not have been available to me. But my end goal has always been to be a working storyteller. Once I am able to make my living as a (paid) director, I will in fact close the book on my stunt career. But if I am lucky enough to be in that situation, I will always think fondly on those chapters of my life.
W24: What is the next step in your career? What projects do you have in the near future?
CL: My previous short, Muse, recently completed a relatively successful run on the independent film fest circuit. My current short, Testing, premiered on the circuit at the LA Shorts Fest in September and just received its fourth Official Selection. Hoping for a fruitful festival run in 2016. I have three more shorts written and I'm in pre-production on the first of those. I have a few feature projects that have completed development and I'm now actively seeking funding... the perpetual challenge for most independent filmmakers. Like most, I'm very much looking to take things to the next level.
W24: Finally, any particular director, actor or actress that you dream of working with?
CL: I was given the opportunity to work on The Adventures of Tintin in 2009 and my dream of working with Steven Spielberg came true at that time. That was definitely a highlight of my career, and life for that matter. As a director, there are so many brilliant and talented actors I would love to work with. But ultimately, I would love to collaborate with people who share a similar passion for the work that I do. When like-minded individuals come together and share a singular goal, some very special things can happen, as the history of cinema has proven!
W24: Thank you so much for your time and patience! It has been a pleasure.
CL: Thanks so much for the interview, and all the best. Cheers!