Published on: September 20, 2016 | Last Updated: September 20, 2016 7:40 PM MDT
The first take, because of its authenticity, is tough to top.
For AMC’s Hell on Wheels, the locally shot duster, the stuntman stands in for a chap who is going to get hanged from a gate cap. Yes, a classic cinematic neck-stretching.
And straightforward enough.
Sit on the saddle, hands tied, noose snugged. Brace for the slap, the horse’s abrupt departure, the drop’s jolt. Kick and flail. Perish.
Simple scene, right?
Only, on the initial run-through, the safety rig inside his duds is sitting a little loose, permitting a little too much slack, making for a little too much, uh, hanging.
“Definitely realistic,” says Brock Radford, chuckling. “I was actually kind of choking. My buddy had to step in after they said, ‘Cut,’ and lift my legs up so I could get some air. I jumped down and made sure that harness was as tight as I could get it. Then I could hang there all day.”
Which, basically, he did.
By his count, he got strung up 20 times over the next eight hours.
“I watched it – pretty good,” Radford says of his fleeting appearance, three years ago, in the second episode of Hell on Wheels’ third season. “It’s crazy because you do a lot of work, then, when it’s complete, there’s only 10 seconds of what you actually did.
“It was good, fun. A whole day of it.”
With a meaty cheque to show for it.
Radford does appreciate show-biz pay packets. (“Doing stunts is probably one of the highest-paying jobs in movies.”) In fact, the lucrative nature of the work means he always finds time. He remembers the day in question – after putting in a full shift on the set, he roared off to a rodeo, which he won the following afternoon.
And, right now, bull riding, not film-making, is paying the bills.
Radford’s next stab at a jackpot is Saturday night at the Agrium Western Events Centre on the Stampede grounds, a stop on the Professional Bull Riders Canada tour.
The cowboy, who grew up in DeWinton and now resides on the family ranch near Longview, took a break from loading wood the other day to chat about movies and rodeos.
About spotlights and expectations.
“It’s a whole different pressure, but you can compare them,” says the 21-year-old. “But bull riding, that’s my comfort zone. I’m used to that. I know how to crash and all that. But doing a stunt for the first time? That’s a whole other world.”
Sometimes, though, the two pursuits – cartoonish spills and real-life wrecks – can collide.
Search YouTube – Radford, Minion Stuart – and you’ll literally get the picture.
A month ago, at the PBR Canada event in London, Ont., he drew the aforementioned bull, a highly regarded meanie.
“He’d made me look dumb twice before.”
Minion Stuart is a clockwise spinner, which is heck for a left-hand-down rider like Radford. But this time he hung on for a wicked trip, heard the whistle, double grabbed – then got catapulted.
Clear over the top rail.
“Crazy,” he says, laughing. “It was best-case worst scenario. Good for me because I got thrown over the fence. The bull fighters didn’t have to do anything – I was already out of the arena, technically out of danger. I was pretty happy, not worrying about his big horns coming after me.”
His reward – 88 points – remains the circuit’s top mark.
“If you ride him, you win on him,” says Radford, who, fresh off sixth place last weekend in Winnipeg, sits 18th in the standings. “When you see Minion Stuart beside your name (in the program), you can’t help but smile.”
Grin-worthy, too, is his current slot on the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association’s charts.
Second place, with $26,700 in earnings, means he’s sealed his first invitation to the Canadian Finals Rodeo. This, after enduring a near-miss – “the crying hole” – two years ago as a rookie.
“I’m making a living off this right now,” Radford says. “This is, by far, the best year I’ve had.”
By any definition, however, this is a brutal path to the bank teller.
He’s suffered concussions. Broken ankles. Cracked ribs. Fractured his left femur, right collarbone. Torn his left wrist, scaphoid. Ripped up his groins.
“Pretty much the same list every bull rider’s got.”
Which is why movies, and their (relatively) safe work environment, hold a certain appeal for a forward-thinking cowpoke.
“We’re all adrenaline junkies,” says Radford. “Bull riding, we know we can’t do it forever. It’s a young man’s game. I’m still young, lots of years left in me, but I definitely want to go into the stunt world after I’m done bull riding. To still catch an adrenaline rush from something. I’d love to go that route.
“In the future, 10 years down the road or so, I’ll definitely try to put my foot in one of them doors.”