STUNTMAN DOES HIS OWN ACTING
STORY: Michael Jacobs
PHOTOS: Sara Hanna
Detroit native Matt Philliben, 34, moved to Atlanta almost five years ago when Michigan ended its tax incentives and thus most film production. “This is the hub of all filmmaking,” says the Buckhead resident. “I wanted to be where the action was.”
Emphasis on action. You’re as likely to see Philliben using his training in 10 types of martial arts as his degree in film and theater from Western Michigan University in movies such as John Wick: Chapter 3 and TV series such as Chicago P.D.
Did you always want to be an actor and stuntman?
I was always fascinated with films. When I was little, I would watch movies like Point Break and Hooper, movies that had a lot of action, so that enticed me into that realm. Then when I was older, I saw movies like The Godfather, and I wanted to be an actor. It’s just always been my obsession. You have to be really passionate about it to be good at it, especially with how competitive this industry is.
Have you ever been close to giving it up?
I can’t say I’d ever quit because I’ve wanted to do it since I was 4 years old. It’s definitely been stressful at times, especially in the beginning. The schedule is pretty hectic. You work 12-, sometimes 20-hour days when you’re on film sets.
What’s your edge?
I think it’s the duality of having professional training in acting and also the fact that I’m not afraid to jump off a building and hit the ground hard. It’s kind of that daredevil attitude I have.
Do you take different paths to acting and stunt jobs?
You’ll get auditions through a talent agent or something like that for a theatrical role. With stunts, it’s more about submitting your stunt reel or sending in your headshot and résumé. But they do sometimes intersect. I had a role on Chicago P.D. at the beginning of this year, and they brought me back to double one of the actors.
What’s a stunt you’re proud of?
In Transformers: The Last Knight, I got swatted by Optimus Prime. I was on a big stage and did a ratchet, which is where you have a harness on underneath your wardrobe and you have a line attached to it. The operator of the ratchet presses a button, and the line sucks the performer back to simulate getting hit by something massive. You watch it in the movie, and the robot hits me, and I get flung through fire and into the air.
How long can you do stunt work?
There’s a guy named Gene LeBell who’s in his 80s who’s still doing stunts. I guess it’s how you take care of yourself and your desire to keep doing it. I’m going to be doing this until I’m in a nursing home.
What’s your goal?
It’d be nice to be at the top of my game in terms of being a stunt coordinator or being an actor, have bigger roles and just kind of ascend that totem pole. But ultimately, I just want to keep working and be happy. In this industry, you’re never promised that next role or that next stunt job. You just have to keep working hard and hustling, and hopefully things work out in your favor.