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Warning: SPOILERS for The Call of the Wild are in play. If you don’t want to know what happens in the film, leave this story and come back once you’ve caught up.
Before we get too deep into the story of how The Call of the Wild saw Harrison Ford wear out his co-stars and his stunt coordinator throughout the shoot of his various action sequences, there’s a key piece of information I’d like to get out of the way. The man is 77 years young, and in a movie where there could have very easily been some sort of digital trickery involved in his physicality, Ford did all of his own stunts.
That having been said, it should be noted that Harrison Ford wore out co-star Dan Stevens and stunt coordinator Charlie Croughwell when filming one particular scene for the recently released motion picture. I learned as much when discussing The Call of the Wild with Croughwell, a man who started out his career as a stunt performer doubling for Michael J. Fox on a frequent basis.
After working on an extensive resume of films, like the entire Back to the Future trilogy, and several other films as Fox’s double, Croughwell eventually found himself becoming a stunts coordinator. In that position, he would go onto work in such films as Batman Returns, Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and, most recently, the award nominated musical La La Land.
Using his own personal expertise to run the show when it comes to the daring and the dangerous, it’s not exactly easy to impress this seasoned professional. Yet, when talking to Charlie Croughwell about a big fight scene between Harrison Ford’s mournful exile John Thornton and Dan Stevens’ vicious would-be prospector, Hal, he had this to say:
Both Harrison and Dan are solid performers and professionals. They both did the entire fight themselves with little involvement from stunt doubles. Dan and I are both younger than Harrison, and he wore us out! It was a pleasure to work with this entire cast and crew.
The fight scene in question happens in the middle of The Call of the Wild, during a moment where Dan Stevens’ dandy of a villain tries to fight Harrison Ford’s grizzled adventurer. As a pack of sled dogs abandoned Hal in his quest to put their lives at risk for a shot at striking gold, he’s looking to take it out on the man who urged him to turn back in the first place.
Eventually, this fight is broken up when Buck, The Call of the Wild’s animal star, played by the very human Terry Notary, jumps in and protects his human friend. The conflict ends with Hal embarrassed, but ultimately still in one piece to fight again in the climactic battle that ends the film.
While it’s not as huge of a deal as, say, a fist fight out of the latest movie from the Fast Saga, the realism of The Call of the Wild’s approach to fights and action sequences is pretty intense.
In fact, another example of a spectacular stunt captured for The Call of the Wild is a sequence where Cara Gee’s Françoise, another human who Buck finds himself becoming friends with, falls into a frozen lake.
As this particular scene sees Françoise scout a frozen lake to make sure it’s clear for passage, the ice beneath her cracks and she falls into a rushing current of water. Underneath the thick ice above, she’s carried away pretty fast, leaving Buck, the courageous dog that he is, to jump in and swim along with the current to rescue her.
The end result of that scene sees Buck pulling Cara Gee’s character up from the water, saving her from certain death. Now, in the case of this particular stunt, Charlie Croughwell admitted that there was indeed some CGI involved. However, the digital magic at work wasn’t quite what you’d expect.
Charlie Croughwell explained how this moment was constructed, thusly:
The execution of this scene was comprised of almost entirely real elements, from the river built from shipping containers to the ice covering and breaking hole in the ice, as well as the underwater rescue all required little CGI. When it came to Buck’s involvement, we had a Buck double that actually performed the scene as you saw Buck do in the film. The performers in the river scene were Hannah Betts as Cara Gee’s double, Callie Croughwell and Alice Ford as Buck doubles, and me as Buck breaking through the ice surface with Cara hanging onto my back.
If you were wondering just where the $125-$150 million production budget for The Call of the Wild went, it wasn’t just towards CGI animal creations. With the entire film shot in the great state of California, the bulk of the Yukon was brought to life through exteriors and sound stages, with efforts like the ones you read about above capturing the wilds of that long lost frontier.
So naturally, with a more practical approach in mind, there was still going to be a lot of room for stunt performers and doubles to bring such feats to life. What’s even more impressive is how Charlie Croughwell, his daughter Callie and fellow stunt performer Alice Ford were all a part of Buck’s performance in this breathtaking scene.
Buck, by nature, is a CGI dog, and he could have easily been animated to perform what The Call of the Wild’s script called for him to do in this scene. But just as Cara Gee was certified as a PADI open water diver to be part of the final piece of this rescue scene, the three performers hired to play Buck’s stunt doubles were just as dedicated to giving this canine hero his onscreen due.
Whether it involves a stunt coordinator like Charlie Croughwell; a double like Hannah Betts, Callie Croughwell and Alice Ford; or even actors like Harrison Ford and Dan Stevens, practical stuntwork on a CGI friendly movie like The Call of the Wild will always be welcomed by moviegoers who love it when folks like these go the extra mile.
Not only does it lend to the believability of the action being seen on screen, it also leads to fun stories about how Harrison Ford is probably in such good shape, he’ll have a lot of fun tackling Indiana Jones 5 when it starts shooting. And, most assuredly, new stories about how Ford tires out his next set of stunt performers and coordinators will crop up from that very production.
For now, we’ll just have to settle with watching Harrison Ford holding his own in The Call of the Wild, as that film is still currently in theaters.