Thursday, September 23, 2021

Interview: Emmy-Nominated Stunt Coordinator Thom Khoury Williams Talks Details of ‘Doom Patrol’ Stunt Work [EXCLUSIVE]

Thom Khoury Williams is a two-time Emmy nominated stunt coordinator, performer, and director boasting over 300 credits spanning a 25-year career. His nominations include one for Marvel’s The Punisher series in 2018, with the second in 2021 for Doom Patrol, where Williams has worked as the stunt coordinator for all three seasons.

On top of the Emmys, Williams has also nabbed a Taurus World Stunt Award for “Best Work with a Vehicle” for the Vegas car chase in Jason Bourne and multiple Screen Actors Guild Award nominations throughout the years, earning a win with Avengers: Endgame.

Thom Khoury Williams
Lumos PR

Currently, Williams can be seen (while being unseen) doing some driving stunt work in Disney’s upcoming film Jungle Cruise and with varying stunt credits in The Matrix 4 and Marvel Studios’ Ms. Marvel, among others.

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We had a chance to sit down with Thom Khoury Williams ahead of the Emmys to chat about exactly what a stunt coordinator’s role on set is, prepping actors who want to do their own stunts, and his most memorable day on set.

Nerds and Beyond: First off, congrats on your Emmy nomination! That’s so exciting. I know most viewers, myself included, kind of see stunts as those big, high-flying action sequences, but I know that there are also smaller aspects to stunt work than that. What are some of the smaller details that need stunt coordination for a film or series?

Thom Khoury Williams: Ah cool, I’ve never actually been asked that one. I like to say anything more than walking and chewing gum at the same time. If any of the actors, or any of the cast members, have to do anything slightly physical just above normal then I’m going to be there at least to kind of watch over it and make sure they’re safe. Whether it’s just sprinting down a tight corridor or slapping somebody, there’s tons of things that wouldn’t really be considered a regular stunt that you’re used to seeing in a film or TV show that I’m still gonna be there to oversee and make sure everyone stays safe.

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Nerds and Beyond: I love that, chewing gum and walking at the same time [laughs]. So, how do you balance a sequence for an actor that wants to do as many of their own stunts as possible?

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Thom: Well, you come across this a lot. Everyone wants to do all the fun, cool stuff. There’s some actors that are like, “Hey, I’m perfectly fine having my stunt double do this.” The actors, rightfully so, are very invested in their characters, so they want as much control as possible about what happens. So, oftentimes it’s a really good marriage between them, myself, and the stunt double working as a team coming up with what’s going to happen. And I’m always a proponent for seeing the actor’s face as much as possible. So if they can do it, I will help push them to get them to the spot where they can do it.

Everyone knows the tricks now. Oftentimes, if you don’t see the actor’s face and there’s an action sequence going on, you know there’s a double in there. And with some people, it takes them a little bit out of the sequence. There’s always something in your mind that notices something’s slightly off. So, if you get an actor that’s not only willing to perform, but physically able to do some cool stuff, that’s always the best of every world, getting them in there and getting them involved.

On the flip side of it, it ultimately comes down to my decision, because I want to make sure they’re safe. If I feel like they’re wanting to do something that’s a little above their head and I don’t think they’re going to come out of it in one piece, then obviously I’m going to say no and I’m going to very nicely explain why. But, having a cast member who wants to do cool stuff like this, like Diane [Guerrero] in our show [Doom Patrol] wanted to do as much of the water sequence as possible, and worked her tail off to make sure you see her face in pretty much every scene that we get.

Nerds and Beyond: I was actually really impressed by that when I saw that scene. I was like “Wow,” because I am, like you said, kind of tuned in to knowing when the actor’s face is on the screen. So I was really impressed with how much she was in that. What went into prepping her for that?

Thom: A lot of dive time. So, I hooked her up with two friends of mine who are divemasters that are also in the business, a father-daughter team. They took her to a dive center for several days and just basically trained her as if she was going to go on a scuba trip at first, just to get her used to underwater. Then, once she was really comfortable, we would start taking the mask off and working hand signals with her. Then, we’d take the regulator out of her mouth, let her sit underwater like that but keeping the regulator in her hands, and then eventually working up to one of us off camera, holding the regulator while she’s acting and doing her thing and swimming around this giant custom tank we had built.

She knocked it out of the park. We spent days in there filming hours on, end and she was just as much, if not more, part of that stunt dive team than anyone I brought in.

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Nerds and Beyond: When it comes to Doom Patrol specifically, how much creative freedom is given to you to kind of coordinate these big visual scenes? Or is it pretty strict to the page?

Thom: That’s a great question. So Jeremy Carver, who’s our showrunner, and his writing team, they’re amazing. They put out hilariously insane scripts. Usually, when it comes to the big action pieces they’ll make little notes, like in the Robotman and Jesus fight, they had a couple of notes of some points in the fight that they wanted to be hit. And then they turn it over to me and see what I can come up with.

So then, what I’ll do is I’ll break down the scene, do a little rewrite myself just to get a better handle on it, and then put together a pre-vis — a stunt pre-visualization — or I’ll shoot it. I’ll shoot the whole scene with the stunt doubles, edit it, put it together, turn it in, and see what they think.

I’ve been with them for three seasons now, but even at the beginning, Jeremy has a lot of trust and is very generous with me and has let me direct a lot — a lot of second unit directing — which I did with that sequence. So, he’s been extremely supportive and really cool in how much he trusts me and my team to come up with the right idea.

Nerds and Beyond: Doom Patrol has its fair share of physical fighting, just as much as it has the magical superpowers and the flying and floating. Is one easier to coordinate than the other?

Thom: When you’re dealing with superpowered people, it usually also involves wire work, because if Robotman punches someone, they’re gonna go flying. So, in his fight sequences, and if Jane is using her Hammerhead persona, we’re gonna fling people all over the place. So, it’s usually a great combination of the two. Now, if you’re just doing a straight-up brawl that’s grounded on the ground, it’s easier just in the fact that you don’t have to spend as much time coming up with the rig and how to get people from one spot to another.

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Nerds and Beyond: How did you hire the team for this project? Doom Patrol is an extremely diverse series. So, how did you find people for all of these different characters?

Thom: Well, with the stunt doubles, obviously, you just have to find people that are going to match the actors. So, depending on male, female, ethnic background, size, height and weight, and then obviously, abilities. Usually, at the beginning of each season, I have a nice long discussion with Jeremy about the scope of work for each character and make sure I’m bringing on the people not only that are going to look like the actors, but be able to pull off specific gags that are coming up. For the most part, I’ve had the same core team across all three seasons. There’s been a couple changes here and there, but I’ve had mostly the same people which has been fantastic.

Then when it comes to utility and other people I bring in, I like it to be a cornucopia. I try and make it as even as possible, whether it’s men or women, and then ethnically diverse. On Doom Patrol, we really strive to make sure that there’s a lot of representation there. It really is one of those shows that’s for everyone. From the cast to the stunt players, we want to make sure that’s uniform across the board.

Nerds and Beyond: You do, everything is great. The diversity, you would hope that more people would do it, but you guys definitely stand out.

Thom: Thank you. We work hard at that.

Nerds and Beyond: Is there a stark contrast to working on a series, like Doom Patrol, versus a huge feature film?

Thom: Yeah, mainly the scheduling aspect. Television is always a more hectic schedule. So, if you’re working on a feature, you’re going to have way more time to figure everything out and usually redo things. With a TV show, it’s running guns the whole time. I kind of like the pace, I’ve gotten used to it.

I’ve done primarily TV since I started coordinating. You have to be really adaptable, figure things out on the fly. You’re often shooting one episode while you’re prepping the next one, and doing re-shoots on one of the previous ones. So, you could be doing three or four episodes at a time. You have to be hyper-organized and extremely versatile in how you go about delegating and dealing with your people. It helps to have a good team and assistant coordinator, too.

Nerds and Beyond: So, I looked through your credits on IMDb, and I know you’re still doing some stunt work, it looks like, along with the coordination. What made you decide to start moving onto the more creative side of things versus in the fire, so to speak? Pun intended, I guess.

Thom: As much as I love performing, and like you said I still do sometimes, I just got done doing some really fun stunt driving on a couple different shows, one of the aspects of it is after 25 years my body is beat up. And I don’t want to do all the big crazy physical things anymore.

But the main part of it is I absolutely love being a part of the creative process from the beginning and coming up with everything, figuring out what to do, how to shoot it, where to go. My ultimate goal is I want to move into directing, directing episodes of television and features. So to me, this is a nice progress towards that goal going from performer, to stunt coordinator, to second unit director, to hopefully main director.

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Nerds and Beyond: So, I’ve got one more for you. It’s sometimes easy, sometimes hard, depending on the person. What is your most memorable experience in your career so far?

Thom: Oh … you know, I’m gonna say it was actually towards the end of season 1 [of Doom Patrol]. My parents — they’ve been on set before but they’ve never seen me coordinate or direct — we had a wonderful day that I was second unit directing. And my parents were out there, and my wife and three kids were all there; I had my entire family with me on set. It was towards the end of season 1, when they were fighting the big robot and getting blown up over and over. I’ve got to say that I’ve done a lot of really cool gags, coordinated a lot of fun stuff, but to me, that always will stand out as my favorite day on set, having my entire family sitting in video village with me while I was directing.

Doom Patrol seasons 1 and 2 are available to watch on HBO Max.

Tune in to the Emmys on Sunday, September 19 at 8 p.m. EST on CBS to see if Thom Khoury Williams and Doom Patrol take home the gold!

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Kaity
Kaity started with Harry Potter in second grade and it’s been a losing battle ever since, or maybe a winning one ... She lives in New England with a small herd of cats, two dogs, three chinchillas, and one daughter. Her main fandoms are Marvel, The Umbrella Academy, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, with special emphasis on one vibranium shield-wielding Super Soldier. Contact: kaity@nerdsandbeyond.com

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