As a stunt performer and coordinator, as well as an actor, Redondo Beach's Mark Kubr said he's been “killed by the best in Hollywood.”
But one of the most challenging jobs in the veteran's career didn't involve a brawl or shoot-out, it was all about dance in the Oscar winning film “La La Land.” As stunt coordinator, Kubr collaborated with choreographer Mandy Moore and director Damian Chazelle to pull off the difficult dance sequences including the opening number, “Another Day of Sun,” where the ramp between the 105 and 110 freeways was shut down.
Kubr said the number was “amazing and terrifying all at the same time.”
“We had to keep it true to Los Angeles,” said Kubr. “When you're stuck in a traffic jam, what kind of stunts could possibly happen ... People are dancing on the rooftops of their cars, skateboarding, maybe there's a BMX in the back of a truck, there's gymnastics ... There's all these things that were implemented within that dance sequence.”
When Kubr first discussed the opening dance sequence with Chazelle and Moore, his first thought was “wow.” They discussed what action aspects could be interwoven into the scene.
“My job was to make sure that the stunt people were safe and the dancers were safe,” said Kubr, adding that the job was given to him by fellow veteran stunt coordinator Charlie Croughwell.
Kubr said the choreography was already mapped out before they even hit the freeway, which was closed beginning at 4 a.m. More than 300 cars, as well as the cast and crew, had to be out by 12 p.m. that afternoon.
One dancer, a gymnast at UCLA working her first job, had to do a back flip with no pads, with cars and people in action, while a camera was moving around.
“The back flip was not from the hood of the car, but the roof of the car and she had to land precisely while the camera goes by her in between everybody dancing,” Kubr said.
Kubr also coordinated the nighttime pool party scene at a Hollywood mansion where Mia (Emma Stone) bumps into Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). At one point during the scene, a party goer makes a twisting dive into a 7-foot deep pool and the camera followed him straight into the water.
“He did that 33 times and he did that until the sun came up,” Kubr said. “We shot all night … Damian gave him a standing ovation.”
Life in Hollywood
Kubr began his career in Hollywood as a model, actor and photographer.
He was bagging groceries at an Alpha Beta grocery store in San Clemente around 1977 when he was discovered by actress Jean Vander Pyl, best known for lending her voice to Wilma Flintstone. Vander Pyl told him he would make a great print model. Vander Pyl took Kubr to her agent in L.A. and he was signed.
He did some modeling work and T.V. commercials after he went to college in San Diego on a full-ride scholarship. But he had “one foot out the door in college and wanted to be in Hollywood.”
“Things were going pretty good as a print model, but it wasn't enough to satisfy my appetite,” he said. “I started doing photography, and I ended up taking my cameras along with me when I was doing print jobs. I had all these images, and I started a portfolio of photography.”
Kubr enjoyed photography, but he still liked being in front of the camera.
“I don't know if it was vanity or whatever the hell it was, but I loved acting, but I wasn't ready,” he said.
He was getting some jobs, but when he was a stuntman and had a bit part in “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas” in 2000, he met stunt coordinator Joel Kramer who “took me under his wing and introduced me to other stunt coordinators.”
“I became known as a stunt guy that could deliver a little bit of dialogue and do his own stunts,” Kubr said.
His career in the stunt world took off after that.
“A lot of it is word of mouth,” Kubr said. “If you do a good job, that parlays itself to another job because the stunt coordinators always talk to each other ... that keeps your career going.”
Kubr, who has also worked as Mickey Rourke's stunt double, said that as stunt performers get a “little older and wiser and get credits under your belt,” their careers sometimes transition from performing the stunts to coordinating them. In Kubr's case, he had some stunt coordinators who believed in him. He was able to shadow them. Eventually a trust is gained and they will give the stunt performer a splinter unit or another project if they are too busy. This happened in the case of “La La Land.”
It's who you know
Kubr said he never gets star struck, but with 2016's “The Nice Guys,” he worked with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. He had stunts in that film, where he had to perform a fight scene with Crowe when his character was holding up a diner.
“For some reason there's something about him (Crowe) that is intimidating,” Kubr said. “He's like larger than life to me.”
The director of “The Nice Guys” was Shane Black, who also directed “Iron Man 3,” another of Kubr's projects. The co-writer of “Iron Man 3,” with Black, was Drew Pearce, who is writing and directing the thriller “Hotel Artemis,” which stars Jodi Foster, Jenny Slate, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista and Jeff Goldblum.
In that film, Kubr plays Zachary Quinto's henchman and also does stunt work.
Kubr feels that stunt people are the “unsung heroes in the industry.” The Taurus World Stunt Awards have been given out since 2001, but he feels that's not enough.
“Even though a lot of actors give their stunt doubles a lot of credit, I think there should be a category for sure for best stunt … I think it should be recognized on a broader stroke,” Kubr said. “I also think that second unit guys, who really help the director create the action, I think they should be recognized as well.”
Kubr has been busy over the past few decades, with nearly 130 credits in stunt work and 55 acting credits, according to the IMDb website. But he said that it will be “hard pressed to top that film.”
“I love discussing 'La La Land,'” he said. “I will talk about it all the time. I’ll put people to sleep. It's amazing … it transcends so many different categories ... it's hard to find a picture like that.”